Thursday, January 06, 2011

The changing of the guard

This article is revealing for the behind-the-scenes minutia ...

The House and the Senate have a split personality by design, but Wednesday's debut of the 112th Congress revealed a stark contrast between the two chambers that could define the direction of every major debate over the next two years. 

I won't be very interested in what goes on in the House of Representatives for obvious reasons. Beyond pointing out the hypocrisy and documenting the too-frequent atrocity, the House will be consumed with demagoguery, personified in the orange form of Weeper Boehner. The Senate is much more interesting, with its new cast of characters and dynamics.

A group of Senate Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008, who provided the critical margins for Obama's early agenda, has begun an effort to change the chamber's filibuster rules to limit the minority's power to stall or block legislation. Reid, who as minority leader five years ago beat back a similar effort by Republicans, has expressed support for the junior Democrats, but he is in private negotiations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reach a compromise that would nominally change the rules without diluting the potency of the filibuster. ...

The Senate's Republican expansion brought only a few true outsiders and many more veterans of past Congresses and presidential administrations.

Among the notables: Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a former House member, White House budget director and U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush; Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a former House leader; and Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.), a former congressman, senator, ambassador and top Washington lobbyist, were sworn in after easily winning seats that were once considered toss-ups. Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), a former congressman, recently served as president of the conservative group Club for Growth.

These experienced freshmen mingled on the Senate floor with the confidence of longtime committee chairmen. Portman, a fiscal expert who is well liked in both parties, greeted a parade of new colleagues who approached to wish him well. Blunt, who learned the legislative trade while working alongside the sharply partisan former congressman Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), exchanged a few private words with Vice President Biden.

Other newcomers took time to soak in their surroundings. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former businessman who defeated Sen. Russell Feingold (D), opened the lid of his mahogany desk to explore its interior. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who also won her first election in November, scanned the packed visitors gallery.

The Senate Class of 2010 seems downright youthful, compared with many of the veterans of the chamber. Sens. Ayotte, Toomey, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are younger than 50. Rubio, a star of the tea party movement, is 39.

Gone from just two years ago, of course, are liberal lions Kennedy and Byrd, along with Feingold, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. Moderates -- this term is used loosely and in comparison to their replacements -- Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, Evan Bayh and Robert Bennett retired, voluntarily as well as in-.

The House GOP's healthcare 'repeal' gambit is designed to cast Democrats in the Senate as obstructionists -- a tired reprise -- which lays the groundwork for 2012's call to "send us more reinforcements". Frank Luntz has gotten so predictable.

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