Post-Election Analysis: In Congress, It’s New Gridlock, Same Old Divisions
The 2018 midterm election is over. Republicans expanded their Senate majority while Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives.
For the next two years, we will have a divided government; it would be nice for Congress to come together, put aside partisan rancor and incivility, and push forward on bipartisan solutions. Don’t expect it. Here’s what Americans can look forward to.
Nothing of substance is likely to pass Congress over the next two years in part because Democrats have no need to make deals with Republicans (helping President Trump) and Republicans have lost their leverage.
Even finding common ground will be far more difficult. Democrats have veered so far from a moderate position, especially with this new class of members in the House who espouse more far-left positions, that it will be nearly impossible to find common ground on major legislation on the economy, health care and immigration.
Comprehensive immigration reform is dead. Any deals on DACA or border-wall funding breathed their last breath earlier this year. Additional tax cuts are non-starters. Criminal justice reform is unlikely, too.
LEGISLATIVE MOVES TO NOWHERE
Democrats in the House will look to score points with their base and force conservatives on the record with votes on raising the national minimum wage, scaling back tax cuts, passing climate change or environmental legislation, preserving the Affordable Care Act, and increasing welfare spending.
Their proposals would likely expand government, raise new costs, and stifle economic growth. For these reasons, a Republican-led Senate would not pass them, but the point is not to get them to the president’s desk but to create talking points for 2020 elections.
If there are two areas for the White House and Congress to work together, they could be infrastructure spending and the opioid crisis. However, the gulf between conservatives and liberals is huge.
President Trump proposed $200 billion in federal spending to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments from local and state governments and the private sector. However, this did not go far enough for Democrats who proposed a $1 trillion all-government spending infrastructure plan. The price tag would be paid for by reversing some of the GOP-passed tax cuts and raising taxes on higher-income individuals, which is a no-go for conservatives.
Progressives have also said that proposed federal spending to address the opioid crisis falls billions of dollars short.
AND AGENCY HOUNDING
Democrats have already pledged to investigate, investigate and investigate. They call it oversight, but it’s really meant to bog down and frustrate this administration’s efforts.
Look for the House Judiciary Committee to probe executive wrongdoing and possible impeachment of Trump. Expect aggressive oversight of the president’s dealings with the Justice Department, the FBI and the special counsel’s office.
Meanwhile, the Russia investigation may get new legs under the new leadership of the Intelligence Committee. Securing the president’s tax returns are a major target for Democrats and they will use oversight committees to probe his business dealings as well as the administration’s spending and personnel decisions.
Rep. Maxine Waters of California will tighten the screws on the banking and housing industry while the Commerce Committee will turn up the heat on the Federal Communications Commission.
WORKING AROUND CONGRESS
Republicans may choose to work around the legislative process going forward. Trump, who has portrayed great willingness and skill at negotiating, will continue to use executive action to advance policies that would otherwise be stalled in the House.
Conservatives will continue deregulation through federal agencies. So far, the results of their efforts have been impressive. Federal agencies eliminated 22 regulations for every new one introduced (surpassing President Trump’s mandate of two for every one) and saved $8.1 billion in lifetime net regulatory cost savings.
ACTION ON THE COURTS
One promising area for conservatives will be shaping the federal court system for decades to come. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that his chief focus in the new Congress will be to confirm Trump’s nominees, particularly for federal courts. Some 40 judicial nominees are still awaiting confirmation votes, stymied by delay tactics of Democrats.
And if the opportunity arises to fill another Supreme Court vacancy, this Senate would be in a good position to fill it through a less partisan and nail-biting process than with Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Americans voted for a divided government perhaps in hopes of forcing Congress to work together. After the shootings of Republicans and delivery of potentially harmful mail bombs to Democratic leaders, there was hope that national unity could override partisan rancor. But those violent episodes could not overcome the political divide, and this new Congress likely won’t either.
Patrice Lee Onwuka is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.