When the Senate returns from its summer break in September, lawmakers will have quite a full plate of legislation to address: 372 bills, to be exact.
And with the midterm elections in high gear and partisan rancor already poisoning a potential lame-duck session after November, it’s likely most of the House-passed bills will stay on the shelf.
A large legislation gap between the House and Senate is not unusual; the Senate was designed, in the famous description by George Washington, as a cooling saucer. But food left out to cool too long will spoil, and so will federal legislation: By law, if a bill is not passed by both chambers in the same Congress, it must be re-introduced in January.
The growing pile of legislation awaiting Senate approval has rankled House Democrats, who have complained of having to take politically dangerous votes on bills only to see them stall in the upper chamber. The list of 372 bills ranges from the major — such as the cap-and-trade energy and climate bill passed in June 2009 — to the mundane: legislation to name an outpatient clinic at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Notable additions to the list since February include the Disclose Act, a campaign finance bill the House passed in June, and the Defense reauthorization bill, which contains a provision ending the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from openly serving.