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Tortoise and Hare

One month into the 110th Congress, the hare has taken a huge lead over the tortoise.

By the close of business yesterday, Jan. 31, the House had already recorded 73 roll call votes; the Senate, 39.

The House has already passed 11 different pieces of major legislation -- from reforming the board overseeing the House Page program to implementing most reforms recommended by the 9/11 commission to nixing the federal pension of lawmakers convicted of corrupt felonies -- and that's counting several of their internal rules changes as one legislative package.

Over in the Senate, just one legislative item made its way to final passage in the month of January, an ethics reform plan.

On the bright side, the so-called upper chamber seems poised to give its seal of final approval to a minimum-wage increase this afternoon, doubling the total number of legislative items approved by the Senate! (Don't get your hopes up too much, however, because House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has threatened to exercise a parliamentary tactic declaring that the Senate bill contains tax provisions and violates constitutional mandates that all such bills begin in the lower body -- effectively nullifying the Senate's action for the past two weeks.)

That the hare (the House) is so far ahead of the tortoise (the Senate) is no surprise, given the parliamentary rules that allow the House majority to run rough-shod over its minority while in the Senate all actions generally require the unanimous consent of all 100 Senators for actions and legislation to occur.

Ultimately, however, Democrats and their allies around the country must realize that, just like Aesop's fable, slow and steady is the only way to win this legislative race. No matter how fast they get out of the gate in the House, the Senate is going to take its time and, without its assent, most legislative actions will die a slow, parliamentary death.

Take a look at the 109th Congress, which the then-minority Democrats deplored as a do-nothing Congress. The two-to-one ratio in action was the standard then, with the House taking 543 roll-call votes. Over on the Senate side, they held 279 roll-call votes.

Now the shoes are on the other feet, in terms of who's in charge, and the same patterns are emerging. In just a few weeks, the House Democratic majority is acting very similar to their predecessors. Here's the total number of amendments voted on that were offered by House Republicans: 0.

Zip, nada, goose egg.

Over in the Senate, with its rules allowing any senator to force the leadership to allow votes on his or her amendment before a bill can move forward, it's a different story.

Out of the 39 votes taken in the Senate so far, 30 have come on amendments, almost all of them offered by Republicans.
This is a pattern Congressional observers ought to get used to, as thousands of amendments are filed with the Senate clerk every year. Most are eventually set aside as Democratic and Republican leadership come to agreements to get some bills moved.

But, just as an example of what's ahead, the last amendment voted on in the Senate in December was offered by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

Its title was S.Amdt.5205.

That's more than 5,200 amendments offered in the Senate for the entire 109th Congress. At this point, House Republicans are just praying to be able to vote on one of their own amendments.

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  February 1, 2007; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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