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It’s Valentines Day: The House and Senate Should Love Each Other Again

There is so much talk about Republicans and Democrats not getting along these days that we sometimes forget about the shattered relationship between the House of Representatives and the Senate and its impact on the broader policy landscape. While Republicans and Democrats not being aligned is a hurdle (and normal), divisions by legislative chamber are a much bigger mountain to overcome. If long-term policy success is the objective, repairing relationships between the House and Senate should be a top priority. 

The framers of the Constitution did not want a monolithic legislative branch and purposely created the Senate to slow down the legislative process, but there was not an intentional effort to pit the House and Senate against each other – which is increasingly the case today.  And, they are not only standing on opposite sides of policy, but also process around major “must-pass” bills that remain stalled.

The back and forth around immigration, Ukraine, and Israel is a good example of how dysfunctional this relationship has become. There are disagreements on the substance of the policies, which is fair.  But there is even more misalignment as to what process will guide advancing (or not advancing) these policies. It has become a ping pong match of confusing and constantly evolving strategies that may upend the entire package of bills.  And, these issues are not the only ones where problems exist. 

There is, of course, always some tension between the House and Senate because neither wants the other to force policy issues upon them (a recent concern expressed when the House sent over their tax legislation and concerns that always arise around spending bills). 

Managing relationships between the Republican and Democratic caucuses is a significant lift for any leader, but coordination between the House and Senate should be fairly routine. When the House and Senate become rivals – like the two parties have – the prospect of “winning” by advancing legislation becomes very difficult. Trust among the leaders begins to fall apart and movement of legislation becomes more of a performative activity than one with a meaningful end game. 

When analyzing potential progress on legislation, do not forget about the House – Senate dynamics. Even on issues both agree on, the process between the two chambers may prevent success. In the meantime, hopefully the House and Senate begin to repair their relationship in the spirit of Valentines Day.


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