Changes Ahead With a Republican Senate and House | Commentary
In January of 2014, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., laid out his vision for putting the Senate back in order should he become majority leader: a robust committee process; an open debate process; an open amendment process; and using the clock to gain consensus. These are tried and true practices for moving legislation in the United States Senate.
The American people through this election cycle have, in no uncertain terms, expressed their disdain for the partisan gridlock in Washington. They are, by and large, not fans of the Obama administration and have even less faith in Congress. This gives McConnell and Speaker John A. Boehner their greatest opportunity to contrast a Republican Congress with the Harry Reid/Barack Obama obstruction of the past six years. And most importantly, it shows the American people they can put points on the board.
Right away in the 114th Congress, the Senate will have the opportunity to pass and send to the president any number of bipartisan bills that have languished under Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., such as: Keystone, Medical Device Tax, Shaheen-Portman to name a few with which we are all familiar. And that’s not even really starting on the 387 pieces of House-passed legislation, of which many passed with strong bipartisan majorities, that then languished in the Senate.
McConnell will have seasoned committee chairmen like Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; James M. Inhofe, R-Okla.; and John Thune, R-S.D., standing ready to get to work and use the committee process to iron out the kinks on important policy issues facing the country. McConnell has already indicated that it is his strong intention to back up his committee chairmen, not bypass them, and write bills for the floor in his conference room as his predecessor has done.
Using a robust committee process — while obviously the right thing to do — has the added upside of clearing at least some of the partisan underbrush before legislation gets considered on the Senate floor and allows committee members to rightly have their say.
And realistically, giving the opportunity on the floor for open debate and amendments has the two fold bonus of giving the minority their right to be part of the process, while also taking the ultimate power away from the one or two outliers who feel the need to shut down the government from time to time.
Leaving aside the budget process and reconciliation (where 51 votes are needed to pass the budget resolution,) the strong vision McConnell has laid out for running the Senate will be critical to efforts to get the 60 votes needed on cloture and ensure the Senate is focusing on the work they have been elected to do.
On the other side of the Capitol, Boehner will have an expanded Republican majority. For the past several months there has been a growing excitement among rank and file House members at the prospect of a Republican Senate for the first time in eight years. The frustrated House majority would like to see action on their common-sense, conservative pieces of legislation to create jobs, undo burdensome red tape, create energy self-sufficiency, secure our nation’s borders and responsibly fund the federal government, then sent to the president for his signature or veto. Under Reid’s Senate, of course, none of that was possible.
And, at the end of the day, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, House Members will always be frustrated by the pace and arcane rules of the Senate. Boehner and House leadership will have some challenges in explaining to their caucus (more than 150 of whom have never served with a Senate majority of their own party) that even with a Republicans in charge, 60 votes are still needed to move most legislation in the Senate.
Together, McConnell and Boehner have a fresh opportunity to move important legislation to the president’s desk and show the American people that Republicans have a positive agenda for the nation.
Kerry Feehery is a senior policy advisor at Holland & Knight where she serves as the firm’s top GOP senate lobbyist. She spent 11 years working in the Senate in a variety of roles including chief of staff to Sen. George LeMieux and communications director for Sen. Mel Martinez, both R-Fla. Kathryn Lehman is a partner at Holland & Knight where she serves as the firm’s top GOP House Lobbyist. She spent 15 years on Capitol Hill in variety of senior positions with the House Republican leadership and as committee staff.