Elections have consequences. In 2008, the election of a Democratic President and strong Democratic majorities gave the party unified control of DC. With this power they passed Healthcare Reform, the Stimulus, Dodd-Frank and a host of other liberal initiatives. In 2012, Barack Obama was reelected, ensuring his legacy laws would survive. Voters rebutted the President a mere two years later in 2014 by giving the GOP a huge majority in the House and control of the Senate. Yet, even after America voted the dysfunction that has characterized DC continued with the last ditch effort to pass the Cromnibus.
Republicans and Independents voted for GOP control of Congress to be a check on the President. Yet, in doing so, they eliminated many of the remaining moderates in the Democratic Senate and House Caucuses. Thus, Nancy Pelosi is now ideologically closer to her Caucus’s positions. Elizabeth Warren has been given an even bigger pulpit to preach her vehement opposition to anything related to money in politics or Wall-Street.
Meanwhile, conservatives feel emboldened after November to oppose the President at every turn. This belief is partly at fault for the government almost being shut down again. Soon to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner believe the public wants more than that. The public wants compromise and governance. Hence, their insistence they will push for entitlement and tax reform. But the confluence of electoral events working against them makes it likely such successes will be hard to achieve.
The Democratic Caucus in the House has been whittled down to a Northeastern and West Coast party also composed of numerous majority-minority Southern districts. This means few, moderate bipartisan ideas are likely to come out of the party that Boehner and his conservative Caucus can accept. On the flip-side, Boehner is likely to see his Caucus become more moderate as many winning GOP candidates won centrist or slightly left of center districts. Still, the most conservative elements of the party, largely elected in 2010, can upend any deal made.
GOP wins in the Senate are not likely to move their Caucus to the right. Joni Ernst (IA) and Corey Gardner (CO) are far from moderates but they hail from swing states that will not like their Republican officials aiding a dysfunctional DC. Many of the Republicans who won in GOP leaning states are also more establishment and pro-government than their colleagues elected in 2010. Indeed, for several GOP freshman in left leaning states up for reelection in 2016 they also have an incentive to notch policy successes. On the other hand the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, just like the House, has become even more liberal. Fortunately for Republicans there are enough moderate Democrats from red states that will side with them on popular issues (ND, WV, MT, MO) to provide them with a filibuster proof majority to pass legislation.
The recently concluded budget debate highlighted this trend and keep in mind this was with the lame duck Congress (elected in 2012). Various factions of both parties revolted against the Cromnibus, touted by the media and party leaders as a compromise that was a sign of true governance. If this is how the old Congress reacted one should be worried about how the next one will. Progressive heroine Elizabeth Warren was allowed to shine while Nancy Pelosi openly railed against the budget agreement the President supported! The netroots has sworn they will remember their party leadership’s betrayal. Meanwhile, numerous Senate liberals and House and Senate Republicans voted against the final package. Many conservatives found themselves echoing the Democratic netroots opposition to their leadership’s proposal. Blind adherence to partisanship and ideology is not always good but if more Republicans and Democrats are willing to break with their party on bipartisan bills than more bipartisan bills may die.
There is little hope this will change in the short-term. Democrats have been devastated at the state level which means their recruitment of center-left or moderate candidates for federal office is sure to suffer. New ideas are unlikely to flourish from up and coming candidates. With the party controlling the levers of power in so few states policy experimentation and the elevation of star candidates to higher office becomes tougher. Demographics do not help this trend as most of the party’s base is consolidated in the urban areas of many states where stalwart adherence to progressivism is the only way to get elected to dog catcher. There is hope Republicans can become more moderate and pro-governance while sticking to their roots but their conservative factions in Congress are still strong enough to block any legislation if they choose. Against this backdrop, big ticket ideas like tax and entitlement reform seem doomed to die before any proposals even hit paper. And America loses because of it.
The 2014 election will leave an indelible mark on American politics. Voters supported Republicans and Democrats for many reasons but in the end they gave the GOP strong control of Congress. Unfortunately, the GOP is divided and the Democratic Party is more liberal than ever. Perhaps if Obama wants a legacy he may tack more to the right to get GOP support on popular policy ideas. But maybe I am being a little optimistic. The President is not known for being anymore conservative on many issues than Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.