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Even now, it’s not a sure thing that Senate Republicans can influence their House counterparts. A transportation bill approved on a large bipartisan vote in the Senate has faltered in conference committee, even though House Republicans didn’t come to the table with a bill that made it to the floor.
“The way the narrative lines up for us is as follows: We see increasingly a desire among rank-and-file Republicans to see the Senate work better,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “There’s sort of a quiet majority, among the minority, of people who would like to work together, make the procedure less onerous, and we’ve been on a roll lately with bills of increasing importance.”
The struggle to separate the House and Senate — and the subsequent tension between the White House and Congressional Democrats — was one created by President Barack Obama late last summer, when he barnstormed the country to promote his jobs bill. And while relations between Democrats across Pennsylvania Avenue have improved, Obama still is running against Congress, and Democrats want to ensure that they look functional in the one chamber they control.
Senate Democrats are fighting a war on two fronts, one against the presidential campaign narrative that Congress is incapable of governing, and the other against Republicans who believe Democrats govern the wrong way.
Democrats believe the narrative against the House is already well-defined. Since last spring, Senate Democrats have focused largely on the House dynamics, making House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and tea-party-inspired Members the targets of their ire. House Republicans are just one of several outside forces on which Democrats will focus. The others include Norquist, Republican-controlled super PACs and the Romney campaign.
By contrast, they’ll be a lot gentler on the Republicans in their own chamber — at least for a bit.
Last week, Schumer pointed to the partnerships in committees as ones that could swing the lame duck in the Senate’s favor: from Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
But in the end, Republicans said voters will look to whether lawmakers can pass legislation that’s not only popular or on-message but effective.
“Their biggest challenge is the results that people see every single day,” one top GOP aide said.