Think of what follows as a view of the future based on the likely outcome of tomorrow’s election and past history. It is a given that the GOP will retain its majority in the House; indeed, it may even be larger. Republicans will also end up with a majority in the Senate, raising the question “How will the party govern?” A highly plausible answer to this query requires nothing more than an analytic look back over the last two years, and how some elected Republicans in both the Senate and the House behaved.
Start with the need to raise the debt ceiling which, in past times, never took more than a simple vote and it was done. But, some right-wingers decided that this time, things would be different; i.e. they demanded the repeal of Obamacare or they would shut the government down. In the Senate, Ted Cruz (R-TX) undertook a lengthy almost theatrical filibuster that ultimately came to no avail. Undaunted, he moved his “act” over to the House where he vigorously and successfully lobbied members of the Tea Party Caucus to hold fast and crash the government unless they got their way. The result was a 26-day closing of the US government for business, an estimated loss of $24 billion in revenues (1) and a downgrading of our credit rating. This self-destructive fiasco finally ended when Speaker Boehner turned his back on the Tea Party-types and marshaled a few votes more than the minimum 218 needed to raise the debt ceiling. For that he had to thank House Democrats.
Next, recall that the Senate passed a BIpartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill and sent it over to the House for debate, possible amendment(s) and a vote. The latter never happened. For the answer as to why, focus again falls upon the Tea Party Caucus. They informed the Speaker that they would vote as a bloc against any immigration bill. Seeing that support for this legislation wasn’t there, the Speaker shelved it.
Given this history, what can be expected when the new Congress is seated in January 2015? In the Senate, the presence of a few more wiser Republican heads will again insure that some meaningful bills get passed and sent on to the House. Their contents will be critical because if they are at odds with the ideology of Tea Party caucus members, you can expect a replay of what happened with the immigration bill. This outcome is all the more likely if the same caucus increases in number as a result of the election. A bigger and more formidable bloc will leave the Speaker with the unenviable job of herding the equivalent of angry, defiant cats.
Finally, make no mistake, assuming the GOP takes control of both houses, the challenge will be to govern and find ways around what will probably be Tea Party obstruction. There will be a lot on the line: As Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said “If we don’t capture the House stronger and the Senate, and prove we can govern, there won’t be a Republican president in 2016.” He might as well have added “…and you can kiss our majorities good-bye”!!!
The past remains the best predictor of the future.
1. Ironic that the party of fiscal responsibility caused that loss.