The latest polls heading into the weekend before Election Day suggest whoever is elected president will face the same dysfunctional Congress that President Obama has faced the last two years. That, in turn, increases the pressure on engaged citizens to push their representatives to take action in the areas most important to them.
Democrats still appear likely to hold the Senate – the Democratic candidate is up in eight of the 11 Senate battleground states, while the Republican leads in two races and one – Montana – is essentially tied. You can read the polls at: RealClearPolitics.com.
Republicans need a net gain of four seats to win the Senate, and based on RealClearPolitics.com’s latest numbers, they are likely to net out with only a one- or two-seat pickup. That’s based on Republicans taking Democratic seats in North Dakota and Nebraska, but losing a seat in Massachusetts, and with Montana as a wild card. Another wild card: Democratic candidates could pull off upsets in Indiana and Arizona, Senate seats thought to be safely in Republican control.
In the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears to be a lock for a new term as Speaker, assuming he isn’t challenged by restless conservatives in his own ranks. And that’s very unlikely, according to an insightful blog post by John Feehery, a former top aide to ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who is very familiar with the internal workings of the House Republican Conference. You can read that here: http://bit.ly/Sl033R
Again turning to RealClearPolitics.com, Republicans and Democrats are fighting over just 33 seats rated as tossups, and Democrats need a net 25-seat pickup to win control of the House. Worse yet for Democrats, just 18 of the 33 seats in play are currently in Republican hands.
So what does a Republican House and a Democratic Senate mean for a second-term President Obama, or a first-term President Romney?
For Obama, look for another bid for a “grand compromise” around tax reform and changes to Medicare. Some of the president’s allies are nervous about the possibility (here’s Politico’s take on liberals’ concerns: http://politi.co/Yvbmu5), but Boehner’s right flank is probably most likely to sink any such deal, mainly because Obama would almost surely insist on tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.
That doesn’t mean to expect a second term devoid of policymaking. Obama would continue to implement the Affordable Care Act – and the health reform law’s provisions would begin to be felt by all Americans. And the president would probably continue to pursue clean energy policies through executive action.
On the environmental side, there’s little reason to believe the hype that a second-term Obama would unleash the regulatory might of the Environmental Protection Agency. But on the other hand, complex rules on greenhouse gas emissions, toxic pollution from power plants and clean-car standards would go forward.
On defense, the troops would likely come home from Afghanistan, and the killer drones would continue striking suspected terrorists all over the world. Second-term presidents also often try to revive the ever-sputtering Middle East peace process.
And what of a President Romney?
The candidate has put forth an agenda that revolves around tax policy – and that probably means bad news for the Republicans unless they can win the Senate. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) would have no interest in allowing Romney’s allies to use procedural tools to move his tax policy through the Senate. In fact, Reid this week promised to thwart Romney’s agenda. (Read The Hill’s account here: http://bit.ly/PLMJt3)
Romney says he will offer a major tax cut coupled with a once-in-a-generation tax reform plan; it’s hard to see that going anywhere if Harry Reid is majority leader.
Romney has also vowed to use the tax code and budget procedures as one way to unwind Obama’s healthcare law; that goes out the window if Democrats have a Senate majority.
Some observers – or wishful thinkers – believe the tax-policy-oriented Romney might be interested in a carbon tax, both to reduce the debt and mitigate climate change. But it’s tough to see how Romney would run that past the very conservative House Republican Conference, and it would likely provoke a Tea Party revolt making President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 apostasy on tax hikes look like a trifling affair. (The first President Bush’s embrace of tax increases as part of a budget deal led to widespread conservative disaffection with his presidency and also led directly to Newt Gingrich’s rise to power in the House.)
Deficits, taxes, Medicare, Social Security – all of these policy areas would seem to be out of bounds if Romney is squaring off against a Democratic Senate. By administrative action he would likely stall aspects of the Affordable Care Act and EPA’s climate program. He would also be very likely to open up much more federal land to oil and gas drilling.
Overseas, it’s unclear whether Romney would slow Obama’s march out of Afghanistan, but it’s perfectly clear that he would continue the drone-attack policy.
Either way, the next president is going to have to be creative to get anything done. And citizen pressure will contribute. Tools such as Popvox.com allow citizens to weigh in directly with their members of Congress on the issues important to them. And since lawmakers aren’t inclined to break the gridlock, they’ll need a push from the voters.
About the Author (Author Profile)
CHARLIE MITCHELL. Editor and CEO. Mitchell has covered Washington for two decades. Days after Republicans recaptured the House in 1994, he helped launch a publication called Inside the New Congress. Mitchell went on to become the managing editor of National Journal’s Congress Daily and later editor-in-chief of Roll Call, two of the most respected congressional news outlets in Washington.