Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What difference will today’s elections make?

It has been said over and over again that mid-term elections give Presidents heartburn. As a general rule the President’s party loses seats in Congress between Presidential elections.

Add on top of that the fact that Democrats have increased their numbers in both the Senate and the House during the past two elections taking several seats that had been traditionally Republican. That leaves Democrats on the defense in very vulnerable races to begin with.

In addition, while the economy crashed during the Bush administration the effects weren’t really felt until after the Obama administration took office. Twenty-two months into the Obama administration the economy is still a mess. Some economists see flickers of hope but that’s pretty academic to most Americans. So whether the public is unfairly blaming the Democrats for causing the economic downturn or (more fairly) blaming the Democrats for not doing enough to reverse the downturn the bottom line is the majority gets the blame the lousy state of our economy.

So the Democrats are going to lose seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Depending on which poll you follow, the Democratic loss will likely include the majority in the House of Representatives and possibly (although less likely) the majority in the Senate. (It should be noted that the victory of the National League in the World Series is a promising development.) So if the Republicans take majorities in both houses of Congress or if the Democrats retain majorities in both houses but with reduced numbers what will the impact be? Mathew Yglesias thinks the 2010 midterm elections, in comparison to other elections, won’t matter that much:
…. The 2008 elections led, after all, to a very important piece of health care legislation that’s not going to be repealed during the 112th congress. In other words, even after the soon-to-come revival of conservative political fortunes the health policy status quo is going to settle well to the left of where it was before the election. And it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that had Kay Hagan and Al Franken not won their close elections in North Carolina and Minnesota that the Affordable Care Act never would have passed. So as far as elections go, that’s a pretty big deal.

By contrast, looking ahead even if the Democrats defy expectations and eke out a narrow House majority they’re not going to turn around and pass a cap-and-trade bill. And if Republicans defy expectations and pick up 65 House seats instead of 55 House seats, that’s not going to conjure up the votes to scrap the minimum wage. In any remotely plausible range of outcomes, we’ll be looking at an era where either nothing happens or else compromises are reached between the party leaders. The precise numbers matter of course, but they don’t matter nearly as much as they did in the current congress where a couple Democratic “reach” wins in Senate elections transformed the situation.
Yglesias is right – the 2008 election was a trans-formative election and this one will not be. Still, with the nation involved in two wars and Americans struggling in the worst recession since the 1930’s the expectation of Congressional gridlock for the next two years is not reassuring

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