On Nov. 4, 2014, the United States government will hold an election — a mid-term election, to be more specific — which gets its name for being in the middle of a President’s term in office.
This November, as with every mid-term election since the establishment of our Constitution, all members of the House of Representatives (435 seats) and one-third of the members of the Senate (33 seats) are up for re-election at the end of their term.
In many ways this election is similar to any election in America. There is a strong, but not insurmountable, incumbent advantage. Election Day turnout will have a great impact on the results of the election. The results will be spun as a referendum on the job performance of the President, with varying degrees of legitimacy. And finally, when all the dust settles that first week in November, the winners will declare, “a new day in Washington” and the losers will decry the country’s demise.
For all the things that will inevitably be the same, there is one wrinkle that makes this election unique. You have undoubtedly heard that control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs. What will happen if Republicans take control of the Senate? What will happen if Democrats retain control? How will the government be different in each scenario? These questions are what “Inside Washington” is for.
First, a note about the House of Representatives: Pollsters and political handicappers largely agree that control of the House is not in jeopardy this election. Generally speaking, midterm elections favor the President’s opposition party. Look at the 1994 election which swept Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, into the speaker’s office during the Clinton administration, the 2006 election which gave us Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, during the Bush administration, and finally the 2010 election which Republicans won back control during President Obama’s first term. Control of the House of Representatives is not in question. Who the speaker will be might be in question, but that is a discussion for another time.
Turning our attention to the Senate now, the chamber composition is currently 55 Democrats, which includes two independents, to 45 Republicans. Of the 33 Senate races, it’s largely understood that 16 are safe for their party (five for Democrats and 11 for Republicans) and, when added to the seats that are not up for re-election, the balance is 39 Democrats and 41 Republicans. Both parties have six races that, unless a substantial wave occurs before Election Day, are likely to be controlled by their respective parties. For those keeping the math, that means just based on geographic projections in states that largely favor one party or the other, the balance of power is 45 for Democrats and 47 for Republicans. This is a net gain of two seats before the election even happens and is the basis for the GOP’s eagerness to take control of the Senate.
This leaves eight elections that will determine the control of the Senate. Of those eight seats, five supported Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president in 2012. To say that retaining control of the Senate is an up-hill battle for Democrats is accurate.
Mathematically for the GOP to take control of the Senate, they must only win the three states Democrats control in very red states (Mont., S.D. and W.Va.) and pick up three of the eight toss-ups (Alaska, Ark., Colo., Ga., Iowa, Kan., N.H. and N.C.) and simply winning the seats they’re already predisposed to win. This is possible, albeit not guaranteed.
So let’s talk about what the landscape looks like if Republicans do take control of the Senate.
Republicans will control a simple majority in both chambers. This is important because should both chambers pass legislation that President Obama then vetoes, neither chamber has the two-thirds majority required to override the President’s veto. As a result of knowing this in advance, it is likely that House and Senate Republicans will take to the media as a way to pressure the President to either negotiate with them or simply succumb to their wishes. Think of it as the opposite of the President’s bully pulpit. In practice, it will seem like a lot more name calling and playing the blame game in the national media and press.
But will anything get done? To answer that, let’s step back and remember where we are currently.
Democrats have the majority, but not the 60 votes required to end a filibuster. The House currently bemoans the Senate for not doing anything, but will that change if Republicans win a majority (likely) but not a 60-seat majority (very unlikely)? The only thing likely to change is that Republicans in the House and Senate will blame a minority in the Senate rather than a majority.
Otherwise, in order to move legislation, Senate Republicans will have to rely on the support of Democrats, who will have their eyes on the 2016 election, which is a much more favorable landscape for Democrats and will be a presidential election year.
If Democrats retain control of the Senate by the skin of their teeth, it will be called a victory by the Democrats but will simply retain the status quo. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will continue to set the agenda in the Senate and block all legislation from the House. The House will likely continue to pass legislation they know will not be brought to a vote in the Senate in an attempt to frame their positions for the 2016 presidential election. The House will likely only take up Senate legislation that has substantial Republican support or pressure, which will then pass with support from a majority of Democrats.
When Congress has been unable or unwilling to support his priorities, President Obama has acted unilaterally by Executive Order, which doesn’t seem likely to change with similarly divided government. A Republican Senate could prompt the President to exercise a greater prerogative to govern by Executive Order as his liberal agenda is much less likely to gain any sort of traction in a conservative Congress. The President, with two years remaining in office, is beginning to think about his legacy, which to this point has been marred by ineffectiveness.
For business and infrastructure issues, either scenario is likely to only see marginal improvements. Democrats are, generally speaking, much more supportive of federal infrastructure funding initiatives, whereas Republicans, again generally, are much more supportive of pro-business or pro-growth priorities. Anything that comes out of Congress for the next two years will be bipartisan, as that is the only way the two chambers can pass anything together. But a Republican Senate will not cause an immediate shift in the direction of America’s business and infrastructure needs or the way Washington operates. What it will show is a further entrenchment of Republican agenda’s in Republican states, because those are the battlegrounds this election, and a willingness to let Republicans govern, a responsibility that will lead to the outcomes in 2016 and beyond.
Will Brown is NUCA’s government Relations Manager.