With the less than three months before the November 2nd elections, the political parameters are clear. Despite the accomplishments of the 111th Congress, Democrats are on the defensive and Republicans smell victory. Regardless of the outcome, it's likely little will change in Washington; Congress will spend the next two years avoiding America's most pressing problems.
US politics has entered a strange twilight zone where substantial legislative accomplishment is met with contempt and anger. The Democratically-controlled Congress passed a major economic stimulus bill, 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that "helped avert a second Depression". They followed this with a series of measures to aid the unemployed and protect the jobs of public workers, as well as a landmark Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to prevent another financial crisis. And of course the signature accomplishment of the 111th Congress was Health Care Reform which guaranteed all Americans access to affordable health care. Nonetheless, voters are angry at Democrats.
Meanwhile, Republicans feign disgust and rail against the "overspending, deficits, and debt" they contend characterized this Congress but was actually the enduring legacy of the Bush Administration. The GOP has claimed the coveted political mantle of "outsider" and, at least for the moment, convinced Independent voters the US is best served by dividing power between Democrats and Republicans.
Imagine that in November's mid-term elections, Republicans win control of the House or Senate. What difference will that make?
The good news is that it's unlikely that any of the legislative accomplishments of the 111th Congress will be reversed. Republicans won't be able to kill the Health Care initiative or the Financial Reform legislation; neither will they be able to privatize Social Security or make fundamental changes to Medicare. Even if these changes passed the House, they'd die in the Senate, as the very same cloture rules that slowed legislation to a crawl in the current session will prevent any draconian legislation from being passed. Of course, if a new Congress passed rollback legislation, President Obama would veto it.
The most likely result of the November 2nd election is absolute gridlock. Political constipation on a scale not seen for decades. Extreme partisanship that makes it impossible to pass any significant legislation.
Considering how difficult it has recently been for Democrats to enact commonsense legislation such as extending unemployment benefits, it's unlikely the 112th Congress will make progress on any of the major issues that confront America. If Republicans control the House of Representatives, it will be extremely difficult to pass a reasonable budget. (For example, the GOP will try to undermine healthcare by defunding community health clinics.) Congress will battle on all but the most trivial matters and the combative environment will segue into the 2012 General Election, where voters will get to decide, all over again, whether or not they want Washington power split between the two parties.
On November 2nd, voters who chose Republican over Democratic candidates are voting for the US to down shift into neutral for two years. A Republican controlled Congress would be dominated by negativism and accomplish nothing.
But there's a lot that should be done and that's what's at stake, progress on campaign finance reform, job creation, and global climate change.
In June the House passed campaign finance reform legislation that alleviated the impact of the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling. This legislation was filibustered in the Senate. In a Republican dominated 112th Congress the legislation has no chance of survival; we'd have at two more years where right-wing ideologues spend millions of dollars on independent expenditure political ads.
Many economists believe the US needs an additional stimulus package; we need to expend more Federal funds to create jobs and drive down unemployment. Yet the GOP is adamantly opposed to any new stimulus package that has job-creation as its central theme. (Republicans want to remedy unemployment by lowering taxes for the rich.) In a Republican dominated 112th Congress there would be no action taken to alleviate persistent unemployment.
Meanwhile, we just experienced the second hottest July ever recorded and 2010 is on track to be the hottest year. Every day we hear news of global climate events ranging from floods to massive forest fires. Yet the U.S. remains the only major industrialized nation not to have legislated caps on carbon emissions. On June 26, 2009, the House approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act but the GOP blocked similar legislation in the Senate. In a Republican dominated 112th Congress, no action would be taken to cap greenhouse gases; instead there would be efforts to limit the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency.
There's a lot at stake in the November 2nd elections. The US is running out of time to address our most serious problems and having Republicans control one or both house of Congress would be a giant step backward.
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Get a grip America! Congress needs to solve our problems rather than play blame games.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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