The lazy Senate is helping Democrats win re-election

The lazy Senate is helping Democrats win re-election
© Greg Nash

If you’re a conservative in Washington, things are going poorly.

Republican majorities in Washington have failed to repeal ObamaCare and are instead likely to bail it out. There is criticism that the GOP tax plan may raise taxes on the middle class. The hardest-won conservative spending victory in decades, the Budget Control Act, is about to be undone. And the Senate is only working 2.5 days a week.

To add insult to injury, the Senate’s schedule is playing right into the hands of Democrats running for reelection.

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A primary goal for any majority leader is to strengthen and grow his majority. A key tool in his political war chest is the power to force senators to stay in Washington and work, as opposed to allowing them to go home and campaign.

 

In the Senate, this tool is particularly potent.

Unlike the House of Representatives, where every member is up for re-election at the same time, only one-third of the Senate is up for re-election in each two-year cycle. A politically savvy leader will use these numbers to inform the Senate’s schedule. If his party has more seats to defend, he will try his best to create a schedule that allows his members to go home more often. If the minority party has more seats in cycle, however, he will make the Senate work harder to deny his political opposition campaign time.

This is a bare-knuckle but fundamental way for a majority party to protect and expand its Senate seats, and to threaten those of the minority. For decades, majority leaders have operated under this dictum.

That is, until now.

The upcoming 2018 cycle favors the Senate Republican majority by fifteen seats. Republicans are only defending eight seats, while Democrats must defend twenty-three. This is a disparity so huge that, according to data analyzed by the Conservative Partnership, it’s the largest advantage ever held by a majority party in American history.

Unlike his predecessors, who understood the basic political wisdom in keeping your rivals in town rather than on the campaign trail, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight Pelosi faces pressure to act on Saudi Arabia Make the First Step Act a smarter step by opening the risk assessment black box MORE (R-Ky.) is about to squander a key Republican advantage.

By keeping the Senate in an average of 2.5 days a week, the majority leader is allowing vulnerable Democrats to have four full days a week to campaign.

This is akin to intentionally tying your hand behind your back before rowing your boat against the current. With one oar.

It is literally taking the largest political advantage held by a majority party in modern politics and tossing it to the wayside.

It’s the political equivalent of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Previous leaders have not made similar mistakes. Consider the similar election cycle of 2008. The majority party Democrats were defending only 12 seats, while minority party Republicans were defending twenty-three.

Did then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Water wars won’t be won on a battlefield Poll finds most Americans and most women don’t want Pelosi as Speaker MORE let Republicans off the hook to campaign? Hardly. The 110th Senate stayed in session for 2,364 hours, working harder than nearly every Congress since 1955. The result? The Democrats defended their majority, defeating five Republican incumbents and picking up three open seats.

Surprise! Hard work pays off.

Even removed from an electoral angle, the laziness of the Senate makes no sense. Consider the example of the 104th Senate, the hardest workers since the 1940s. This was the first full Congress following the 1994 wave election, which ushered in historic Republican majorities. It was the first time Republicans held the Senate since 1987.

Rather than resting on their laurels, the 104th Senate showed up to work, clocking in nearly 3,000 hours of session — and that was in an off-year, with a Democrat in the Oval Office.

The 2017 Senate faces a similar policy opportunity. They have Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and a Republican president so eager for accomplishments that he’s said he will literally sign anything they send to him.

And yet, here we are, with the laziest and most unaccomplished Senate in recent memory.

One has to ask, what is McConnell thinking?

He’s failed to deliver on key Republican promises. He’s blaming Democrats for his own failure to process President Trump’s nominees — even allowing his own leadership team to block nominees for key positions over parochial concerns. He can’t even keep the Senate working for the basic task of growing the Republican majority — or to prevent vulnerable Democrats from getting extra time on the campaign trail.

The Senate majority leader is tasked with a few simple responsibilities: managing the Senate floor schedule, and solidifying and growing the Senate majority. Through incompetence or indifference, McConnell has proven himself incapable of both.

If Republicans lose their Senate majority in November, they’ll have a lot of extra time on their hands. Which, if this Senate’s schedule is anything to go by, they should be very used to.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.