Congress vs POTUS: The bitterness cannot possibly get worse



1. Is the result of the congressional election as expected or were there some surprises?

2. If you look at the results of both congressional and presidential election, what do you expect, how close will be the cooperation between Senate + House and the President?


David King, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, The Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

1. Democrats were expected to lose at least two seats in the U.S. Senate, but they actually gained at least one seat. That is a surprise, though it has little to do with the strength of the Democrat candidates. In Indiana, for example, the Republican candidate was so far to the right that he made a fool of himself and would have lost the election to a lightpost. So while most people expected the Republicans to gain in the Senate, they have themselves to blame for the losses.

There were few, if any, real surprises in the House of Representatives. Republicans wan very strong, and Governor Romney’s poor showing seemed to have little impact on these more local races. A few Republicans who were backed by Tea Party extremists lost to more centrist Democrats, but that was expected.

2.  A pessimist would say that the electoral map today looks almost identical to how it looked four years ago, and we’ve seen deadlock and bitterness. With the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans and the White House by a Democrat, cooperation will be fleeting. An optimist — and I am a cautious optimist — thinks that the bitterness cannot possibly get worse. Maybe on some things, like our impending debt crisis, our leaders will be statesmen and work together. I certainly hope so.

Rosanna Perotti, Associate Professor of Political Science, Hofstra University

1. The results are in general as expected: Control of the House and Senate were not expected to shift, though the Republicans had hoped to win as many as five more Senate seats and possibly control of the U.S. Senate. Shifts within the House were expected, but not enough to cause a change in partisan control.

What was surprising, though was the extent of the Democratic victories, particularly in the Senate. Like the Presidential election the gains were greater than expected in states that were extraordinarily close:
— In Indiana, Representative Joe Donnelly’s victory, in a heavily Republican state, over Republican Richard Mourdock.
— In Wisconsin, openly gay Representative Tammy Baldwin’s victory over the popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
— In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill’s victory over Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin. (This and the Indiana race featured verbal gaffes on the part of the Republican candidates, both on the subject of whether abortion should be permitted in cases of rape.)
— In Massachusetts, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren’s successful challenge to Republican incumbent Scott P. Brown.
— In Virginia, former Gov. Tim Kaine’s victory over former governor George Allen.
— In Maine, the independent former Gov. Angus King Jr. of Maine, who will caucus with the Democrats, won a race to succeed Republican Senator Olympia J. Snowe.

2. Though the President was handed significant victories last night, the prospects for cooperation between Congress and the President are not bright, which is quite a sobering prospect. Though the Democrats see the election as a cue to Republicans to compromise with the White House on problems such as the “fiscal cliff,” it is just as likely that Republicans will dig in and resist compromise. House Speaker Boehner, for instance, last night cautioned that the voters’ mandate includes not only the president’s reelection, but the restoration of a Republican majority in the House.

In addition, it should be remembered that Obama’s big victory in 2008 was followed by a thorough trouncing for Democrats in the 2010 Congressional elections. The far right responded to the Democratic agenda not with compromise, but with the Tea Party, and a historic mobilization of Republican voters in House and Senate elections in 2010.

Finally, if Obama’s initiatives continue to be met with opposition from Congressional Republicans, the president is likely to continue to resort to unilateral measures that, in the long run, will expand the power of the executive branch in an unprecedented way (such as the Administration’s initiative to defer deportation and provide work permits for many young undocumented workers).

Bruce Oppenheimer, Professor of Public Policy and Education, Vanderbilt University

1. The election went close to the way that I expected with a narrow victory for Obama, Democrats retaining control of the Senate, and Republican holding a House majority. The main surprise, if there was one is that the Democrats did as well as they did in Senate contests. Only thirty-three of the 100 Senate seats were being contested in this cycle. Going into the election the Democrats held 23 of the 33. Given the overall Senate is so closely divided, many expected that the Democrats would lose seats. In fact they made a net gain. In part, this was due to the fact that they won most of the close contests. The Republicans retained control of the House with only the net loss of a small number of seats in large part because so many House districts are politically safe for one party or the other and the areas with a Democratic advantage tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic. The Democrats wound up winning most of the House contests that were rated as toss-ups, but there just weren’t very many races that were highly competitive.

2. I expect cooperation between Congress and the president to improve significantly at least for the next year. In part, this is due to the fact that the bargaining situation has changed because the Republicans know that Obama will continue as president. For the past two years, they had the hope that they might be able to strike a better deal if they could defeat Obama for reelection and then have a Republican president with whom to bargain. So, for example, the Republicans now know that there’s no way to get a budget deal without increasing taxes on upper income Americans. The Bush tax cuts are going to expire, and if the Republicans could get a bill through Congress to extend them for the upper income brackets, the president would certainly veto that. So their position of not using revenue increases to address any part of the budget problems (that they’ve insisted on for the past two years) is no longer a tenable position. Similarly, any efforts to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) aren’t going to pass with Democrats still in control of the Senate. Before the election, there’s was unpredictability on how strong each party would be after the election, and that provided a disincentive to compromise. Both parties thought they might be in a stronger position after the election. Now that there is certainty there’s a greater incentive to work out some deals. In fact, the Republicans may even be willing to deal on some of the budget issues during the lame duck session, prior to the new Congress taking office because they know that they’re likely to be in a weaker position once the new Congress comes in.

Matthew GreenAssociate Professor, Department of Politics, Catholic University of America

1. The results of the congressional elections were largely as expected. The Democrats did a little better than expected in the Senate and a little worse than expected in the House, but otherwise no big surprises.

2. In the next several and months weeks, cooperation between the president and Congress may be possible, both because Obama can claim a mandate to govern and because automatic spending cuts will take place without an agreement on a new budget. But after that, I would not be very optimistic. Many members of Congress of both parties are uncompromising ideologues, and the election was so close that many Republicans will believe that less cooperation, not more, may win them elections in the future.



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