So what’s next?

This morning, we went over the preordained Republican takeover of the Senate. So, other than having to hear “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says” over and over, what will the next two years look like?

For the most part, you’d be correct in assuming that it’d look a lot like the last four years: With Democrat Barack Obama still the president, and a Republican-controlled House and Senate, it’s going to be a loud not much. Yet even with that caveat, we can still look into what a unified legislature is going to at least try, and perhaps succeed in.

The Staffing of Government

The past six years of the Obama administration have been particularly hard to staff. A significant portion of the government is appointed by the president, but needs to be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate has not been very kind about this during this administration. If you look over here, you’ll notice that there are still over 200 (!) nominees awaiting confirmation, and this is after the Senate changed its rules to kill the filibuster for nominees!* We currently have no surgeon general—despite Ebola!—because the nominee said something about gun control.

This is not to mention judges, who have been particularly difficult for the president to get confirmed.

You can expect that the next two years will see no progress on this front. The only nominees that will likely see office are those to fill cabinet-level posts, and those will be battles. It’s not clear who President Obama’s choice to be the next attorney general will be, but I certainly don’t envy them.

* Nearly half of all filibusters of confirmations in history have been Obama nominees.

Environment

The president is not without his victories, but probably his best overall achievement is environmental. During his administration, the EPA has issued strong rules limiting carbon emissions and gas mileage for cars. The stimulus program at the start of his term and an activist Department of Energy brought about an entire new and flourishing industry surrounding renewable energy. Wind power has doubled and solar power has grown six times. In a largely symbolic effort, he has pulled all stops to block the building of the Keystone XL pipeline that would funnel Canadian shale oil to the Gulf of Mexico.

Naturally, Senate Republicans aren’t such fans of this progress. They’ve been nothing but vocal about Keystone XL being a top priority for them, and that they’d overturn the EPA rules given the chance. Expect them to use whatever leverage they can muster (which is a lot) to force the administration’s hand on Keystone and chip away as much as they can against the EPA rules. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the president’s environmental legacy dampened.

Reproductive Rights

Sure, David Brooks thinks that women don’t care about affordable contraception. But you know who really does? The Republicans in Congress. They rail against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception, for surely it’s for sluts and not preventative medicine? Senator-Elect Cory Gardner largely neutralized Sen. Udall’s pro-women campaign by saying he is for making birth control over the counter. That sounds good, right? Well, over-the-counter means expensive and not covered by insurance, so there’s that. Expect that to be a battle in the next Congress.

Remember that the last time Republicans held both chambers they banned late-term abortion. In many of the states in which they control the legislature, they’ve enacted so many seemingly small anti-rights laws that it’s almost impossible for women to get reproductive care in those states. Why would you not expect them to bring that to the federal level?

The Rest

Sequestration (remember that?) cuts go into effect in 2015. Don’t expect this congress do to anything about that. This, of course, means draconian program cuts, government employee layoffs, and less help for the needy. Oh, and some choice tax credits also expire.

Speaking of, how about some shut-downs? Well, hopefully the lame-duck session will extend the debt limit—because it expires in March. But don’t expect the next Congress to let the debt limit extension pass cleanly like they did this year. Probably have to give up Keystone for that one.

And more budget and tax and debt ceiling argument will probably paralyze the economic recovery again. Which won’t hurt the new Republican senators, because President Obama will get the blame.

And don’t think cuts to Social Security will be off the table, because, well, that’s what they always have said they want to do.

 

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Voters decide the government is doing too much to help them

A hearty number of column inches (so anachronistic!) are being devoted today to explaining various reasons Democrats lost yesterday and Republicans won. It’s the long-running day-after tradition, and it’s rarely illuminating. But, you got to fill the papers, they say.

Truth is, we all knew this was going to happen two years ago. Hell, we were all pretty sure even six years ago, when this class of senators was elected. Without a presidential election to buoy them, these unlikely Democratic faces representing deeply conservative states would not be long in their seats.

The reason why is not surprising. The olds, the racists, the government-haters, and the other various undercurrents of resentment always come out to vote. They don’t need to be excited by their candidates; they don’t need to be convinced by grand visions of leadership or policy agendas. They just know something’s rotten in Denmark, and better off just checking off the box next to the guy (almost always the guy!) who represents that cynicism.

There’s millions of them, and they always vote. They’e a given. Unfortunately, not a given are everybody else. They’re sick of shitty campaigns and need to be convinced and inspired to come out to vote. They show up on presidential years because presidential candidates bring with them a cohesive policy agenda and some kind of inspiring campaign message.

It’s this impulse that leads them to be disappointed two years later when that policy agenda goes nowhere and the inspiration turns to a petulant and irritating waling. And, of course, they decide it’s not worth bothering and stay home.

Basic mathematics would foretell this result every single four years, and it does. Of course, it’s not helped when this is the Democratic party’s campaign message:

It’s the message they carry every time they’re sinking: Run away from your party, run away from your unpopular president, and don’t, for one second, mention guns or poverty or women’s reproductive rights or anything that might be divisive. No! Make sure that the only thing anybody knows about you is that you don’t support your own party’s agenda: that’ll inspire voters!

At the end of the day, though, the numbers were probably never going to work out. However, it needs be noted: Democrats did pretty well! What? Yes! Can you believe they ran two competitive state-wide races…in Georgia?! That they almost unseated an incumbent governor in Wisconsin? They did unseat a governor in Pennsylvania? That for some reason, people thought North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana were even in play? Sure, they lost. But they were in the game. Which is more than I can say about the University of Michigan football team or Aston Villa FC this fall.

One interesting thing of note: Because of a mistake of history, this particular Senate class (Senate Class II, to be pedantic) by far represents the lowest number Americans of the three. Class I includes states that represent 75% of Americans and Class III includes states that represent 73% of Americans. Class II? 52%. That’s right: Only 52% of Americans got to vote for a senator yesterday. What’s more is that Class II is absurdly conservative as well. Every Deep South state has a Class II senator with the exception of Florida. Go ahead, look at this map and tell me it doesn’t look almost like a presidential election map.

There, you have my uninteresting election Monday Morning Quarterback story. Go ahead and share your glee, ennui, or crushing sadness down there in the comments.

A two-party system

If the recent debate over health care reform has taught us anything, it is that the U.S. does still have a functional two-party system. The two parties, however, are not the Democrats and Republicans, but the Democrats and the Democrats.

This is not to suggest that his is necessarily a bad thing—for the Democratic Party or America. The Republicans may have a substantial 41-member minority in the Senate, but being tied to their strategy of obstruction, just saying no, and refusing to cooperate or even compromise, have rendered themselves utterly and completely irrelevant. Consequently, the two teams within the Democratic Party are playing the only game in town.

It is important for democracy that there be discussion with varying viewpoints. Results do not necessarily need to be bipartisan, but the process should be. As such, single-party states are almost inherently anti-democratic; see: Franco’s Spain, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. Parties with no opposition easily fall into corruption, or, even in the best of cases, they fall into ideological stasis (run out of new ideas), because they are not challenged. In effect, a party monopoly does, in fact, resemble an economic monopoly (and the resulting maxim that competition is healthy). So, while many do support their party of choice, most also would not want their party to have absolute control. Luckily, the Democratic Party, having grown larger and more diverse due to two generous election cycles, have offered an alternate party to the Republicans, within the Republican’s old ideological space.

Continue reading A two-party system