Washington Matters


GOP Win Sets Up Struggle With Obama

Richard Sammon

Republicans seize control of the House and come close to parity in the Senate as voters send Obama a blunt message.



Republicans won up and down the ballot and all over the country in a major drubbing of President Obama and congressional Democrats. They won with strong support from Tea Party activists on the right and from independents in the center. They capitalized on the heightened voter concern about the economy and the high rate of unemployment. And they won support from Americans worried that the federal government is too big and is spending too much.

Republicans easily took control of the House of Representatives, picking up 60 seats as of Wednesday morning, with the potential to add half a dozen more when all the close races are decided. They knocked off several veteran Democrats, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, Budget Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, and Transporation Chairman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota.

In the Senate, the GOP fell short of a majority, but not by much. Republicans held all of their own seats and added at least six more, winning in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where incumbent Russ Feingold was defeated. The pickup of six gives the GOP at least 47 seats, with a chance to go to 48 when the close race in Washington is finally settled. Democrats could take solace in the victory of Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Democratic incumbents Barbara Boxer in California and Michael Bennet in Colorado. They also held hotly contested seats in Connecticut and West Virginia.

Republicans dominated the 37 gubernatorial elections, picking up the prize in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, though they lost California, where Democrat Jerry Brown was elected. Republicans also captured a majority of the legislative seats across the U.S., putting them in a strong position for the vital redistricting process that will begin next year.

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The Republican gains will make Ohio Rep. John Boehner the next Speaker of the House and increase the clout of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Both will have their hands full trying to unite a more diverse Republican caucus that includes scores of Tea Party activists. GOP divisions were apparent even as the returns were coming in. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who bucked the party establishment to back several GOP insurgents, warned the winners not to let themselves be co-opted by the leadership when they get to Washington.

Democrats face an even more daunting task. Their Senate majority will be too slim to get anything done without Republican cooperation, and they’ll be virtually powerless in the GOP-run House. Of small consolation is the fact that House Democrats will be more united. Close to half of the conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition lost their seats Tuesday, shifting its balance to the left. In both chambers, there are few moderates left. Compromise will be very difficult.

Though they won big, Republicans acknowledged they benefited from voter anger toward Democrats, rather than high ratings of their own. Millions of voters -- especially the growing number of independents in the country -- don’t like either major party very much.

Exit polls confirmed what everyone already knew -- that the biggest issue was concern over the economy, especially the jobless rate, which is stuck at almost 10%. Republicans will try to address it by pushing for a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts and lower corporate taxes, but as long as Obama has the veto, they’ll be forced to compromise with Democrats.

Republicans are also certain to attempt to reduce federal spending by tens of billions a year. Their efforts won’t come close to erasing a $1.3-trillion deficit, but they will show effort and newfound determination to slow the federal spending spigot.

GOP leaders will also try to rework the health care law. After a perfunctory push for repeal, they’ll acknowledge they don’t have the votes for that, but they’ll push to change and delay as many provisions as they can.

As for major legislation, the big Democratic wish list is on ice. There’ll be no movement on a large energy cap and trade bill, for instance. And nothing on immigration reform.

Making it all more difficult: The 2012 presidential election campaign officially began Tuesday night. Obama will become more defiant, quick to point a finger at Republicans for gridlock and intransigence as the weak economy only very slowly recovers. Republicans, with newfound authority, will blame the White House for not cutting taxes or not cutting spending more.



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