What If the Republicans Win Control of Congress?

September 2nd, 2010

By Tom Carter

As we approach the elections on November 2, more and more serious experts are predicting that the Republicans will win a majority in the House and possibly even in the Senate.  One prediction published today comes from Larry Sabato, who is a professor at the University of Virginia and director of the UVA Center for Politics.

In Sixty Days to Go, Sabato predicts that Republicans will gain a net of 47 seats in the House, seven more than the minimum required to win a majority.  In the Senate, they could win a net of 10 seats over their current 41, giving them a majority of one, although eight or nine is more likely.  He also predicts that Republicans will win net increases in their numbers of governorships and majorities in state legislatures.

Sabato is taken seriously in political circles because of his reputation for being non-partisan and his remarkable record of accurate political predictions.  He plans to update these predictions weekly between now and the election.

Here’s the nub of Sabato’s analysis:

2010 was always going to be a Republican year, in the midterm tradition. It has simply been a question of degree. Several scenarios were possible, depending in large measure on whether, or how quickly, the deeply troubled American economy recovered from the Great Recession. Had Democratic hopes on economic revitalization materialized, it is easy to see how the party could have used its superior financial resources, combined with the tendency of Republicans in some districts and states to nominate ideological fringe candidates, to keep losses to the low 30s in the House and a handful in the Senate.

But conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd. Unemployment is very high, income growth sluggish, and public confidence quite low. The Democrats’ self-proclaimed “Recovery Summer” has become a term of derision, and to most voters—fair or not—it seems that President Obama has over-promised and under-delivered.

Obama’s job approval ratings have drifted down well below 50% in most surveys. The generic ballot that asks likely voters whether they will cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans this year has moved increasingly in the GOP direction. While far less important, other controversies such as the mosque debate and immigration policy have made the climate worse for Democrats. Republican voters are raring to vote, their energy fueled by anti-Obama passion and concern over debt, spending, taxes, health care, and the size of government. Democrats are much less enthusiastic by almost every measure, and the Democratic base’s turnout will lag. Plus, Democrats have won over 50 House seats in 2006 and 2008, many of them in Republican territory, so their exposure to any sort of GOP wave is high.

Given the current composition of the House and Senate, Republican control of the House would be tenuous.  They would have a majority of only seven seats, compared to the Democrats’ current majority of 37.  Worse, if Republicans win 10 Senate seats, their majority would be only one seat, compared to the Democrats’ current eight-seat majority (including two independents who caucus with them).

Those slim majorities in either house would mean that just a few members voting across party boundaries could swing a specific vote in either direction.  That will happen, for a variety of reasons — some members are often sympathetic to the views of those in the other party, and some (particularly Democrats, given the beating they’re likely to take in November) may vote with the other party for reasons mostly driven by sentiment in their districts or states.

What all this means is that Republicans who are licking their chops at the prospect of winning the House and maybe even the Senate shouldn’t assume that they’ll always get their way, particularly on issues most favored by the far-right.  Not only will we have divided government in Executive-Legislative terms; we’ll have divided government within Congress as well.

Nonetheless, it’s no small matter for a party to have a majority in either house.  It means they hold the leadership, assign committee chairmen, and set the agenda.

We’re faced with having a Democratic president (at least for two more years, anyway), a Republican-led House, and only a weak Democratic majority in the Senate (assuming they keep it).  Those who favor divided government because it reduces the scope of what can be done ought to consider that it might mean that little or nothing could be done.  Aside from the libertarian anarchists among us, most folks ought to be concerned about having a hamstrung federal government that has trouble getting anything done even when it’s really necessary.

The solution, of course, is to elect a Republican president in 2012.  The problem is whether Republicans can get their act together and nominate a ticket that most people can support — which means people like Sarah Palin and others on the far right shouldn’t even be considered.

Along those lines, another fact that Republicans should keep in mind is, as Sabato makes clear, Republicans are even less-liked than Democrats.  Winning in November will be mostly a result of disapproval of what Democrats have done recently, not because the country has seen the error of its ways and fallen in love with Republicans.  If the Republicans don’t come up with a comprehensive plan for governing and then actually execute it when given the chance, they could be thrown out again in 2012 or 2014.

One last thought:  If the Democrats lose as badly as predicted, look out for a lame-duck session in November and December in which they attempt to ram through legislation they haven’t so far managed to pass.  Maybe they won’t, showing respect for the will of the voters who have thrown them out of the leadership.  But don’t bet the farm on it.

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4 Responses to “What If the Republicans Win Control of Congress?”

  1. Anonymous |

    If republicans get in. The first thing they will do is spend more cash we don’t have by extending and increasing the tax cuts to the 2%. The rest of us will get a smaller tax cut to make up for the increase % givent to the rich. They will then give tax incentives to big business to outsource jobs to other countries. Just ask Tony Snow about that one. Next they will say we should invest social security in the stock market. Socialist movement on the right. Wall street is getting ready to throw another party with our money. Countries like India and other third world country economy will get better. But wait, not really. See unlike other times, Americans had money. Now we don’t have it to spend on buisness. So Republicans will have to grow jobs based on policies they never have created. Yes, they will have to do work. Its gonna be a fun 2 years, when America see’s the agenda this group is going to try to put over on them. Don’t spend your cash guys, trust me on this. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

  2. Brian |

    Anon, what we have today is the worst possible scenario: crony capitalism. Government should favor neither business nor labor, because anything done to benefit one will be at the expense of the other.

    However, your contention that the GOP favors big business and that the dems only favor “the little guy” is simply laughable. I guess it’s OK that Obama has bigwigs from Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, Goldman Sachs, and a host of others, but it was a bad thing that Bush had a bigwig from Halliburton?

    When you get past the idea of the antiquated 17th century notion about an economy being a “zero sum game,” you might finally realize that most politicians have been selling nothing but lies and empty promises.

  3. Steve |

    The dems are already spending money they don’t have. This health-care bill is worse then anything you could possibly imagine. Don’t give me that B.S. that the republicans are going to spend more money then they have. Republicans don’t go out of their way to spend more money.

  4. Tom Carter |

    Steve, look back on what the Republicans did during the Bush Administration. They went from an (approximately) balanced budget at the end of the Clinton Administration to huge deficits and debt. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is the best example of a huge program inadequately funded.

    The sad fact is, we can’t count on fiscally responsible leadership from either party.

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