Congress, as always, has been busy lately. Or at least the House of Representatives: Of the 768 bills passed by the House this Congress, 569 of the bills are still awaiting Senate action. That’s 75% of all bills this year. It begs the question why, with all branches of the government currently controlled by Republicans, does Congress not act on the massive amount of republican legislation?
The situation has both Republican members of the House and Senate pointing fingers at one another.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy remarked that “We have 500 bills that are sitting in the Senate that they haven’t taken up… I understand why the Senate needs to finish their work, but we’ve been doing our work.”
McConnell’s deputy chief of staff Don Stewart addressed complaints about the backlog. “Many other House-passed bills are included as amendments to broader legislation, in coordination with our House colleagues.”
It’s very possible that, despite their supposed mandate, Republicans in the Senate know their tenuous position. There are only 51 republicans in the Senate, and much of that stalled legislation would require 60 votes to avoid filibuster. If you’ve followed Policy Watch, the House has often passed rather controversial legislation. Even bills that Republicans consider victories, such as their tax cut, still have mixed reception even within their own party.
With that in mind, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may believe that any attempt to pass House legislation, republican backed or not, could harm their chances for re-election come this November.
But Republican leaders in the Senate and House have also laid blame at the feet of Democrats. From Don Stewart, “Democrat obstruction in the Senate slows many of the House bills, but by coordinating with House colleagues, we are able to focus on priority legislation and get it to the President’s desk.”
It would be disingenuous to call the Democrats a united front against the Republican agenda however. Of the stalled legislation, 404 bills have at least one co-sponsor from each party. After all, the House of Representatives has 435 members, so it would be far easier to find at least one member of each party that consents to a bill. In an age of combating Republicans however, any cooperation may be their undoing.
Democrats are also facing their own crisis of leadership at the moment. Trust in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, is coming more into question every day. The recent defeat of Representative Joe Crowley, a 10 year incumbent who was seen by the Dem establishment as the heir to Nancy Pelosi, by self described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has left Democratic leadership reeling and newcomers smelling blood in the water. Currently, forecasts place Democrat’s chances of gaining a majority in the House of Representatives at 72%, mainly due to a bevy of unpopular Republicans facing Democrat challengers. If Democrats take control of the House this November, will we see a leadership shakeup? It’s almost certain now.
But whatever way the House goes this midterm, it’s unlikely the issue of backlog will be resolved. Even if Democrats end up victorious in the House, the Senate is a different story entirely. 35 Senate seats are up for re-election in 2018, with 26 of those currently held by Democrats. The best case scenario for either party leaves the Senate chamber hotly contested, meaning the House would probably continue sending bills to legislative limbo.