The November 2nd election closed the books on a contentious campaign season with startling results. As many political forecasters suggested, Republicans retook the House of Representatives and now hold their largest majority (239 – 186, results from 10 races still pending) since the Eisenhower Administration. In the Senate, Republicans held every single incumbent seat, won 4 open seats and removed 2 Democrat incumbents, a net gain of six seats that places the Senate margin at 52 Democrats, 46 Republicans, and 2 Independents.
Over the past several weeks, NPGA detailed the key races that we were watching closely. Here are the results:
Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District pitted current Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and nearly 40-year House veteran, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D), against political newcomer, Chip Cravaack. In the end, Cravaack defeated Oberstar by a little more than 2%. As chairman, Oberstar had a tremendous influence over many transportation issues that affect NPGA members including: hours of service, HAZMAT transportation, special permit rules, etc. Left rudderless by losing Oberstar and their majority status, Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will usher in a new Ranking member, likely Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
Alaska’s Senate contest has still not been decided though a Republican, either party nominee Joe Miller or incumbent Lisa Murkowski, will be the eventual victor. Miller defeated Murkowski in the Alaskan Republican primary, prompting Murkowski to pursue a nearly unprecedented effort to defeat Miller as a write-in candidate. Should she win, Murkowski would be the first victorious write-in Senate candidate in more than 50 years. Murkowski is currently the ranking member on the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. However, it is unclear if the Senate Republican caucus would continue to let Murkowski serve in that capacity.
California’s Senate contest ended up being less dramatic than many polls had suggested as Barbar Boxer (D) handily defeated political newcomer and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R). A liberal stalwart and hard-core environmentalist, Senator Boxer will likely resume the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the entity responsible for authoring climate change and related environmental legislation.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D), the Senate Majority Leader, defeated Tea Party stalwart Sharron Angle (R) by 6% in undoubtedly the nastiest and most scrutinized race of the year. During the 111th Congress, Senator Reid co-authored the NATGAS Act, legislation to incentivize the production, purchase and related infrastructure costs of natural gas vehicles. Reid also has co-sponsored the Fueling America Act, alternative fuel vehicle legislation that places propane and natural gas vehicle incentives on equal footing. Reid will likely remain as Majority Leader, but will have a much smaller majority to work with making his ability to move legislation even more difficult than it was in the previous Congress.
Outcome: The broader question is how will the overall election results impact Congress itself? The short answer is that there is no definitive way of knowing how the House and Senate will operate, what the legislative priorities will be, and who will hold the most influence until after organizational meetings are held and the 112th Congress begins in January. However, we can make some educated guesses:
Senate: Despite losing 6 seats, the Democrats led by Majority Leader Reid will still control the legislative agenda and the Committees. However, finding consensus and being able to reach the 60 vote threshold necessary to consider, let alone pass, legislation just became 6 votes more difficult. Is this a recipe for even more gridlock than we saw in the 111th Congress? Looking solely at the numbers suggests this may be the case; however, we are moving into a non-election year and when the political pressure ratchets back the potential for increased short-term legislative action.
House: The House will be dramatically different under the Republicans. This will be particularly felt in the Committees where several experienced conservative members will become chairmen. At present, it appears that Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), an advocate for tax code simplification, will chair the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. John Mica (R-FL) will chair the Transportation Committee; and either Fred Upton (R-MI) or Joe Barton (R- TX), both ardent foes of climate legislation, will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Republican Leadership, under likely Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and these committee chairmen, have pledged to dismantle much of the work the previous Congress did in the areas of health care, energy, and financial services legislation. Also, because House Republicans now have subpoena power, the Obama Administration should also expect a heavy dose of Federal agency oversight and investigative hearings.
The Bottom Line: Republicans enjoyed a tremendous election. In the House, we expect the GOP to pass their legislative agenda as easily, if not more easily, than Speaker Pelosi did in the previous Congress. After all, the GOP has the votes and in the House a simple majority is all that matters. The Senate, the constitutionally deliberate body where from a practical procedural standpoint all work must achieve a 60 vote threshold, will still be run by the Democrats. In order to move legislation, compromise will be more necessary now than in the previous Congress. However, compromise, especially in controversial energy and environmental policy, will continue to be difficult to achieve. A potential mitigating factor rests in a developing sense that both Congress and the Obama Administration may be interested in moving a much more modest legislative agenda.
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