This is the reality of Washington and now members are coming face to face with it. As former New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously told The New Republic: "You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose."
For the new Republican majority, the bulk of their blame lies with the Senate, where conservative legislation has, for years, gone to die. That was all supposed to change this year; yet even with a majority, Republicans are tied down by the necessity of getting six Democrats to vote with them in order to move anything through the chamber.
"The problem is sometimes elevating expectations to the point that are unrealistic," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said last week. "The lesson is that we can do a lot, we can change a lot, we can contain the president a lot of different ways. But we have to remember that most things in the Senate require 60 votes."
Sen. John Thune, the Republican conference chairman, said Friday that expectations for the new majority may have been set too high. "I think that you always have to keep expectations at a realistic level, knowing that it takes 60 in the Senate to do anything and you've got a Democrat president who has elected to veto most of what we send him," Thune said.
Sen. Patty Murray, the No. 4 in Democratic leadership, laughed when asked if Republicans had underestimated just how difficult it is to get things done in the Senate, even with the majority. "I think I could characterize it that way exactly," she said.
To be fair, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and even Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia emphasized, it's still early. Republicans have only had control of Congress for seven weeks, and, in the GOP's mind, Burr said, members are still "dealing with the leftover mess from the last Congress."
In the first two months of the new Congress, Republicans have passed a reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which leaders abandoned at the end of the last Congress. Then they took up the Keystone Pipeline, an issue that has been rumbling around the Senate for years but couldn't get past the 60-vote mark. Now, they're stuck trying to fund the Homeland Security Department, another issue leaders punted on last year after tough negotiations.
Once they get over those hurdles, it's possible that they will begin to get to work on big issues. But even then, Thune urged caution. "I think we need to realize that it's going to be a very heavy lift to get big things done absent the presidential leadership," Thune said. "But we're going to do everything we can on our end to keep the ball moving down the field."
Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said he thought the message to new members, and the public, had been clear. "I think everybody knew it was going to be tough. The Senate is always a tough place because you've gotta have 60 votes to pass anything that may be slightly controversial—or worse," he said, chuckling.