In less than six months, campaigns for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 seats in the Senate up for election in 2014 will start in earnest. Unless the two major parties all of a sudden decide to end the hyper-partisanship that has engulfed Congress the past five years, gaining control of both chambers of Congress is crucial to advancing their agendas through 2016.
The lack of cooperation on Capitol Hill has stifled progress on major issues. Control of Congress therefore not only impacts the success of advancing the party’s legislative agenda but also the direction the country moves on issues such as climate change, the environment, job creation, tax reform, education, gun control, drug legalization, immigration, and foreign relations.
It would be easiest for President Obama if the Democrats were able to retain control of the Senate and gain 17 seats in the House. The only obstacle to passing legislation then would be Republican filibusters in the Senate. Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate could override Senate rules and use the “nuclear option” to end any filibuster. Such action could trigger one of two reactions; Democrats seen as storm troopers pushing through their agenda or seen as leaders willing to put Republican obstructionists in their place. The former could result in a serious rejection of the Democrats in 2016. The later could increase their majority.
The other and more likely scenario is the GOP retains control of the House and picks up five or six seats in the Senate resulting in a tie or one-seat majority. I say more likely because since 1946, the party of the president has lost an average of 24 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate in the mid-term elections. This trend appears likely to continue given that of the 20 Democratic Senate seats being contested, Mitt Romney won seven of those states. The outcome could very well rest on candidate selection. The GOP will have to stay away from the Angle, Aikin, and Murdock types.
But there are other factors at play that could reverse the trend. Internal party squabbles are occurring in both parties. The GOP is torn between the Evangelicals and Tea Party on one end and the Libertarian-leaning and moderates on the other. Democrats are seeing divisions as well. Unions are strong supporters of the XL pipeline and are upset the project has not been approved. Environmentalists are opposed. Likewise, African Americans are pushing for better education opportunities while teachers’ unions are blocking the budgetary changes required to bring these about. Then there is immigration reform.
Americans support immigration reform. It is the most important issue to Latino voters. The Senate is in a position to pass comprehensive reform. The House bipartisan coalition working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill has lost a key GOP member. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is pushing for piecemeal legislation rather than comprehensive reform and the speaker of the house has yet to commit to which approach he will follow. If the House does not pass a bill or group of bills that can be reconciled with the Senate and sent to the president for signature, voters will blame the GOP controlled House for the lack of progress on the issue. If immigration reform fails, the odds of Democrats pulling off the unlikely feat of retaining the Senate and winning 17 seats to take control of the House increase.
There really isn’t much time remaining before the members of the House of Representatives go fully into campaign mode. Not that they ever leave it. If there is going to be progress on the major issues facing this country between January 2015 and January 2017, one of the parties needs to have complete control of Congress. Which party will it be?