RSS
The Senate won't replace the House as dysfunction central
As the House returns to something like "normal order," the Senate is becoming a bickering mess. It won't last.
Reid has an incentive to work with Republicans.
Reid has an incentive to work with Republicans. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
T

hat the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan budget deal on Thursday evening is kind of a big deal. Conservative groups had not only opposed the deal, they had actively campaigned against it, threatening to hold "yes" votes against Republicans. Yet only 69 Republicans voted no.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed the deal's passage as a patch of "common ground" that could pave the way for a new era of getting stuff done in the House (or perhaps just fulfilling obligations that used to be routine). He publicly rebuked the outside groups trying to sink the deal. After three years of playing legislative hardball and pushing (or allowing) partisan bills with no chance of making it past the Democratic-controlled Senate or a White House veto, Boehner may have declared independence from the Tea Party wing of his party.

Apparently the role of gonzo legislating is now being played by the purported grown-ups in the more deliberative, congenial Senate. Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber are slogging through "something like an endurance contest to see who could be the most spiteful," says Jeremy Peters at The New York Times.

Miffed at the Democrats' axing of presidential-appointee filibusters, Republicans are doing everything they can to grind the Senate to a halt. Democrats retaliated by keeping the Senate in session all night, multiple nights.

"Some senators expressed concern that this moodier, more intemperate Senate would become the norm now that Democrats have unilaterally changed filibuster rules," says Peters. "Like the many paralyzing partisan squabbles before it, this one left its combatants confused and disheartened about how it had spiraled so out of control."

"I think it resembles fourth graders playing in a sandbox," groused Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who assigned "99 percent of the responsibility" to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "It’s just concerning, very much concerning, where it goes from here," lamented Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

It is certainly possible that this turns into a prolonged low point in Senate comity and partisan ill-will. But it's also likely that this moment will pass in the new year. Either way, the Senate is not going to pick up where the House left off. It won't become the 2011-2013 House.

The Senate and House are structured very differently. Senators need to appeal to a broader swathe of voters, while most members of the House have the luxury of ideologically homogenous districts.

The other big difference is that Democrats control the Senate, and unlike the House Republicans, they want to get stuff on Obama's desk. To do that, they need Republicans. Republicans will still vote for bills if they like them — just think of the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed earlier this year.

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week