The Founding Fathers basically wanted it this way. They wanted two chambers of the legislative branch: one loud, unruly, and highly responsive to current events and the people, and one contemplative, sober, and largely insulated from the vagaries of public opinion. It’s a good design, and we should expect the Senate to always be more conservative than the House. Sure, there are times (like 2001-02) when the Senate is the Democrats’ hands and the House is in the hands of the Republicans. I’m not talking about that. I’m saying that the Senate is more elitist and cautious than the House. Senators, regardless of party, tend to be less radical than the party they represent’s rank and file.

It’s easy to demonstrate this. In the House, the largest bloc is the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Caucus is powerful. It has 72 members (16.5% of the House). And of the 20 committees in the House, 11 are chaired by progressives (including the most powerful: Ways & Means, Rules, Judiciary, Financial Services).

By comparison, the Senate has one current (Bernie Sanders) and one former (Sherrod Brown) member of the Progressive Caucus. Both are newcomers with no accumulated seniority. Technically, the Senate doesn’t have subcaucuses. If it did, we might find a few more Democrats belonging to a progressive caucus…perhaps: Sheldon Whitehouse, Patrick Leahy, Robert Menendez, Barbara Boxer, Tom Harkin, Russ Feingold, Teddy Kennedy, and Chris Dodd. It’s hard to say.

It’s difficult to get progressives elected to the Senate. They seldom even make the effort. But Rep. Tom Udall is going for it in New Mexico and his poll numbers look fantastic.

Udall isn’t the most progressive member of Congress; he clocks in at eighty-first in the Progressive Punch rolling tally (and he also caucuses with the New Democrats). Yet, he is more progressive than 80% of his colleagues. And that is enough to make me enthusiastic about his campaign. We probably won’t have an opportunity to elect a member of the progressive caucus to the Senate again until one of the two Hawaiian senators retires.

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