Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (left) and Majority Leader Harry Reid have been working to get Senate Democrats and Republicans to cooperate on legislation.
“It is simply a matter of Senators saying, ‘Look, we’re grown-ups. We have serious work to do. We’d like to get some results,’” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who left leadership this year, saying he wanted to pursue more legislative opportunity. “We’re not just going to blame it on the leaders. There’s no excuse blaming it on the leaders. We’re going to take it into our own hands and get to work.”
But Alexander also shed a bit more light on the inside-the-Beltway politics of the Senate’s newfound productivity, an acknowledgement that today’s obstructionist minority can be tomorrow’s slight and pressed majority.
“Republicans are very much aware that there’s a chance that we’ll be in charge next year,” Alexander said. “And we may have 51 votes or the Democrats may have 51 votes, so we’re kind of stuck with each other, and we need to figure out how to make the place work because we have serious issues that need to be resolved.”
Since mid-March, the Senate has passed a two-year $109 billion transportation bill with 74 votes, a postal reform bill with 62 votes and a reauthorization of the expiring Violence Against Women Act with 68 votes. Multiple sources indicated that when the Senate comes back from recess next week, lawmakers will take a serious shot at a student loan bill.
On Friday, Alexander and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post offering procedural reform that would limit gridlock and create a more open amendment process — often a top lamentation from Senators in the minority.
“If the minority members would allow the majority leader to bring a bill to the floor for a vote without the 60-vote process, the legislation would be open to all relevant amendments but not to non-relevant amendments,” the Senators wrote.
The proposal reflects how the Senate approved the postal bill last week.
It’s unclear, though, how much longer this era of good feelings can last with an intensifying general election.
Though some sources indicated Republicans have had an easier time uniting around recent bills because of the emergence of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as their presumptive nominee, others pointed to the relatively noncontroversial nature of the bills that passed.
McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have committed to a regular-order appropriations process, but even that isn’t without its complications. House Republicans are seeking to further reduce spending.
There is also a host of expiring tax cuts at the end of the year, as well as a looming sequester that will start automatically cutting defense and domestic programs in January.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) isn’t convinced the bipartisan trend will continue.
“I hope we can make progress on some of the bipartisan legislation, but I think as the year goes on, you’ll see more and more of these purely political efforts, and that’s too bad,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.