The House, at long last, is going to understand what it feels like to be the Senate.
The differing rules of the two chambers of Congress have allowed the House to get on its soapbox and complain about the do-nothing Senate, the chamber which can hold up legislation not just by filibuster, but the mere threat of a filibuster. A single senator (not 41 senators, as is sometimes inaccurately presented even by Senate candidates) can keep a measure from even being debated. The rules developed at a time when there was far more professional courtesy in the Senate, and filibusters were used only in extreme circumstances.
The House (which is full of rules, including dictates about how long each side can debate an amendment and even whether the full House will be allowed to consider certain amendments) gets annoyed because it passes legislation that just sits idly on the other side of the Capitol. And this isn't just a complaint by GOP House Speaker John Boehner, citing inaction by the Democratic-majority Senate. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, when she was Speaker, was able to get several hundred bills through the House, only to see them languish in the Democratic-dominated Senate.
Now, those dynamics have flipped, and it is the House which will have to defend its action – or, quite possibly, inaction – on a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill approved Thursday by the US Senate.
The measure would provide a path for citizenship for people here illegally – after requiring them to go through an arduous route to legalization – while creating, at large expense, tighter border security measures. All the Senate Democrats voted for the measure, as did 14 Republicans.
It's not the vote that makes the bill bipartisan, since true bipartisanship is displayed by the work done before the bill gets to the floor. In this case, the work was completed by a two-party, ideologically disparate "gang of eight," which impressively managed to write and pass a bill in one of the most partisan and dysfunctional environments in Senate history.
The House could simply refuse to take up the Senate bill, a strategy preferred by the House's hardcore conservatives. But doing so could be the final straw for a growing Latino electorate that is already extremely impatient with the Republican party as a whole. There are surely GOP lawmakers and candidates in denial over the changing demographics of the electorate, but party strategists understand the numbers. For years, the House has blamed the Senate for sitting on legislation. The onus now is on the House – and inaction will bring more than sniping from the other chamber. It may well have serious consequences at the ballot box.