What if the Republicans win the US Senate?

With the polls predicting that the Republicans (GOP) will take control of the Senate but without a super majority (win 60 seats or more), what are the scenarios for US federal politics post the mid-term elections? The Economist has published an opinion piece speculating on the possible strategies (registration required).

Currently can rely on the Senate Majority Leader with his obstructionist leadership style to jettison proposals by the House of Representatives and shutdown debate in the Senate. But if his party loses the Senate then Obama will have to either veto or sign every bill the GOP led Congress passes. There are two potential scenarios according to The Economist.

Pessimists sigh that the parties are too polarised to agree on anything. Plenty of Republicans think Mr Obama is a menace whom patriots must thwart and resist. Many Democrats believe there is no point in trying to cut deals with Republicans. Instead, they want Mr Obama to spend his last two years in office ignoring Congress and using executive orders and federal regulations to pursue progressive goals, such as curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, shielding illegal migrants from deportation (and even closing the Guantánamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects, if press reports are true).

What this means is no significant legislation gets passed before the 2016 presidential election.

Optimists retort that once Republicans control both arms of Congress, they cannot just snarl from the sidelines. Unless they show they have a positive agenda, they risk a drubbing in 2016. And if Mr Obama wants a legacy, he will have to work with them. Some of the bigwigs interviewed for this article believe that several constructive, growth-friendly policies already enjoy enough bipartisan support to pass in the Senate.

I agree that the GOP have been too negative. The conservative wing of the Republican Party tend to be ultra pessimists when it comes to working with Obama. They simply don’t want to say anything good about his presidency which does them no credit.

Hardliners have essentially given up on working with Mr Obama—unless he surrenders completely and lets them dismantle Obamacare. Some urge their party to ignore its own pragmatic wing and channel the voters’ rage instead. Michael Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, a conservative campaign outfit, denies that the 2013 shutdown hurt Republicans, insisting that it sparked a valuable debate about Obamacare.

Surely Republican presidential candidates will want to be seen as positive agents of change in a post 2014 Washington DC? So what are the issues at stake and the possible scenarios for Republicans if the GOP takes control of the Senate?

GOP_scenarios
Source: The Economist

Co-operation – Mitt Romney and his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan have suggested the GOP 1) pass some bills through the Congress that Obama may well sign but 2) also send some bills that cover populist policies such as the Keystone XL pipeline that Obama may veto. This is very much a two pronged strategy balancing attempting to govern by passing legislation but also trying putting the heat on Obama. Re the Keystone pipeline, if Obama for example vetoed it he could be accused of not supporting job creation.

Budget – Shutting down the government again isn’t going to help the GOP with the 2016 elections on the horizon. Obama and the Democrats would then probably hold the whip hand if the Republicans play hard ball by making them appear negative. They could though attempt to work with Obama on some modest taxation reform for example. Also the GOP will almost certainly pass Paul Ryan’s budget plan through Congress. Politically a good reason to pass a budget would be to put a bullet point on Harry Reid’s obstructionism. Also the debt ceiling is going to have to be raised again if defaults are to be avoided, so there will have to be horse trading between Congress and Obama.

Energy – The Keystone pipeline has already been mentioned. But Republicans are against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their plans to reduce the carbon footprint. Republican Governors have also expressed their concerns and if pessimists inside the GOP hold sway then a Republican led Congress could step in and take action on the EPA’s spending. No real room for deal making between GOP and Democrats in regards to the EPA it seems.

Trade – With the lobby groups being powerful the pessimistic scenario may well rule. To add to this pessimism there are lots of Democrats who oppose giving Obama deal making authority. There is a full rundown of the politics of this issue here (registration required).

Immigration – The Republicans want significant reform of border security, visa tracking systems, employment verification and much more. This is already a hot topic with many so if Obama is perceived as to be too liberal/progressive on this one some the GOP will probably go ape and want to turn immigration into an even bigger 2016 election issue. Especially those who want to be the GOP presidential nominee.

Conclusion

So if the Senate changes hands then this means that the Republicans will control the purse strings and attempt to rein in federal spending and the bureaucracy. But on the other hand Obama and the White House will still be in charge of foreign policy and defence. He will also still have significant influence on how regulations are implemented. A key player in all this may well be Mitch McConnell who looks like becoming the Senate Majority Leader if the Republicans win the Senate. Is he willing to reach across the aisle and work with moderate Senate Democrats or will he be negative and obstructionist like Harry Reid? It is fashionable amongst Republicans to blame the gridlock all on Obama but the they are also part of the problem.

Barack Obama will have to decide what does he want his legacy to be? With his approval rating falling this will certainly be a pressing issue for him. His legacy would be enhanced were he to provide leadership and reach out to Republicans and attempt to heal old wounds. It that happens the GOP needs to be ready with a positive response.

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