The lower chamber and the center of gravity

THE LOWER CHAMBER AND THE CENTER OF GRAVITY…. When it looked like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would lose his re-election bid, there was plenty of behind-the-scenes positioning among Senate Dems to fill the likely leadership vacuum.

Of course, Reid won this week. Is there any chance we might see a leadership challenge anyway? No. Yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) put an end to the speculation — asked whether Reid has their support, the both said in near unison, “Absolutely.”

In fact, Roll Call noted today that some in the Senate Democratic caucus feel “some sense of victory having survived” the midterms, and even ending up keeping their majority.

In a post-election conference call with the Democratic caucus, Senate leaders tried to impress upon their rank-and-file Members that they may be down, but they are not out. Few pundits projected the Democrats would lose the Senate in Tuesday’s balloting, but many forecasted greater GOP gains and most predicted Reid would lose to tea-party-inspired challenger Sharron Angle.

Several Senators said that they were urged Wednesday to empathize with voter discontent but that they should not see the results as a reason to cave in to any and all GOP demands.

“The voters have spoken. We need to listen. We need to be gracious,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said of the private call. He added, “At the same time, we should recognize that we’re not operating from a position of weakness,” given that Democrats still hold the White House and the Senate majority.

That’s a welcome attitude, and the piece went on to note that reforming filibuster rules remains an area of interest.

But now is probably a good time to note that the center of gravity is very likely to shift to the House for a change. For the last two years, the House has largely been an afterthought — the practical equivalent to a “motion to proceed” for the Senate. The House had the ability to function whether the GOP minority liked it or not, so the Senate became the focus of all the attention, since it was the chamber that dictated what would become law or not.

The next Congress will have a different dynamic. Not only will there be a Republican majority in the House, it’ll be a pretty big one, at least by GOP standards. To get legislation passed, the White House will have to negotiate, not with Snowe and Collins, but with Boehner and Cantor. If a bill the White House can tolerate can get through a conservative Republican House, getting Senate support for the measure shouldn’t be too difficult.

There are still some responsibilities that are unique to the upper chamber — judicial nominees, treaties, etc. — but chances are, the political world will be obsessing less on a daily basis over what kind of mood Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and the Maine senators are in.