2014 Senate Elections: Will a GOP Senate Finally Force Obama to Get to Work?

With each retirement that comes from an incumbent Democrat senator in seats up for grabs in 2014, the map is turning more and more competitive for the GOP. But if there’s anything the 2010 and 2012 elections have taught us, it’s that nothing’s a given.

Republicans get to play offense in 2014. There are seven states that Romney carried in 2012 with incumbent Democrat senators up for re-election: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. The only Republican senator up for re-election in a state Obama carried is Maine’s Susan Collins (the most liberal Republican in the Senate).

On top of those seven, the recent retirement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Mark Warner’s election in Virginia (one of three battleground states Obama won by less than 4%) put two more seats in serious contention for the GOP. The only other GOP incumbent race that the Democrats might have a shot at winning would be Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, but sadly for them, the Ashley Judd experiment is over.

To erase Democrats’ 55-45 majority, the GOP needs to pick up a net six Senate seats. They did it in 2010. But they’re not going to bank on red states alone. They also must compete in states where they have a fighting chance of succeeding, such as New Hampshire, Minnesota and Colorado.

Historical patterns favor the GOP (though that’s not saying much after 2012). Since 1918, the party of all but one two-term presidency has lost Senate seats in the administration’s sixth year (the exception was 1998 when there was no net change in the balance of power). But the GOP also starts in a deep hole after a host of bad candidates — such as Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell — blew races the GOP easily should have won.

I wrote a piece two months ago analyzing six of the now potentially nine races that the GOP could win. Rather than analyze each race here, I want to explore what the final two years of the Obama administration would look like with a potential Republican majority in both chambers of Congress.

For starters, Obama couldn't use the Senate as a shield anymore. He’s been able to avoid exercising his veto pen on a number of potentially polarizing bills by using Democrats in the Senate as blockers, such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Federal Transparency Act authored by former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), or any House-passed budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). Federal budgets need only a simple majority to get through the Senate.

Obama might also be forced to finally make some hard decisions on spending reform, tax reform and entitlement reform. When Clinton had to deal with a Republican majority in Congress, they held him accountable to slash federal spending all the way down to 18% of GDP, on par with the historical rate of revenues (taxes) as a percentage of GDP. That marked the first significant reduction of spending since the 1950s and helped balance the budget for the first time in 30 years – following up on a promise to deliver a government that “lives within its means.”

When Reagan had to deal with a Democratic-majority Congress, they were able to enact sweeping pro-growth tax reform by closing loopholes that allow for international tax shelters and eliminating special interest subsidies while cutting tax rates across the board to incentivize businesses to keep money and jobs here instead of overseas, thus broadening the tax base.

Both those eras were also the last time any administration was able to successfully achieve entitlement reform – particularly to Social Security and welfare programs.

Finally, a Republican-majority Senate may also finally force Obama to get off the campaign trail. Not only has he been running for president for the last six years, but he’s still on the campaign trail in 2013 working on trying to win the House back in the hopes of making his last two years of his presidency look like his first two years – also the most active of his entire administration. Here’s to hoping he’ll finally start doing his job and lead when there’s nothing left to campaign for.