By now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself: If the Republicans take control of the Senate in next week’s elections, what would it mean to me?
“We'll get things done, and it means a stop to the Obama agenda,” said the embattled Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Did you notice that “get things done” is immediately followed by “stop?” What do you think that means?
Well, we know that if the Republicans win the majority, all Senate committees would have Republican chairs. The Energy Committee, for instance, might be run by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a moderate who is in the pocket of oil and gas lobbies. This would be a dramatic change from the current situation in which the Energy Committee is run by Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a moderate who is in the pocket of oil and gas lobbies.
On a far more exciting note, the Environment Committee could wind up being led by James Inhofe, the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Under the Republicans, the Senate would be an extremely open body, in which the minority party would be permitted — nay, welcomed — to submit clever amendments designed to make the majority take difficult or embarrassing votes that could be used against them in the next election. The minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has complained about the Democrats’ heavy-handedness on this for years and will undoubtedly be eager to change things if he gets in control.
And what about substance? Republican voters would have every reason to expect that the first item on McConnell’s agenda would be repeal of Obamacare. But many Republican senators have positions on the Affordable Care Act that are nuanced in the extreme. Get rid of the program but keep the part about people with pre-existing conditions. Or the bit that lets young adults stay on their parents’ policies. McConnell himself has said that he wants to let his home state of Kentucky keep its extremely popular version of the program, which is known as Kynect. (“The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch.”)
We look forward to seeing that legislation.
Cynical minds might presume that, with a Republican majority, the Senate would simply continue in its current state of dysfunction, working diligently on an agenda (defund Planned Parenthood, strangle the Environmental Protection Agency in its crib) that will die for lack of 60 votes. Democrats, meanwhile, would fall back in love with the filibuster.
Or maybe not. Some people believe that the Republicans would be eager to prove that they really, actually, genuinely can get things done and would work with the White House on matters of common interest, like tax reform.
“Tax reform” would probably mean lowering some rates and making up for the lost revenue by closing tax loopholes elsewhere. The House Ways and Means Committee did some work on that recently, and the committee chairman actually unveiled a plan. Then John Boehner made fun of him. The plan never came up for a vote. The chairman is retiring.
There are a few matters in which a Republican Senate majority would make a critical difference. One is the budget. This is stupendously important, but since we may have to spend the next two years discussing fiscal cliffs and the rules of reconciliation, it doesn’t seem fair to make us start early.
Also, there’s the matter of presidential nominations.
“Two words: Supreme Court,” said Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat. “If they have the majority, they have far more say over who’s the nominee.”
That could have an impact for decades to come. However, it presupposes that there will be a Supreme Court vacancy. On the plus side, the next two years will be a boom time for prayers for the good health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Presuming the current justices continue in good form, the Republicans could still block other presidential nominations and we would have to get used to government by acting-heads-of. But that’s already pretty close to the norm. One Republican representative recently denounced President Barack Obama for creating an Ebola czar instead of giving the job to the surgeon general, apparently unaware that we have had no surgeon general for more than a year, thanks to the National Rifle Association’s opposition to the administration’s nominee for the job.
Tracked down by The Huffington Post, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah claimed he really did know the surgeon general’s post was vacant, and that anybody from the office could still do the Ebola job.
“I know there’s some confusion there, but I don’t think I was confused,” he said stoutly.
See, Chaffetz is perfectly willing to live with an acting surgeon general. And maybe someone could talk Eric Holder into hanging around for a while longer.
© 2014 New York Times News Service