What Can We Expect From a Republican-Led Congress?

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

November midterms haven’t arrived yet and candidates in key states still have a few months to start up fires, put out negative ads, and fundraise till they’re blue (or red) in the face. That means Democrats in particular still have time on the clock to try to draw out voters and scrape through the season with their majority intact. They still have time — but that doesn’t mean things are looking very promising for the left. In fact, far from it. FiveThirtyEight updated its midterm outlook on Sunday and the news is pretty much straight sunshine for the GOP and a continuation of poor chances for Democrats. The group combines general “fundamental factors” affecting election chances with the latest poll results from various sources, and is continuing its negative outlook for Democrats.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture,” stated FiveThirytEight, “Republicans can win the Senate solely by winning Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia — states which voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by an average of 19 percentage points in 2012.” Alaska’s Democratic incumbent, Mark Begich, has fallen behind Dan Sullivan (R) in recent polls, and has the disadvantage of being a Democrat in a red-tinged state. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) just got her residency problem dismissed; she had filed based on her parent’s home, casting doubt on whether or not she was a able to run for Senate in Louisiana. A judge pointed out that her address as it’s written on the day of the election is the only one that will matter, so the lawsuit is too early to be considered. Voter turnout is also considered more in the favor of the GOP by FiveThirtyEight, which gives the overall advantage to Republicans with a 65.1 percent chance of taking the Senate and a 34.9 percent chance that Democrats retain the majority.

The Washington Post’s election lab has actually seen an enormous slump in its Republican advantage, only showing a 53 percent chance that the GOP takes the Senate; still a lead, but a less certain one, reminding us that the election is cutting it close this year. Given the wavering, but still strong likelihood that Republicans take the Senate we’re seeing projected, it’s worth considering where Washington will be after elections are over and the balance has been readjusted. Currently — and really since long before 2013 came to a close — Capitol Hill has been dealing with intense gridlock. Changing the makeup of the two houses would obviously play an enormous role in changing that, though it would hardly smooth things over in such politically choppy seas.

Will Gridlock Decrease If Republicans Have Both Houses?

Even if Republicans take majorities in both Houses, internal conflict and standoffs aren’t likely to magically go away. For one thing, the GOP has been more split than ever recently, and disagreement within parties has often been a problem even during periods where Congress is one-party controlled.

Tea Party influences within the GOP have seen a fair amount of clash this year with other Republican members differing in focus — away from Obamacare for example — and generally opening the door for intra-party conflict. More extreme members of the right have diverged, making cooperation even in the same party more difficult.

Even if the GOP has the numbers to pass legislation, that doesn’t mean it will be able to come to a consensus on bills — far from it — especially given the very minor lead Republicans would come out with in the Senate. If the party only leads by a small handful of Senators, or even one or two, getting every Republican on board — or even a handful of conservative Democrats and almost all Senate Republicans on board — could be difficult. Gridlock may indeed decrease, but let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.

What About the Relationship Between President Barack Obama and Congress?

In May this year, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of respondents were fine with Congress continuing to be split between parties. In some ways, a split division is preferable. If we’re going to see an ineffective Congress battle it out, better to see it at the legislative level, rather than watch it branch out to include even more of the executive than it already does — ahem, talking to you House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with that lawsuit. To an extent, that’s what can be expected should the majority swing to the right in both Houses, and legislation starts making it through and up to the president.

To predict what sort of veto rate we might expect, we can take a look at President George W. Bush over the course of his two terms. Interestingly, Bush only vetoed twelve bills between 2001 and 2008 — not very many from a historical viewpoint — but nearly all of them took place after 2007, excusing the Public Health Service Act, which he vetoed in 2006. Why were eleven of the twelve bills in that single year?

Since, in that year, Democrats seized control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If Boehner is right after all, and President Obama likes to swing his weight around a bit too much, we can probably expect a higher rate of veto, assuming Republicans manage to pass enough bills to allow it.

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