Democrats could face culture shock

If the Senate goes Republican on Tuesday, a majority of Democrats will get their first taste of life in the minority.

Only 17 Democrats who could serve in the next Senate were in office eight years ago, the last time the GOP held the levers of power.

With Republicans favored on Election Day, the new class of Democrats might be in for a rude awakening come January, when the perks of the majority could be stripped away.

"It will be a shock for Democrats to move into the minority," said Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.).

The indignities of serving under the opposing party are legion.

The first blow is the loss of committee chairmanships, which senators use to draft legislation, conduct oversight and draw attention to pet causes.

Democrats would be demoted to the ranking members of committees and forced to downsize by letting go of staffers who aren’t wanted on the new majority’s payroll.

Perhaps worst of all, some Democrats would have to pack up their things as Republicans dole out the spoils of office space.

“That’s a major issue for many senior members,” said Bill Hoagland, a former Republican budget staffer and now senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Still, it’s better to be in the minority in the Senate than in House, where the floor is tightly controlled and rank-and-file members can often do little more than raise their voice in protest during floor speeches.

The Senate, in contrast, runs on consensus, giving individual senators the power to hold up legislation, block nominees, and occasionally hold up business with an old-fashioned talking filibuster.

“To get attention, [Democrats] will have to spend more time on the floor,” said Steve Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “This isn’t much fun.”

Democrats could have revenge on their minds, as they have complained bitterly during the Obama presidency that Republicans have abused the power of the filibuster for partisan ends.

While Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Ky.), the heir apparent to the top job, would have new procedural weapons at his disposal in the majority, Democrats are likely to insist on 60 votes for most pieces of legislation, ensuring that work on a single bill eats up days of floor time.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said procedural moves won’t carry McConnell very far “because there’s no way to get to 60 votes.”

“There’s no light and the tunnel is very long,” he said. 

Smith said the one constant in the Senate if power flips would be the deep divide between the parties.

“The partisanship and gridlock will continue, but with a change in party control the nuances of their everyday political rhetoric will change,” Smith said. 

Hoagland offered a more optimistic take, and said Democrats might be shocked to find that GOP leaders are more than willing to listen to their ideas and give them a hand in legislating.

He predicted GOP leaders in the Senate would open up the floor process, giving some newer Democratic members a chance to have more input.

“Senate Democrats who haven’t had a chance to participate in the process and haven’t had that open debate may be a little bit in shock,” he said. 

Hoagland said he expects that a Republican Congress would push forward on approving a budget, giving newer Senate Democrats a chance to participate in a full-fledged vote-a-rama, a budget conference and even the reconciliation process. 

Smith said Democratic leaders would likely try to present a united front against the GOP agenda, but might struggle to keep some moderate members from breaking ranks, particularly the ones who are up for reelection in 2016.

“Democrats will try to keep their party disciplined in their opposition to the Republicans, but they will be disappointed from time to time that a handful of Democrats are willing to play ball with the Republicans, who will be dealing with them to acquire votes for cloture,” Smith said.  

And while Republicans have condemned many of Reid’s tactics in the minority, comparing them to a dictatorship, they might find themselves resorting to the same tools to thwart legislative mischief.

“[Democrats] will spend a considerable amount of time fashioning floor amendments to force Republicans to vote on their agenda, and they will be frustrated when Republicans fill the amendment tree and otherwise block their efforts to do so," Smith said. 

But while life in the minority would bring frustration, Democrats could take comfort in the fact that, for them, it might not last long.

In 2016, 24 Republican senators are up for reelection, while only 10 Democrats are  — a disparity that most political handicappers say will be difficult, if not impossible, for the GOP to overcome. 

“The feeling for Democrats is, suck it up for two years and then come roaring back,” Baker said. 

Senate Democrats who served in the minority in 2006 and could return for the 114th Congress: 

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3.      Thomas Carper, Delaware

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14.     Harry Reid, Nevada

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