Recovering Governors Take Senate One Day at a Time

By Trygstad, Kyle | Roll Call, August 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Recovering Governors Take Senate One Day at a Time


Trygstad, Kyle, Roll Call


Sen. Thomas R. Carper kicked off his Senate floor tribute to retiring Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., in December by noting the two of them, along with presiding officer Joe Manchin III, were all "recovering governors."

"We're sort of a support group for one another," the Delaware Democrat said then. "Men and women who used to be somebody and be special."

Carper was kidding -- mostly.

The former chief executives, who now make up 10 percent of the Senate, did form a casual working group last Congress and dubbed it the Former Governors Caucus. It's a legislative body subset defined by an often term-limit-forced career move from top dog in their home states to one of 100 in the nation's capital.

It's not always the easiest of transitions.

"We all loved being governor," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said last week on a Senate Subway ride back to his office, "and most of us love being senator."

Sens. Angus King, I-Maine; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; and freshman Mike Rounds, R-S.D., are chairing the bipartisan group, which re- launched for the 114th Congress in April. The lawmakers held their second formal gathering of the year last week, and the three chairmen sat down Tuesday for an interview with Roll Call.

"What brings us together as governors is an orientation toward results and a frustration with an institution that generally isn't very good at getting results," King said.

The senators joked some as they sat around a conference table in Shaheen's hideaway office in the Capitol basement. But, just a few steps and quick elevator ride from the Senate floor, where campaigning and name-calling has joined lawmaking in recent weeks, they were open about their frustration and, in turn, their conviction, to finding a better way to legislate.

Those frustrations, listed variously by at least one of the three, included overuse of the filibuster, rule-making, hearing schedules, constant fundraising, lack of relationships and Congress abdicating its own constitutional powers, citing the Authorization for Use of Military Force as the prime example.

"I think there's less accountability here in the Senate," Shaheen said, adding later, "We have talked about our frustrations with the partisanship and with the fact that, again, as someone who's been held accountable, there's a belief that we should continue to be and move things forward and compromise and get things done, and sometimes there are others here who don't feel that way."

Their July 27 meeting in a small hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Along with the highway bill, the budget was the primary focus of the conversation, including the possibility of making it a biennial process.

After passing as an amendment in 2013 to the Senate's nonbinding budget resolution, Shaheen and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., reintroduced a bill in January that would alter the budget schedule. Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., has put forward similar legislation.

"We decided that one of the things there was agreement on is the fact that the budget process is broken, and we need to look at what we can do to help work on that," Shaheen said.

Just six months into his Senate tenure, Rounds, who is interested in a biennial budget process as well, is still getting used to his position as a junior member, particularly with crucial legislative deadlines coming to a head in the fall.

"As a new member, not being directly involved with those discussions on a regular basis, it's frustrating, where as governor you'd be right in the middle of things," he said.

The esteem the senators in this caucus hold their former jobs is no more apparent than in the lobby of Sen. Jim Risch's office on the fourth floor of the Russell building. …

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