The split between Democrats in the U.S. Senate and Republicans in the U.S. House has caused more than a little tension in the legislative process, which is Congress’ job. That division, no matter how democratically it was conceived, resulted in bills from one chamber not getting the attention they deserve in the other.If the Republicans win back the Senate, more than a dozen bills will be unlocked from legislative limbo and resurface with broad conservative support.
The media is mostly discussing what a GOP Senate majority would do, but the real story should be finding bills that would begin to heal the tension among both major parties. Both chambers have been blamed for obstructing laws from passing. Speaker Boehner pointed to 10 House-passed bills that have languished in the Senate.
The House, meanwhile, has other bills that are also collecting dust. The GOP can’t continue playing the same game they have been with Democrats, who are also partially to blame, and expect the results to benefit them in 2016.
Here are the 10 most important bills the 113th Senate will have to consider. It is not only their job, but it will set the stage for how well the GOP can legislate.
S. 2280 - A Bill to Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) has pushed for approval on the Keystone XL pipeline since his days as governor of North Dakota. Even Democrats, especially those in jeopardy of losing their seats in 2014, have signed up as cosponsors. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) worked with Hoeven, citing national interest and economic common sense.
Democratic Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have touted their disagreement with the Obama administration’s delays on the TransCanada pipeline as a way to sway conservative voters away from their challengers.
The House has taken up this issue as well and H.R. 3 and H.R. 3703 include a re-route through Nebraska and the ability to bypass the president to get approval from the secretary of state, respectively.
S. 2304 – Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act
This bill is the Senate’s version of H.R. 10, which not only passed with strong bipartisan support, 360-45, including 158 Democrats, but Speaker Boehner has pushed for the Senate to act on it. Sens. Landrieu and Pryor are among the co-sponsors.
The bill would expand the Charter Schools Program and provide more grant funds for the more successful schools.
S. 2516 – DISCLOSE Act
The Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case greatly damaged the faith in campaign finance reformers by decreasing transparency and defining corporations as people. The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act is a bicameral effort by Democrats -- only 1 Republican in the House signed on as a cosponsor — to change the campaign finance rules.
The chances of passing the DISCLOSE Act are about the same as the GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare, but even if it is not a passable piece of legislation. it is a worthy cause to rally behind. The last great campaign finance reform was bipartisan and there is enough cause to make donations more transparent, even if they are on a corporate level.
S. 1351 – INFORM Act
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates the budgetary impact any legislation has over the succeeding 10 years. The Intergenerational Financial Obligations Reform Act’s purpose is to expand that window beyond a decade. It sounds like more work, but it would enable lawmakers to more clearly see the impact their votes have on future generations.
It has a small bipartisan team behind it, ranging from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The concept, intergenerational accounting, is the brainchild of Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist from Boston University. There are supporters and opponents to the proposed bill so a lot of debate is expected.
S. 1282 – 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013
The Glass-Steagall Act was an early component of FDR’s New Deal, so it obviously has a decent history behind it, but it also has several opponents in the banking industry. That is why it was partially repealed in 1999 (yes under President Clinton).
The repealed sections made it unlawful for investment banks (Lehman Brothers) to merge with commercial banks (Washington Mutual). The FDIC insures commercial bank deposits so it would be Lehman Brothers using depositors money in risky bets.
The repeal was part of the reason why many liberals blamed the Great Recession on Republican lawmakers. Now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is hoping to re-enact it for the new, and much more complicated, banking industry.
Warren is not the only voice in the Senate calling for it. The maverick, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), partnered with Warren on S. 1282. That, along with support from independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), means this a bill that transcends partisan lines.
There is still a debate on whether this would amount to much and the fact that is adds regulations (albeit long-standing, pre-existing ones) means it would have slim chances in a GOP-controlled 114th Congress.
S. 1919 – A Bill to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul authored this bill in an effort to limit U.S. intervention in the region. It is a symbolic bill that would legally put an end to any further military involvement in Iraq unless it is to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Paul is walking on a tightrope on this issue. The bill was introduced in January 2014, before ISIL took center stage. ISIL is threatening U.S. interests in the region and stronger intervention may be required. If passed, this bill would limit Obama’s response in Iraq and raise more questions than it answers.
S. 2567 – REDEEM Act
Paul has shown a willingness to craft legislation with bipartisan appeal. In the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, Sens. Paul and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) attempt to mitigate the negative ramifications of certain nonviolent crimes. Past offenders should not have welfare like TANF or SNAP or employment opportunities withheld from them only because of a conviction.
Reforming the criminal justice system, especially by making it less strict on juvenile and nonviolent crimes like drug possession, is not an easy task. It is worth paying attention to see if Paul can get this legislation through Congress because he may be looking for political victories en route to a 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
S. 2609 – Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act
There are several versions of Internet sales tax bills both for and against and not only in the Senate. The Marketplace Fairness Act allows the state to collect taxes from out-of-state retailers. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is attempting to merge the Marketplace Fairness Act with the House’s Internet Freedom Act.
The National Retail Federation has lobbied for passage of an Internet tax bill as a way to level the playing field between physical stores and e-commerce retailers. The problem is that once sales are taxed, it will limit digital entrepreneurship.
S. 46 – Ensuring the Full Faith and Credit of the United States and Protecting America’s Soldiers and Seniors Act AND S. 29 – End Government Shutdowns Act
S. 46 is Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) attempt at postponing credit default by allowing the secretary of the treasury to raise the debt ceiling over a 2-week period in the amount necessary to pay for monthly Social Security payments and payments for military personnel on active duty. The other bill is Sen. Portman’s idea to prevent further government shutdowns by making continuing resolutions automatic if no action is taken to enact a new CR.
Debt limit hikes and government shutdowns are two extremely self-inflicted disasters that Congress clearly has the power to prevent. The GOP’s attempt at streamlining the thought-process in these bills is logical enough to follow.
The Democrats say Republicans don’t give enough specifics in their plans. These two bills should be open for debate on the Senate floor to work out details and amendments, but they are good idea starters.
These 10 bills are just a sample of legislation that could create a bipartisan path toward alleviating tensions between Democrats and Republicans. Not all will pass, but it is important to work together. Otherwise, the public will see that nothing changed with the elections.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (left), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (right)