So far Democrats and Republicans have been struggling to recruit candidates to run in the 33 Senate elections set for 2014, even with eight open seats up for grabs. The difficulty in recruitment and the eight Senate retirements and both symptoms of the descent of the Senate from "the greatest deliberative body in the world" to a place of dysfunction, inaction, and negativity.
Once considered second only to the presidency, the prospect of a seat in the Senate is now so unattractive that state secretaries are declining nomination. In Iowa, where Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) retirement leaves a vacant seat, the lieutenant governor, agriculture secretary, secretary of state and two prominent congressmen all declined to seek the Republican nomination. Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds says, "At the federal level, it's so partisan, it's dysfunctional," said Kim Reynolds, Iowa's lieutenant governor.
Many pragmatic politicians, motivated by policy rather than politics, are staying in state government. "When you are a governor, every day you can get things done," said Republican Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, who declined to run for an easy Senate seat. "But you look at the U.S. Senate, you don't get the sense that people are willing to work together to do what's right for the country."
While not every race is running dry of candidates — Louisiana, Georgia, and New Jersey all have crowded primaries — the lack of prominent candidates in states like Kentucky, Nebraska, Montana, and Iowa is not surprising given that Senate retirements are at the highest levels on record, with 30 retirements since 2010. "In the old days, you'’d have to carry the Senate finance chair out on a stretcher," said Ed Rollins, a GOP strategist. "There's just not quite the enthusiasm I've seen in other years."
And why should senators and perspective candidates be enthusiastic about a legislature that spends more time campaigning and fighting off super PACs and special interests than legislating? The last time the last time a major new piece of policy legislation passed the U.S. Senate was the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill on July 15, 2010, almost three years ago.
By July 4, the Senate is expected to vote on an immigration overhaul bill, a move that, after the dismal failure of gun control legislation in April, could at least give the impression of functionality. But even with immigration 2016 politics seems more important than legislative substance. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said those Republicans trying to block the bill will all but guarantee a Democratic win in 2016.
If the Senate wants to regain America's respect, it should recall its duty to legislate. Only a functioning and effective body will attract the quality legislators Congress needs to surpass the obstacles we are facing. Otherwise, it would seem, Congress will continue down the spiral of legislative irrelevance.