Elections 2014: Cooperation in a divided government?

Posted on November 10, 2014

Elections 2014: Cooperation in a divided government?

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The 2014 midterm elections are in the books, and the results were astounding. Most notably, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and tightened their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives. Beginning in 2015, for the first time in the Obama era, Republicans are in firm control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

While the Republican victory was sweeping, it is neither veto-proof nor filibuster-proof. Since the beginning of American history, Congress has overridden fewer than 10 percent of all presidential vetoes regardless of the party that controlled Congress. In order to override a vetoed bill, both Congressional chambers need a two-thirds majority vote. 

Even as profound as the midterm elections were in favor of Republicans, they still are not close to holding a two-thirds majority. This means the White House and Congress will need to compromise to accomplish any noteworthy reforms. 

In the U.S. Senate, Republicans currently hold a slight majority with 52 seats confirmed. However, several December runoffs are on the horizon to determine the outcome of Senate races in Alaska, Virginia and Louisiana. Even if Republicans sweep those runoffs – which they might – they’ll still lack the 60 seats needed to prevent a Democratic filibuster and not nearly enough to override a presidential veto.

Disclaimer: there is a history of cooperation in a divided government.

This divided government Obama faces for his last two years in office is very similar to the divided government the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations faced during their respective terms in the White House. To this day, many experts argue the legislation passed during those years of divided government were – get this – productive. 

For example, during the Clinton administration in 1994, Republicans famously seized control of both Congressional chambers. At that time, the Clinton administration worked with well-known Republicans, and Contract with America masterminds Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott, to produce the first federal budget surpluses since 1969. Moreover, they were able to accomplish this for the fiscal years 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 – a feat that sounds like a fairytale in today’s gridlocked Congress. 

So, where is the middle ground? 

With a Republican-controlled Congress, and a Democrat in the White House, many pundits are predicting an increase in the gridlock that has plagued our country. 

We will likely see the Democratic-controlled White House address immigration reform in an effort to shore up the Hispanic vote for 2016. The tactic to watch for is whether Obama allows the Republican-led Congress to debate immigration reform, or whether it comes from a unilateral, executive order that grants amnesty to the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants. The latter of the two tactics will not sit well with Republicans, or Democrats for that matter. 

In terms of the Republicans, we can expect a focused effort to gut the Affordable Care Act. Obama will most definitely veto any such efforts.  

I, for one, hope that our newly elected Congress and the White House will work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan strategy to reduce our nation’s nearly $17 trillion deficit. A bipartisan deficit reduction strategy should be an initiative that both sides can at least partially support.

Whether the 2015 and 2016 divided government edition will be more of the same gridlock, or a heralded new era of compromise and problem solving, the results will certainly spill over into the 2016 elections. And if history teaches us anything about a divided government, it is that it is a mixed bag.

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