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It’s Good to be the Speaker November 3, 2010

Posted by SV in Democracy, Politics, President Obama.
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John Boehner may not be directing a human chessboard in the Rotunda against the minority leader anytime soon, but he is about to find some substantial influence as the Speaker of the House.  He will lead a caucas far more united than the Democratic ones that Speaker Pelosi had to manage for her 4 years with her raucous Blue Dogs on her right flank.  He has a historic opportunity to serve as both the chief critic of the Administration as well as an architect in steering through bills that will highlight Republican solutions to the nation’s problems.  Now that the dust has settled (mostly), here is my underqualified analysis of yesterday’s election:

The House

It’s good to be John Boehner today.  The Republican Party is on track to have its biggest majority since 1947.  In virtually every competitive race, GOP candidates pulled off upsets, some expected, some surprising.  Three key races indicate the depth of the wave that swept the country last night.  In New Hampshire, both House races went to Republicans, providing a respectable toehold in New England, which has been devoid of Republican representatives since 2006.  As a sidenote, GOP candidates also did well in the Middle Atlantic states of New York and Pennsylvania.

A second important race saw Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) swept from office after 28 years representing the district.  He received a lot of flak for his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, which failed to pass a budget this year.  His demise, along with Gene Taylor’s in Mississippi, indicates that long-term incumbency is no longer enough to save these moderate Democrats in heavily Republican districts.  The final race, which came as somewhat of a surprise, was Rep. Ike Skelton’s (D-MO) loss to Republican Vicky Hartzler.  Skelton has served for 17 terms, was the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and was basically a moderate.  However, Hartzler proved an energetic campaigner, while Skelton (aged 77) did not run much of a campaign, relying on his incumbency and name recognition.  These races suggest that not only are moderate Blue Dogs and senior leaders not safe, but even liberals who overread their 2006/2008 mandates are vulnerable to challenges.

Presumptive Speaker-Elect John Boehner and Democrats highlighting the post-election casualty list

Now after the hyperanxiety of the campaign, the hard part begins.  Winning will prove easier than governing from the majority in the House.  To fulfill campaign promises, Republicans will (and should) pass various bills targeting Obamacare, financial regulation, stimulus programs, and other acts of the past two years.  Many of these will fall victim to Senate filibusters.  Nonetheless, they will be important symbolic statements to show the GOP is serious about its principles.  Once that statement is made clear, Republicans will have to contribute positive ideas to promote job growth and economic stabilization.  They can and should offer sound conservative bills.  But they should also offer some that have a decent shot of Senate passage.  Willing to compromise on a couple issues here and there will show the GOP is responsible and capable of not just shooting down Democratic proposals.

So John Boehner has his work cut out for him (sorry for the cliche).  The speaker’s platform and House majority will be a useful platform against the Obama Administration’s excesses and policies.  Some of the most egregious programs of the past two years will be flooded with amendments, hearings and investigations.  But Republicans will also have a great opportunity to demonstrate their ability to lead, to hold true to their principles and rein in government, and to not screw it up like last time.

The Senate

The Senate will clearly earn its moniker as the “saucer that cools the tea” over the next two years.  A lot of bills coming from the House will be slowed down in the Senate, where the narrow Democratic majority will put a brake on bills originating from the House, especially if they were sponsored by Tea Party-backed members.  However, bills that are not wildly controversial (like repealing Obamacare or razing the Department of Education) could pass with the support of a couple moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin or Ben Nelson (both up for reelection in 2012).  Nonetheless, look for a record low number of bills to emerge from the Senate for the President’s signature.

As a sidenote, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be seated very soon since they are replacing appointed senators.  This will complicate any Democratic plans to take advantage of a lame duck session of Congress to pass unpopular bills before they lose their House majority and substantial Senate majority.  Senator Harry Reid, against all odds, managed to pull off his reelection by a comfortable margin.  Now that he has to deal with a Republican House, look for lots of publicity duels between him and Boehner.

John Boehner and Harry Reid will have a lot to talk about over these next 2 years

Ballot Initiatives

The most overlooked story of the election.  In addition to selecting new members of Congress, state legislators, and governors, citizens in many states voted on a number of key issues in ballot initiatives.  Here are some of the most important:

Health Care - Every state that had a ballot measure on striking down or targeting the individual health care mandate  saw it pass by significant margins – Arizona (55-45), Colorado (53-47), and Oklahoma (65-35).  These clearly challenge federal law and will end up before the Supreme Court.  They demonstrate the continuing resilience of the Obamacare law since its passage in March.

Going to Pot… Not - Marijuana was a big issue in Arizona and California.  Despite the liberal/libertarian bent of the region, the cause for expanded marijuana legalization suffered across the board losses.  Arizona’s attempt to legalize medical marijuana came the closest, with about 7,000 more “No” votes, although it has not officially been called yet.  South Dakota decisively voted down medical marijuana by a 63-37 margin. Over the much more contentious issue of legalizing the drug for general consumption, California voters rejected that idea by a comparatively wide margin of 54-46.  The analysis? Traditional voters and those uncomfortable with encouraging the acceptability of marijuana, are not just limited to whites and Republicans.  Solid majorities of African-, Latino-, and Asian Americans voted the measure down too.

Redistricting – California, as in many other areas, once again pioneered new ideas.  With 61% of the vote, Californians voted to take the power of redistricting away from the state legislature and hand it to a 14-person citizens commission.  This commission is to consist of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, as well as some non-affiliated California voters.  The goal is to end gerrymandering that carves so much of  California into safe Democratic and Republican seats.  The impact (and success of this idea) will not be fully known until the new district lines are drawn.  At the very least, Republicans don’t have to feel so bad about losing the governorship to Jerry Brown, since his hand in redistricting has been nullified.

Budget Vote Requirement - California’s budget and fiscal health has been notoriously dysfunctional.  With the approval of Proposition 25, the state legislature will require just a simple majority (as opposed to the current 2/3 supermajority) to pass a budget.  The one exception is if new tax rises are included.  This proposition has the potential to loosen up some of California’s paralysis, but that remains to be seen.

Secret Union Ballot - In Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah, voters approved by wide margins initiatives to preserve the secret ballot for unions.  Clearly a preemptive strike should Democrats try to resurrect card check.

Rhode Island is Named What? - Perhaps the strangest yet important ballot initiative of the election was the question of renaming the state of Rhode Island, or rather the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”  Seems some people are offended by the very term “plantation,” for its past association with slavery.  Nonetheless, common sense prevailed and political correctness failed with a vote of 78-22 to keep the historic official name of the state.

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