Today’s elections to affect national agenda, Texas clout, 2012 presidential picture
By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON â€“ The change Americans demanded two years ago has given way to a fresh and even more insistent demand for change.
Republicans call Tuesday’s elections a referendum on President Barack Obama. The economic malaise, frustration with high spending and debt, and backlash against his health care overhaul, they say, requires a presidential makeover.
“The tsunami is going to hit the country,” said Rep. John Carter of Round Rock, the senior Texan in the House GOP leadership.
“At least initially, I don’t think he is going to be cooperative. Then it becomes whether we can convince him to become cooperative.”
Democrats frame the elections as a referendum on failed Republican policies. They go into today’s vote hoping to minimize losses and make it as hard as possible for Republicans to claim a mandate for their agenda.
“These are the folks that allowed Wall Street to run wild. These are the folks that nearly destroyed our economy,” Obama told Democratic voters over the weekend in Ohio, one of a handful of states that will seal the fate of him and his party. “We’ve tried what they’re selling, and we are not going back.”
The stakes in the midterm elections are dramatic. How the landscape might look after today’s elections:
The House is likely to fall to Republicans. Most predictions foresee a net gain of at least 50 seats, 11 more than needed to topple Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats’ best-case scenario in the Senate is to keep a slim majority.
The Obama agenda will need a complete rewrite â€“ unless the White House calculates that quixotic efforts to push lost causes would pay dividends in 2012.
Another round of federal stimulus spending to prod economic growth? That’s a nonstarter.
So is an immigration overhaul, which, to the dismay of many Hispanic supporters, Obama did little to promote in the first half of his term.
Efforts to reshape the courts with left-of-moderate judges would meet fierce resistance.
Democrats will lose leverage in their quest to let tax cuts, adopted in 2001 and 2003, expire for the nation’s wealthiest families later this year. Cutting the nation’s deficit through higher revenues will become even more politically untenable.
Putting a tax on carbon â€“ to cut emissions and promote use of energy sources other than oil and coal â€“ doesn’t stand an iceberg’s chance.
Long-pending international trade deals might do well in a GOP-controlled Congress. But with Obama already on his heels, he won’t risk alienating unions.
Democrats have carped about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent comment that his top goal is to ensure that Obama serves only one term â€“ proof, they say, that Republicans value obstruction over progress.
Confrontation seems inevitable between Obama and a hostile, empowered opposition.
A push to repeal the 7-month-old health care overhaul would be an early order of business for Republicans; doing so is part of the House GOP’s new “Pledge to America.” Obama would surely veto that, but Republicans could block funding for much of the legislation.
The Republican who would chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Rep. Darrell Issa, promises tough scrutiny of stimulus spending.
Other hearings are likely on environmental policy, border security and Afghanistan.
Republicans will push for a tougher posture toward China. There will be efforts to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Some newcomers in Congress will push to dismantle the Education Department â€“ a bad idea, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, touting the “extraordinary” number of children the department helps who are poor, homeless, migrants or have special needs.
“All of us have a role to play in improving the quality of education in the country,” he said.
Whether confrontation also entails gridlock depends on how deft Obama is at pivoting to the center, as Bill Clinton did after devastation in the 1994 midterms. It also hinges on whether Republicans use their strengthened hand to win better deals, or refuse to back down on anything.
In one contest after another around the country, tea partiers put Republicans on notice that compromise is unwelcome.
“Of course, the Obama veto pen will probably be very active,” Carter said, especially if Republicans also win the Senate.
One of the first showdowns will come early next year over the debt ceiling â€“ Congress’ self-imposed national credit limit. Democrats voted to raise that limit earlier this year from $12.4 trillion to $14.3 trillion, to the derision of Republicans.
Pressure to hold the line against spending and tax increases will be intense.
For instance, Utah’s likely incoming senator, the tea party-backed nominee Mike Lee â€“ who outflanked conservative Sen. Bob Bennett in the GOP primary â€“ has vowed to fight any effort to raise the debt ceiling, even if that means shutting down the government.
With Congress devoid of bipartisanship, the midterms will worsen the gridlock, predicted James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.
“Agony, angst and blood all over the floor. It’s going to be awful,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong.”
Texas is likely to recover some of the congressional clout it had a decade ago if Republicans do as well as predicted.
Three or four Texans would chair House committees under a GOP majority.
Rep. Joe Barton of Arlington is angling for another stint as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, whose broad jurisdiction includes offshore drilling and health care. He needs a waiver on term limits; a decision would come later this month from House GOP leaders.
Expect a hard line on border security and illegal immigration from the new Judiciary chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio.
Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall, 87, would use the gavel at the Science Committee to protect NASA and human spaceflight funding.
Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon is a top contender to take over the Intelligence Committee from El Paso Democrat Silvestre Reyes â€“ a platform to pressure Obama on arms control, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
That’s a passel of Texans. But the state does provide more GOP lawmakers than any other.
Rep. Pete Sessions, an architect of the party’s comeback this year from the setbacks of 2006 and 2008, has a rumored interest in becoming GOP whip, the No. 3 leadership spot. Oddsmakers say he’s more likely to get a second term chairing the party’s House campaign arm, if he wants it.
On the Democratic side, there have already been whispers that Obama’s miscalculations, cemented by a drubbing today, could open the door to a primary challenger. Such fights can prove devastating, as Jimmy Carter can attest.
Among Republicans, Karl Rove and other party insiders have begun openly fretting that 2010 turned Sarah Palin â€“ former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee â€“ into a juggernaut. The tea party-fueled resurgence of the GOP this year owes much of its energy to her star power and stumping.
Whoever runs, this year’s GOP fights proved that “establishment” credentials are more likely to be a liability than a ticket to success.