Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (left) and Majority Leader Harry Reid have been working to get Senate Democrats and Republicans to cooperate on legislation.
Don’t call it a comeback, or even a detente, but a strange thing is happening in the Senate: Democrats and Republicans are working together to pass legislation.
While President Barack Obama has railed on the trail against a “do-nothing” Congress and House Republicans have struggled to unite around major legislation, the Senate has recently passed sweeping bills on a bipartisan basis. From a two-year transportation bill to U.S. Postal Service reform to the Violence Against Women Act, the Senate has flipped convention on its head by becoming the chamber that works.
And it’s not going without notice.
“Don’t act so surprised!” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) teased when asked about the recent legislative momentum in his chamber. “How about that?”
The Congressional humor from the No. 2 Senate Democrat, however, only underscored his more serious point: that after more than a year of gridlock, taking the government to the brink of shutdown and the nation close to default, lawmakers are finding their groove and enjoying doing what they were elected to do.
“These bills have been massive, bipartisan bills,” Durbin said. “I have to tell you: There is a growing appetite on both sides of the aisle to get things done. It has been so frustrating to watch things just grind to a halt, with threats of government shutdown, shutting down the economy over the debt ceiling. A lot of us are just fed up with it and looking for ways to pursue some legislative goals we can reach.”
Of course, Democrats have incentive to prove that they can legislate: They are in an uphill battle to maintain the majority in the Senate. More than two-thirds of the Senate seats being contested in this election cycle are held by Democrats or by Independents who caucus with Democrats.
But Republicans have something to prove, too. The Senate GOP is a more politically seasoned Conference than its House counterpart. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has made no bones about the fact that he’d like to be Majority Leader. After months of Republicans being painted as obstructionists, some suggest it helps the cause for them to show they can be adults. And a class of establishment GOP lawmakers expressed the same concerns Durbin did.
“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.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.