The Only Thing in Congress More Dysfunctional Than the House Is the U.S. Senate

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Congress is a dysfunctional, partisan and unproductive, but the nation's leaders seem to agree that being in Congress, especially in the Senate, is pretty miserable.

According to Paul Kane at The Washington Post, both Democratic and Republican senators feel like "pawns" in Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid's deeply personal fight for power. And in The Hill, Republicans are arguing that it's much easier being the minority party in the House than in the Senate, since the House allows votes on Democrats' amendments. They just left out the fact that the amendments are on bills that will likely never become law.

Pawns in the Reid/McConnell war

According to Kane, morale in the Senate has been crushed because the vast majority of votes are on unfulfilling matters, like approved ambassadors. In June, the Senate voted 53 times, but only seven votes were on legislative matters. The other 46 were on nominations.

“It’s pretty bad, and I don’t think there’s any way to fix it,” said Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. The problem is that it's an election year. If Reid allows votes on GOP amendments, endangered Democrats "would be forced to vote on carefully crafted GOP amendments designed to hurt them in November." Or worse, in the case of McConnell's amendment to cut coal regulations, a vote might make it seem like a Republican did something productive. 

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Likewise, if McConnell worked with Reid, and something got done, then that would undermine the idea that Reid's Senate isn't productive. In other words, no one wants to let anyone look good, and the plan is working: only 15 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress does its job.

The "generosity" of House Republicans

Senate Republicans just wish Senate Democrats would be as generous with them as House Republicans have been to their minority. Since last July, Senate Republicans have had roll call votes on 12 amendments, less than the 18 that House Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee has enjoyed on her amendments alone, and far less that the 180 offered to the rest of her caucus. In an interview, Jackson Lee said she wanted to "thank the Republicans for their generosity." Of course, that generosity is a little shallow: House Republicans don't allow amendments on legislative bills, only appropriation bills no one expects to pass. 

As The Fiscal Times explains, in a perfect Congress the House would pass appropriation bills, and the Senate would pass appropriation bills. The bills would then go to committee, be reconciled, and be signed into law, avoiding a government shutdown. Instead, the Senate isn't passing any bills because of squabbles over amendments and the House is passing bills that would prevent the IRS from implementing Obamacare. It's likely that that Congress will pass a stopgap resolution to keep the government funded past September 30, which would jeopardize the House's amendments.

Put another way, it's “just camouflage,” Democratic Rep. Gary Miller told The Hill. “They know, during the process, most of the amendments probably won't survive.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.