So You Want to Be a Senator, Huh?

Fully a dozen House members are seeking a promotion.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Chairman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) listens to testimony during a hearing on the Dodd-Frank Act and the definition of Systemically Important Financial Institutions on Capitol Hill May 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. The recent announcement by JPMorgan Chase of a $2 billion trading loss loomed large in the hearing as lawmakers heard regulators testify about what makes a bank or institution 'too big to fail.'
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
May 5, 2014, 5:08 p.m.

In most jobs, throw­ing in for a pro­mo­tion is a re­l­at­ively private af­fair, but on Cap­it­ol Hill, at­tempt­ing to hop from the House to the Sen­ate means in­vit­ing the whole coun­try to watch.

This cycle, a dozen House mem­bers are ask­ing home-state voters to send them across the Cap­it­ol to the Sen­ate. The roster in­cludes nine Re­pub­lic­ans and three Demo­crats, some long-ten­ured and some fresh­men. While a few are build­ing cam­paigns around their bio­graph­ies, oth­ers can point to le­gis­lat­ive achieve­ments that vary from the wonky to the bor­der­line wacky.

Vir­tu­ally all of the House mem­bers seek­ing a Sen­ate seat can claim a bill or amend­ment they helped shep­herd through the cham­ber as the lead spon­sor (each has been a co­spon­sor on count­less pieces of le­gis­la­tion, some of which have passed).

Sure, there’s fresh­man Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas, who sponsored nine pieces of le­gis­la­tion, none of which have passed the cham­ber. But there’s also Rep. Jack King­ston of Geor­gia, who’s vy­ing against Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gin­grey in a Re­pub­lic­an primary to suc­ceed Saxby Cham­b­liss in the Sen­ate. King­ston sponsored a six-month con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that passed in June 2011 and be­came law.

Then there are the meas­ures that al­most make it out of the cham­ber. GOP Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito, elec­ted to the House in 2001, is vy­ing to suc­ceed re­tir­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jay Rock­e­feller in West Vir­gin­ia. A mem­ber of the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee who chairs its Fin­an­cial In­sti­tu­tions Sub­com­mit­tee, Capito over­saw the ad­op­tion of an amend­ment that called for in­creas­ing the Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Block Grant, a pro­gram that in­fuses states with fed­er­al money for vari­ous pro­jects, by $350 mil­lion. The un­der­ly­ing bill died, though.

Of course, there are also meas­ures cel­eb­rat­ing ath­letes and his­tor­ic­al fig­ures and plenty of post-of­fice nam­ings. Capito got a bill passed in 2009 com­mem­or­at­ing the 150th an­niversary of John Brown’s raid on Harp­ers Ferry. King­ston backed the bill that named a post of­fice in Hines­ville, Ga., as the John Sid­ney “Sid” Flowers Post Of­fice Build­ing.

But the truth in the House is that most bills don’t make it out of the cham­ber — and the same is true in the Sen­ate. Only 5 per­cent of bills are pro­jec­ted to be­come law, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Gov­Track.

So why give up a House po­s­i­tion with bet­ter elect­or­al chances?

For starters, the Sen­ate’s six-year terms give mem­bers some breath­ing room, and in the­ory the chance to take polit­ic­al risks by back­ing le­gis­la­tion that could cost them at home. Then there are the be­ne­fits of statewide of­fice: be­com­ing a de facto voice for your state in na­tion­al polit­ics and pos­sibly po­s­i­tion­ing one­self as a king­maker (see Re­id, Harry as a well-doc­u­mented ex­ample). Sen­at­ors are also sub­ject to more spec­u­la­tion about high­er of­fice, either a gov­ernor’s man­sion or the White House.

In Wash­ing­ton, sen­at­ors have about 20 more staffers on av­er­age than House mem­bers and don’t have their num­ber of staff capped (though the staff budget de­pends on the size of the state). The Con­sti­tu­tion also grants sen­at­ors powers not giv­en to rep­res­ent­at­ives, af­ford­ing them a voice in pres­id­en­tial ap­point­ments, which is a sig­ni­fic­ant source of in­flu­ence.

The mod­ern Sen­ate is also not the same as when LBJ and Mike Mans­field roamed the Ohio Clock cor­ridor and ju­ni­or sen­at­ors were ex­pec­ted to fall in­to line. Today, law­makers like Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both fresh­men, have emerged as prom­in­ent voices in the Re­pub­lic­an Party and lead­ing fig­ures in the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment. On the Demo­crat­ic side, fresh­man Sen. Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut is spear­head­ing an ef­fort to ex­toll the vir­tues of Obama­care, and Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii helped or­gan­ize an overnight, en­vir­on­ment-fo­cused talk­a­thon on the Sen­ate floor.

Of course, there are also draw­backs to the up­per cham­ber.

The op­por­tun­ity to of­fer amend­ments to le­gis­la­tion is sub­stan­tially di­min­ished, a vic­tim of mod­ern par­tis­an war­fare. Re­pub­lic­ans say that the lead­er’s of­fice is us­ing the amend­ment pro­cess to lock them out of le­gis­la­tion. Demo­crats ad­mit that there are few­er votes on amend­ments, but say they are too eas­ily turned in­to polit­ic­al fod­der for out­side in­terest groups.

“One of the reas­ons we of­ten do not take to the floor and vote on com­pet­it­ive, com­pel­ling amend­ments is the con­cern that they will then be­come the sub­ject of last-minute, ag­gress­ive, tar­geted cam­paign ads fun­ded by un­dis­closed donors,” said Sen. Chris­toph­er Coons, a Demo­crat from Delaware. “Rather than be­ing a cham­ber of hon­est, open, and free de­bate, the shad­ow of secret money turns policy-mak­ing in­to a beacon of risk aver­sion. Policy-mak­ing gets para­lyzed, and this serves no one.”

In­deed, some say an­oth­er draw­back to the Sen­ate is the vast sum of money law­makers must raise to get elec­ted. The price of ad­mis­sion for a win­ning Sen­ate cam­paign in 2012 was $10.5 mil­lion, com­pared with $1.7 mil­lion in the House, ac­cord­ing to a study by Map­Light. And those num­bers tend to in­crease each cycle. It’s a threat­en­ing trend, as some sen­at­ors see it.

“Some of my col­leagues have said we are bound for scan­dal,” said Sen. An­gus King, an in­de­pend­ent from Maine. “In­deed that is what has driv­en cam­paign fin­ance re­form throughout our his­tory.”

What We're Following See More »
DEFERENCE TO PRESIDENT
More Republicans Trust Trump than GOP Members
32 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE
PAC WILL TARGET INCUMBENTS
Sanders Acolytes Taking the Movement Local
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"While Democrats nationwide have put the focus on President Trump, the Sanders wing of the party has engaged in an intramural fight to remake the party in a more populist, liberal mold." From Washington state to California to Florida, Sanders loyalists are making good on their promise to remake the party from the ground up. And just last week, a "group of former Sanders campaign aides launched a super PAC with the explicit goal of mounting primary challenges to Democratic incumbents."

Source:
THANKS TO MILITARY ROLE
McMaster Requires Congressional Approval
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Congress will need to vote on Donald Trump's pick of Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his next national security adviser, but not for the reason you think. The position of NSA doesn't require Senate approval, but since McMaster currently holds a three-star military position, Congress will need to vote to allow him to keep his position instead of forcing him to drop one star and become a Major General, which could potentially affect his pension.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many Signatures Has the Petition for Trump’s Tax Returns Received?
7 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 1 million, setting a record. More than 100,000 signatures triggers an official White House response.

Source:
SENT LETTERS TO A DOZEN ORGANIZATIONS
Senate Intel Looks to Preserve Records of Russian Interference
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking to ensure that records related to Russia’s alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections are preserved as it begins investigating that country’s ties to the Trump team. The panel sent more than a dozen letters to 'organizations, agencies and officials' on Friday, asking them to preserve materials related to the congressional investigation, according to a Senate aide, who was not authorized to comment publicly. The Senate Intelligence Committee is spearheading the most comprehensive probe on Capitol Hill of Russia’s alleged activities in the elections."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login