Now that elections are over, serious changes are coming to the makeup of Congress. Americans seeking drastic change will be seeing a great many new faces in both houses, but especially in the House of Representatives, where the Republican Party gained over 60 seats. This massive defection will lead to the ouster of current House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a long awaited day for the conservatives of the country. Although they did not capture the Senate, Republicans significantly narrowed the gap (Dems still hold a 53-47 edge).
This scenario creates what is referred to as divided government, when one party controls the presidency and the opposing party controls one or both houses of Congress. This will leave our leaders with the ability to move in two possible directions: learn to compromise or deal with legislative gridlock.
Republicans have a few advantages at the moment. They control the House, which originates all revenue (tax & spend) bills and the conservative crowd can threaten to filibuster any unwanted bills in the Senate without fear of having it broken by a cloture vote.
Democrats still hold the numerical edge in the Senate though and President Obama can veto any unwanted legislation without fear of having it overridden. And, Democrats are still in charge of a lame-duck session of Congress. The newly elected members of Congress won't take office until January 3rd, leaving liberals in charge for nearly two months.
With both sides paying attention to their own strengths, no one seems to be in the mood to compromise. The first major confrontation is already in play. Tax cuts implemented during the Bush administration are set to expire on January 1, 2011. The soon to be Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) and President Obama refuse to give ground on this particular issue. Obama only wishes to extend cuts on those making less than $250,000 while Boehner has proposed making the cuts permanent for all citizens. No matter which side you tend to favor, one certainty exists. If neither side gives ground, the cuts expire for everyone.
Let me see if I nailed this correctly ... Democrats and Republicans refuse to cooperate and the American people feel the sting. As the situation stands right now, I don't foresee either side relenting. While I admire both sides for digging in, I also sense a tumultous two years in the making. The 112th Congress has yet to be seated and already has a number of policy showdowns looming, such as:
1. The previously mentioned tax cuts -- Most Americans can't afford additional taxes at this point, but we can't afford not to have the revenue either.
2, A budget crisis & national debt -- Since 2001, this country has been borrowing money like there's no tomorrow and the situation is so glum, the Federal Reserve Board authorized their purchase of $600 billion of government securities and this doesn't seem to bother anyone. Both parties claim to want to fix this problem but no one is making the tough decisions about taxation or spending policies.
3. "Don't ask, don't tell" -- As part of his campaign in 2008, President Obama promised this policy would see its end during his administration but has yet to do so. He has stated he would prefer it end through an act of Congress, which seems highly unlikely. Though the federal court system is addressing this, it will likely be near the end of Obama's term before it reaches any final conclusion. Will the president issue an executive order to end this policy? Will he pay a price at the polls if he doesn't?
4. The economy -- Unemployment still hovers around 10%. Unacceptable. Both parties take blame in this but the solution is in doubt. Spending on government programs? Cutting taxes to spur growth?
Abraham Lincoln noted in 1858, "... agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' "
Our current political climate is cold. Probably more along the lines of frigid, actually. Parties are continuing to become more polarized and there seems to be fewer people in the middle to work out compromises (Gang of 14, anyone?). But let's not go too far with this analogy. The country isn't in danger of political fracture or civil war, but the problems we have are pressing the people to the point where protests and 'tea parties' have become pervasive.
Everyone seems to want 'change' yet neither side will bend on their issues. For the immediate future, the people are going to have to gut this one out, as both sides seem set in their paths. It could be a long, cold winter.