Almost unthinkable six months ago, the improving prospects of a Democratic takeover of the House and perhaps even the Senate has many observers trying to gauge what the loss of power for Republicans would mean in the short term as well as how such an event might impact the Presidential election in 2008.
First of all, I feel compelled to point out that we are still five months away from the election, an eternity in politics. As such, prognosticating the results can be compared to trying to predict the weather 100 years from now. This fact doesn’t seem to stop Al Gore from predicting doomsday so I’m going to put my two cents in on what a Democratic House might do both institutionally and legislatively.
As far as the Democrats chances, at this point you would have to say they have a 1 in 3 chance of being successful in capturing the 15 seats necessary to take over the House while their odds are considerably less in winning the 5 seats it would take to force the Senate to change hands. The Republicans have several chances to pick up Senate seats that will offset some of their losses, making a Democratic takeover of the upper house a longshot indeed. Only a seismic shift in the way Americans view government would give the Democrats that kind of victory, something that no poll is suggesting. In fact, many bedrock Democratic ideas are still wildly unpopular in the country – a fact that may turn out to be the saving grace for Republicans in the end.
That said, there is a general feeling of disgust in the country that goes far beyond any negative feelings people have toward George Bush. In fact, if the Democrats persist in trying to make the election into a referendum on Bush, the Republicans would probably still hold on to power in the House. This is because such efforts usually fail. It failed for Republicans in 1998 as it failed for Democrats in 1982 when President Reagan’s approval numbers were in the upper 30’s. The only recent success of such a strategy occurred in 1974 when Democrats gained 52 seats in the House running against Nixonian corruption.
But Americans are restless with incumbents who appear to place themselves in a superior position to the people they purport to represent. The various scandals involving both Democrats and Republicans reinforce that notion with Republicans taking more heat because there are simply more of them.
What this leads to is an increase in the number of House races that are placed in the “competitive” column rather than being considered “safe.” And if the Democrats are smart and can choose which races gives them the best opportunity for a pick-up, they can target resources and perhaps tip the balance in enough of the newly competitive races to bring them victory.
To be sure, most analysts including Evans-Novak, Charlie Cook, Stan Greenberg, as well as pollsters like Rasumussen believe that in order for the Democrats to succeed, just about every seat that is seriously “in play” would have to break for the Democrats on election day. At present, the Democrats have identified 22 such seats and appear to be ready to sink most of their financial and organizational resources into those contests. Considering that Republicans have a chance to pick up at least 5 and perhaps 7 open and competitive seats of their own, one can see why despite all the talk about the Democrat’s large lead in the so-called “generic ballot” for the House, their chances for a takeover remain much less than 50-50.
If the Democrats were to take control of the House, there would, of course, be massive changes ahead. As the Republicans played parliamentary tricks to increase their advantage in Committees, I would expect the Democrats to do the same. This would mean that even though the Democrat’s majority would be razor thin, they would pack Committees with much larger majorities – especially on vital Committees like Ways and Means and Armed Services. I would also expect Democrats to play fast and loose with how floor votes were conducted as well as imitating Republicans in the way that amendments could be offered to bills under consideration. In short, all the the parliamentary shenanigans that Republicans have used over the past decade to maximize their narrow majority will come back to haunt them institutionally on the House floor and in the Committee rooms.
And in those rooms, we will have a parade of Bush aides answering the dozens of subpoenas that many Committees and Sub-Committees will be issuing in conjunction with enough investigations to keep the press and the Democrats busy for years. Both current Minority Leader Pelosi and ranking Judiciary Committee member Conyers swear that they will not initiate impeachment proceedings against the President. This is a crock. Their investigations of the executive branch will inevitably lead them to advancing one or more of their conspiracy theories about Iraq that will almost certainly result in the full House voting to initiate impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee. I would predict that the Democrats will give themselves a comfortable majority in that Committee – enough to quickly vote out one or two articles of impeachment by next summer.
As for legislation, forget it. Any Democratic initiatives on health care are doomed to failure. They may seek to strengthen some environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act as well as address global warming with CO2 emission standards – both may pass but probably vetoed by the President.
Minimum wage legislation would get a boost as well as – more veto fodder for Bush. A roll back of the tax cuts would also be attempted (if I were in charge of White House stationary supplies, I would make sure to lay in good supply of veto pens). An attack on some other pet Bush initiatives like No Child Left Behind and the Prescription Drug Plan may succeed in that Bush might agree to some necessary alterations as a compromise.
And unless significant progress has been made in Iraq by next summer, I have no doubt that the Democrats would seek to pull a Viet Nam and try to cut off funding for our operations there. At the very least, they will seek to gain control of the conflict in some way by using the power of the purse strings.
So much for “the unitary executive.” I don’t imagine we’ll be hearing much from our leftist friends about the “balance of power” between the executive and legislative branches as Congress seeks to usurp the executive’s authority on any number of matters.
Would anything good come of a Democratic takeover of the House? Perhaps by 2008, it would make people long for Republicans being back in control – at least, that appears to be one aspect of the so-called Tapscottian strategy (named after Heritage fellow and blogger Mark Tapscott) that gives Republicans a reason to stay home this November. Mark is a very smart fellow, but this is stupid. Without the “culture of corruption” to run against, the rules of incumbency would reassert themselves and even Democrats in marginally Republican districts would be enormously difficult to unseat.
Actually, Republicans would be wiser to run against the “culture of investigations” that the American people are much more likely to tire of – especially when it turns out that most of these investigations will be fishing expeditions that uncover little in the way of real corruption and instead show Democrats to be petty and spiteful politicians. To my mind, that would resonate far more with voters than any grand strategy that envisions Republicans riding to the rescue as Democrats trash the country.
One thing for sure; a Democratic victory in 2006 will make the Republican Presidential race very interesting indeed. Do the Republicans work to nominate a true blue conservative? Or do they try and split the difference in the electorate by nominating a Guiliani or even a McCain? I think that a Democratic victory in 2006 will weaken conservatives and allow for the nomination of a Guiliani or even a Romney as more moderate forces successfully blame stay-at-home conservatives for a 2006 election debacle.
Stranger things have happened in politics.