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GOP Takes House, Dems Keep the Senate. What's It All Mean for Life Under the Dome?

November 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

For today’s updates, surf along with our micropublishing account. Man there is some good content there this morning… a WSJ profile of Rep. Boehner, a Politifact take-down of misinformation that circulates via viral e-mails, pleasantly substantive political analysis of this past session of Congress from Ezra Klein at the WaPo, always more...

From yesterday: Election results are still rolling in, and we still don’t know about some of the most important races, like the one between the current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] and Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle (update 10 am ET 11-03-10, NYT called it for Reid indeed), but we do know this: The Republicans will take the House and the Democrats will keep the Senate. This is pretty much as expected by the pollsters, but it’s a better result for Obama and the Democrats than what happened to the Clinton Administration in 1994, which many pundits have tried to compare this too.

The next session of Congress will be the first session with the chambers split between the Democrats and the Republicans since 1985. During that session, the 99th, which took place during the fifth and sixth years of the Reagan Administration, the President’s party (Republicans) held the Senate with 53 seats and the opposition party (Democrats) held the House with 253 seats. The final numbers aren’t in tonight, but it looks like the make up of the next session of Congress could be very similar to the 99th.

Lame Duck

So, first off, what do tonight’s results mean for the lame duck session that the current session of Congress is planning to convene in mid-November? Depending on the results of the Senate race in Illinois (as I write this the Republican candidate is ahead), the Democrats may actually be down by a vote when they reconvene. There were four “special elections” tonight in which the winners would be seated immediately following the election results — West Virginia, New York, Delaware and Illinois. Right now, we know that the Dems will be holding seats in West Virginia, New York, Delaware. Illinois is up in the air.

Regardless, Republicans will be going into the lame duck session believing they have a mandate from voters to oppose the Obama/Democratic agenda. The Democrats, meanwhile, are going to be shell-shocked and heading into the lame-duck  session wanting to go home and regroup as soon as possible. I think it’s safe to bet that only the bare minimum of what has to be get done in the lame duck is actually going to get done. That probably includes doing something with the expiring Bush tax cuts (Republicans will feel like voters told them to stand strong on extending the cuts for all income levels), dealing with the expiring unemployment insurance benefits (Republicans will probably oppose this even more than have in the past; its’ going to be very hard for Dems to get this done), and funding the government through the end of the year.

Given tonight’s results, I wouldn’t expect anybody in Congress to be in the mood to work on immigration, renewable energy, or any of the other items that the Democrats have unofficially punted to the lame duck session.

Next Year

As Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] has already admitted, the next session of Congress is going to be all about politicking for the presidential race in 2012. Obviously, there are some incredibly important economic and environmental issues facing the country right now. But the  political dynamics of the split session of Congress just isn’t going to allow for any of that to be addressed. They only things we can really expect to see are the action taht the chambers can take independent of the other — a defunding of health care reform led by the House (possibly leading to a government-wide shutdown), investigations of the Obama Administrations (maybe even including an impeachment hearing), and a movement form the Senate to oppose any legislation put forth by the Republican House.

At this point, I’d say the few potential issues with bipartisan appeal that could get done in the next session include: improving the nation’s food safety system, creating a new federal cybersecurity infrastructure, expanding offshore drilling, dealing with the China currency issue, and probably a few other marginal issues. Another big question is going to be if the parties can come together on structural reforms like revising the filibuster rules in the Senate or changing the way federal campaigns are financed. I’m not banking on any progress on these issues, but they really are the wild cards in all this. They’re not necessarily partisan issues, they have broad appeal with voters, and they would forever change the way Congress (an institution with a 10% public approval rating) works.

Pictured above is Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], who is expected to be Speaker of the House in the next session of Congress.

Late Update: Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] will keep his seat, but Dems lose to GOP in PA and IL Senate races. It’s looking the Dems will hold a 52 or 53-seat Senate majority in the next session of Congress.

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