FORT WAYNE — The last Hoosier to switch from the U.S. House to the Senate has advice for the next one.
“You need a lot of patience because you’ll be very frustrated by how slow the process works here,” Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said last week. “Our founders designed it that way, but members over the years have made it even worse.”
Coats said the House is far more orderly than the Senate, where either the majority-party leader or minority-party filibusters can prevent, stall or kill bills.
“Sometimes, it’s only dire necessity that moves legislation” in the Senate, Coats said.
Then a member of the House from the northeast Indiana district, Coats was appointed to Republican Dan Quayle’s vacant Senate seat in 1989 after Quayle became vice president. Quayle himself had been a House member elected to the Senate in 1980.
Coats won a special election in 1990, was re-elected in 1992, sat out the 1998 election and was elected to the Senate again in 2010.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, will be sworn in as a senator Jan. 3 after defeating Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the Nov. 6 election. Mourdock ousted 36-year incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary election.
“There are advantages” to being in the Senate, Coats said. “Joe will appreciate not having to run for re-election in 2014 and 2016 and all that comes with that.”
A Senate term is six years, and a House term lasts only two. There are other differences: Among the, only the 100-member Senate considers presidential nominations and treaties, while bills affecting revenue must originate in the 435-member House. Rules for floor debate are stricter in the House.
Donnelly will have one advantage Coats lacks: He will be part of the majority party in the Senate. Counting two independents who will caucus with them, Democrats will have a 55-45 edge next year, although their majority is five votes short of stopping GOP filibusters – a procedure for unlimited debate that can doom legislation.
Donnelly, first elected to the House in 2006 to represent the South Bend-area district, attended orientation sessions for new senators last week after returning to Capitol Hill from the congressional election recess.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that from Day 1 we can jump on constituent concerns across the state,” he said.
Donnelly has not received committee assignments and declined to say which panels he hopes to join.
“I don’t want to jinx anything by laying out, ‘Oh, I want this, this, this and this,’ ” he said. “In talking with (Democratic leaders), the needs of northeast Indiana are very reflected in what we’re trying to get done.”
Donnelly is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs and Financial Services committees and a former member of the Agriculture Committee. Coats is on the Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources, Joint Economic and Select Intelligence committees in the Senate.
Donnelly no longer is living out of his office as he has in recent months. He said he has joined two other congressmen in a house owned by a lawmaker.
Asked whether he and his wife, Jill, will be buying a house in the Washington area now that he apparently has six years of job security ahead of him, Donnelly said: “I have not even thought that far. All I know is I have been liberated from my office and have moved down the block to a room smaller than what I grew up in as a child.”