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.
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.
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?
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.