Looking ahead to the next Congress

Whether or not Democrats lose big in Congress, big-ticket legislation will likely not pass during the next two years.

If Republicans take control in Congress, they’ll need to deal with the Democratic White House [REUTERS] 

It’s not likely that any big-ticket or policy-changing legislation will make it through the next Congress.

President Barack Obama promised voters in 2008 that he would champion comprehensive immigration reform, enact climate change legislation, and shut the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

But these three action items seem unlikely to materialize if Republicans regain a majority in the House – and even less so if they take the Senate.

If Republicans take control in Congress, they’ll need to deal with the Democratic White House. Will Republicans work with Democrats to produce legislative accomplishments both parties can tout – like when Republicans swept into office in 1994? Or will Republicans play hyper-obstructionist so they can continue the blame game with the hopes of making President Obama out to be ineffective, in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election?

In terms of already enacted legislation, Republicans have vowed to try to repeal healthcare reform or scale it back. But they won’t be able to repeal it completely, since Senate Democrats would filibuster. Republicans have also vowed to defund parts of the economic stimulus.

House Republicans are even planning to launch investigations into the Obama administration’s actions if they regain the majority. The GOP leadership has announced it’s particularly interested in economic matters – like how much money has been spent under the stimulus program.

Congressman Darrel Issa, who will head the House Committee on Oversight under Republican leadership, told the LA Times on October 22, “I can continue to be the annoyer-in-chief if the White House doesn’t want to work with us.” But he also said he didn’t want to investigate so much that it would stop government. 

In the Senate, even though Democrats will probably keep their majority – albeit a considerably smaller one – they will have to deal with an emboldened minority, more interested in generating heat than light in public debate.

Many Tea Party Republicans have vowed not to compromise, even to prevent progress in Congress. That is unusual. They claim a mandate from the voters who say Washington has overreached. Most new lawmakers come to Washington vowing to make change, not to institute gridlock. This will not only have an effect on the output of Congress, but also on how the Republican Caucus will work.

They’ll have a “no” bloc that has to be wooed even to pass their own agenda.

Republican House leaders have recently defended the Tea Party candidates and helped fund their campaigns. They’re making overtures to the new kids on the block.

Congressional leadership

Harry Reid was elected to the Senate in 1986. Democratic Senators made him Majority Leader when they took control of the Senate in 2007. While many of the races he’s fought in Nevada have been tight, this one against Tea Party Republican candidate Sharron Angle could end the 70-year old’s political career.

Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and voters may be ready to take out their frustrations on Reid. However, Angle is an inexperienced candidate prone to making major public misstatements. Unique to Nevada politics, if voters feel they can’t stomach either candidate, they can pick “None of the Above” on their ballots. “None of the Above” kept Reid in office in 1998. He won by just 425 votes, as 8,125 people voted for no one.

Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House and the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the US government. She has represented California’s 8th District since 1987. Her Democratic colleagues elected her to lead them, and she became Speaker in 2007. 

According to a Gallup poll released on October 20th, Pelosi has a 29% national approval rating. She’s been a favorite Republican punching bag during this election cycle. She’s seen as too liberal and too aggressive. Even a handful of Democrats say they won’t support her for Speaker if they retain the majority.

She’s too polarizing. But one of her greatest gifts is fundraising. She’s reportedly raised more than $52 million this year for Congressional candidates. No other Democrat has even come close.  

Republicans have been coy about their leadership should they gain Majorities in either chamber. It’s likely that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would ascend to Majority Leader of the Senate. And House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio would likely become Speaker of the House. Both have kept a low profile in these elections.

The next Congress faces the nation’s continuing economic malaise and an electorate that wants results, not excuses. Whichever party controls the legislative agenda will be under pressure to deliver jobs fast.

Source : Al Jazeera

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