As the dust clears after one of the most expensive election cycles in recent memory, many political analysts are predicting that the newly elected Congress will continue to face legislative gridlock.
With Republicans maintaining control of the House of Representatives and Democrats hanging on to their Senate majority, President Barack Obama will enter a new term with his work cut out for him. Not only has the president faced an uncompromising atmosphere in Congress since Republicans won the House in 2010, but political moderates in Congress also faced losses last night that may speak to the polarization of both parties.
“No one is going to break through the gridlock this year. In fact, Congress will be more polarized than before. The last of the moderates are losing,” said Michael Tanner, senior domestic policy fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute.
Brian Darling, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said he thinks it is unlikely that congressional Republicans will agree to raise revenues in the coming session.
“I would expect more of the same we’ve had over the past two years,” Darling said of a Democratic win for both the Senate and the presidency. “It will be virtually impossible to extend all of the Bush tax cuts, but otherwise I don’t think Republicans are going to accede to the idea that we need more tax revenues. The federal government spends too much, and Republicans will have the incentive to continue focusing on cutting spending.”
Darling said that had Romney won and the Senate tightened, Republicans would have been likely to pursue further spending and regulation cuts.
Elizabeth Henry ’14, the president of the Yale College Republicans, said she thinks Obama’s re-election will determine congressional action.
“The president determines the dynamic, and what happens in Congress will depend on whether we have a president who is committed to bipartisanship,” Henry said. “Every major Obama administration initiative was passed with almost no Republican votes.”
But Yale College Democrats President Zak Newman ’13 said that even with both Obama’s re-election and a divided Congress, Republicans will have to compromise more frequently.
“They can no longer be the party of ‘no,’” Newman said.
Darling identified Obama’s often-touted jobs proposal as a potential legislative priority that might attract bipartisan support in the coming session.
But Tanner said he is not optimistic about the prospect for compromise given a recent spike in party polarization. He identified Republicans like New Hampshire Rep. Charlie Bass and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown as members of an endangered breed of party moderates who lost in highly contested races last night. He also noted how “Blue Dogs,” the name given to moderate and conservative Democrats in the House and Senate, suffered heavy losses in 2010 as a “more polarized electorate” voted for conservative, Tea Party-backed Republicans instead.
“The Senate is likely getting more polarizing figures on the left and right, like Massachusetts candidate Elizabeth Warren and Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz,” Tanner said.
Other moderates, like Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, were defeated by Tea Party conservatives in primary elections. Such polarization is expected to continue because most of those elected to Congress in 2010 will remain in office.
Due to Congress’ inability to compromise on significant legislation, three analysts interviewed said they fear the new legislative session will be marked by more “stopgap” measures that offer temporary fixes to immediate budgetary issues but will be more cautious when it comes to seriously tackling budgetary reform and other major priorities, including entitlement reform and Medicare. But Tanner said he predicts the newly elected Congress will still tackle immigration reform, given bipartisan interest in resolving the issue.
Prior to yesterday’s election, the Senate was split between 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. The House of Representatives had 241 Republican members and 191 Democratic members.