The Weather Channel Of Elections
With Republicans poised to take control of the House, will things change forObama?
Lately election forecasters seem to be taking cues from The Weather Channel in describing the Republican swell of support expected in today's midterm elections. Will it be a wave, a tidal wave or a tsunami? Will this be a blight, a hurricane or a perfect storm for Democrats?
Regardless of the metaphor embraced, pollsters are nearly universally predicting Republicans will take back control of the House of Representatives. The Daily Beast Election Oracle predicts they'll control the lower chamber 229-206, Real Clear Politics says the Republicans will have at least 224 seats, and FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, the most accurate pollster in the 2008 elections, thinks the balance will fall even heavier for the GOP, with 232 seats for Republicans and 203 for Democrats.
But despite the potential change of control and the rise of the first orange-American Speaker of the House in John Boehner, it's unlikely to affect the Obama administration in a major way.
Certainly the loss of liberal vote-wrangler Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House will put a damper on Obama's ability to make additional inroads on his agenda. But Obama's Achilles' heel has been and will continue to be the Senate. The chamber is expected to remain in Democratic control by a margin of one or two seats, but the rules and procedures of the body have made passing legislation through it almost impossible.
Lacking a 60-vote super majority, Democrats have found themselves hamstrung by the record Republican use of the filibuster. The current record for a session is the 2007-2008 Congress, when it was employed 110 times by the Republicans as they returned to the minority after a decade of legislative control. By March of 2010, it had been deployed 40 times, on pace to not only set a new record but triple the previous one.
And it doesn't even take a unanimous opposition to block action in the Senate. Recently the body has also seen a rise in the use of the secret hold, in which one senator can put an anonymous block on a bill and prevent it from being brought to the floor. It's through secret holds that the GOP has prevented dozens of Obama appointees from being confirmed and assuming office in the nearly two years he's been in office.
Senators sought to limit the secret hold two years ago by making the holder's name public after six days, but now senators have taken to "tag-teaming" and passing secret holds back and forth so that their names are never revealed. It was obstructionism like this that led The New Yorker to declare the chamber "broken" in August.
In fact, if the Senate rules were to suddenly be abolished, the Obama administration could hypothetically pass some major legislation without needing the participation of the House of Representatives at all. Under the firm leadership of Pelosi, the House has passed over 400 bills this session that the Senate has yet to take up, including major legislation like the cap-and-trade energy bill.
A Republican-led House is as unlikely to pass any policy through the Senate as the current one, especially with Obama still retaining veto power at the end of the line. But they have already declared they won't even try. Mitch McConnell told the National Journal last week that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” not more jobs or tax cuts or the deficit.
So while Americans shouldn't hope for too much change to head their way in the next couple of years, Democrats can draw some cold comfort from history. The party of the sitting president has been thrown out of power three times — under Truman, Eisenhower and Clinton.
All three times the president won re-election.