Feature

GOP holds House, but Democrats gain in Senate

Will another divided Congress hamper President Obama’s efforts to enact legislation?

What happened The Democratic Party strengthened its control of the Senate this week by winning 23 out of 33 contested seats, but Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives, ensuring another divided Congress that is likely to hamper President Obama’s efforts to enact legislation. Democrats picked up two seats to gain a 55–45 majority in the Senate, including two independents, disappointing early Republican hopes of retaking the chamber. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a forceful consumer advocate and critic of Wall Street, unseated Republican Sen. Scott Brown. Democrat Joe Donnelly won a Senate seat in Indiana after Republican Richard Mourdock said that a pregnancy conceived through rape was “something God intended.” In Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill defeated challenger Todd Akin, whose early poll lead evaporated after he declared that victims of “legitimate rape” could not get pregnant. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay senator by defeating former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said his party’s strong showing was a sign that Republicans should compromise on a deal over the nation’s grave fiscal problems. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock, and delay was soundly rejected by the American people,” the Democrat said. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he would work with any willing partner, Democrat or Republican, to get things done. But he added that by keeping Republicans in control of the House, voters have made it clear that President Obama has “no mandate for raising taxes.”

What the editorials said The GOP has only itself to blame for its Senate defeat, said The New York Times. The candidates it picked based on their ideological purity repelled voters “once they began speaking their mind.” Akin’s and Mourdock’s extremist abortion positions cost them what should have been easy wins. And former Wisconsin Gov. Thompson handed his opponent victory by announcing that he’d “do away with Medicaid and Medicare.” These radical views used to be found only on the fringes, but have become sadly typical in a Republican Party that has moved far to the right.

Somehow, the parties will have to bridge their ideological divide, said the Green Bay, Wis., Press-Gazette. More gridlock will spell disaster, as the country is due to be hit with some $399 billion in automatic tax increases and $102 billion in spending cuts at the end of the year. Unless Democrats and Republicans can agree on an interim budget, the U.S. will fall off a fiscal cliff and back into recession. “It’s up to Congress to put aside partisan bickering and do what’s in the best interests of the country’s economy.”

What the columnists said Compromise is unlikely to emerge anytime soon, said John Judis in TNR.com. Ultra-conservative Tea Party groups that “want to purge the Republican Party of any hint of moderation” control the GOP. These organizations hate striking deals with the Democrats, and punish Republicans who dare to cross the aisle. In the Indiana primary, for instance, they backed Mourdock over widely respected Sen. Richard Lugar, whom they attacked as a traitor for working with Democrats.  

Republicans won’t drive the country into economic ruin just to make an ideological point, said Stephen Stromberg in Washington Post.com. But they will use their House majority to “advance their priorities in the bargaining to come.” The outline of a deal is already there, said Conn Carroll in WashingtonExaminer.com. Obama wants to raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, while Republicans want to prevent defense cuts mandated by the sequester Congress passed in 2011. An agreement on those matters wouldn’t immediately address long-term issues like the national debt or entitlement reform. “But economic disaster would be avoided and both parties would preserve their top priorities.”

Democrats should think bigger than that, said David Firestone in NYTimes.com. Their revitalized Senate majority could push Reid to do what he should have done years ago—implement reforms that curb Republican abuse of the filibuster. That would not only “give the Senate fortitude” on tax and budget issues, but also “free up the president to appoint the kinds of judges and Supreme Court justices he wants, without worrying about constant Republican obstruction.” After this week’s election, that “is not an impossible political fantasy.”

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