A look over at the Senate side reveals a different way of operating. Of the 16 full committees of the United States Senate, three offer simple splash pages with little action except for the option to select either, as the Senate Budget Committee renders it, a "Democratic (Majority) Website" or a "Republican (Minority) Website." Several other committees operate a common site that hosts hearing schedules, pending legislation, video archives, and other shared materials central to the workings of the committee, and then offer a chance to get partisan perspectives in separate home-page news streams; "From Senator Harkin" and "From Senator Enzi" are co-equal columns on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions site, for example. But many Senate committees–Agriculture, Armed Services, Banking, Finance, Judiciary, Rules–offer just a single, unified site, with just press releases occasionally marked either for the majority or minority.
It's no surprise that there are warmer digital relations on the Senate side, said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. For a decade, CMF has been awarding Gold Mouse Awards to the best websites on Capitol Hill. Some of the difference between the House and Senate approaches is a reflection of "the personalities and relationships between the chairman and the ranking member," says Fitch, pointing to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Chair Jeff Bingaman and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski get along both offline and on. Same for Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley (Finance) and Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins (Homeland Security). "It's one of the last bastions of bipartisanship that does exist where at least they can agree about how they're going to present information on the committee," says Fitch.
On the other hand, while Barbara Boxer and James Inhofe can make peace on highway projects and the like, they're at each other's throats on climate change. Go to their Committee on Environment and Public Works site, and you are immediately asked to pick: Boxer's way or Inhofe's.
Of course, the Senate is designed to encourage greater comity; the House was built to be contentious, what with its elections every two years and winner-take-all rules. It makes sense that the ruling party would aim to keep the weaker party down when it comes to online space. While a polite airing of "minority views" is fine, that's as far as it need go. But amongst those out of power, a realization has developed over the last decade that when the offline House has you stymied, the web can be a powerful place. More than just dry information, it can be a political asset.
Back in 2008, there was a battle in the House when administrators belatedly took away a domain called EarmarkReform.House.gov being championed by then Minority Leader John Boehner on the grounds that it constituted sloganeering. (Republicans pointed out that the Democrats' GlobalWarming.House.gov was itself a bit rah-rah.) And with the small slice of institutional power they do have, committee ranking members can hope to build up the sort of audience that makes them competitive with the party in power. You can begin to see why Republicans might not be eager to put a flashing 40-point link to their Democratic counterparts' sites—or to call them "Democrats" rather than the power-dynamic-affirming "Minority."