The Next National Nightmare: A Republican Majority Congress in 2015

The right-leaning Washington Post’s 2014 election experts are now predicting that Republicans have an 86 percent chance of taking over the U.S. Senate. The New York Times puts it at 58 percent. Other top pollsters agree with the Times, saying the GOP’s odds of a Senate majority are strong but slimmer. Only Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball strongly disagrees, saying that many Democratic incumbents will not be beaten.

What would it look like if Republicans controlled Congress under President Obama? In the short term, there is no evidence that they would govern with restraint. The specter of veto wars from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other looms large. In the long term, the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court hangs in the balance. And today’s younger voters, who helped elect Obama, will keep seeing a government that can’t solve problems, which pollsters are saying has pushed some millennials to embrace Libertarian values.  

The results could be even worse for the country than Rupert Murdoch's latest corporate takeover attempt, in which his Fox News media empire is seeking to buy Time Warner, Inc. If successful, that merger could mean that right-wing propaganda would creep into much of the media content fed to Americans. That’s discouraging enough. But a government held hostage by Republicans ideologues only benefits the GOP. Too many of today’s Republicans have run for office pledging to obstruct government and to cut public services.

Let’s start with the federal budget.

The latest plan put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, the House budget architect, distilled “every form of right-wing lunacy,” Democratic Florida Rep. Alan Grayson said in April. Ryan released his 100-page budget bill at 7pm on a Friday and Democrats had to file their amendments by noon the following Monday, Greyson noted, calling it a typical strong-arm tactic. Today, those proposals go nowhere in a Democratic Senate. But what would the GOP do if it could?

“It’s all in there,” Grayson wrote in a Huffington Post column:

“Tax cuts for the rich, the so-called ‘job creators.’ Tax cuts for multinational corporations, the other so-called ‘job creators.’ (Why don’t we ever call them by their real name, job exporters?) Cuts in middle-class tax benefits, like deduction for pension benefits and IRAs, to pay for this (Robin Hood in reverse). Cuts in Medicaid and food stamps, because, you know, the Republicans want to make millions of sick, hungry people more self-reliant. A legal requirement to force the president to cut Social Security benefits and/or raise Social Security taxes, to make Obama do the Republicans’ dirty work for them. Big jumps in student loan interest rates. And massive increases in military expenditures.”

There’s more devilish details. Right now, Medicaid—state-run healthcare for the poor—pays below-market reimbursements. Under Obamacare, many blue states used additional federal funds to extend Medicaid coverage to millions of uninsured people. Ryan’s plan, however, seeks to cut $732 billion in future Medicaid spending. That would hit children, elderly and disabled people the hardest, wrote Bruce Leslie of First Focus Campaign for Children. Similarly, you could expect a GOP-controlled Congress to pass bills ordering federal agencies they don’t like to issue new rules that would stymie specific programs, such as how Obamacare works at Health and Human Services, or gutting new power plant emission standards at EPA.

You could also expect Republican vendettas to try to block Democratic governors from tackling problems that have been frozen in Congress. As the Times reported Thursday, the House’s new Majority Leader, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, pledged to block funds for California Gov. Jerry Brown’s biggest response to climate change: a high-speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other examples were cited, suggesting that extreme stances by the GOP leadership could become law.

What else might Americans see? The House GOP has enough votes to start the impeachment process, as some members seek, but there aren’t enough Republicans in the Senate—two-thirds are needed—to remove Obama. In contrast, a GOP Senate could launch investigations into the deaths of four diplomats in Libya, as a way to keep attacking Obama and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 aspirations. Republicans could empower a special prosecutor to look into what they claim is an IRS scandal over denying Tea Party groups the legal status of tax-free charities—a cause celebre at GOP-friendly Fox News.

A GOP Senate would likely do everything to thwart Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee, if one of its aging justices retire or die in 2015 or 2016. The public has seen who Republicans like on the Court. Republican presidential appointees, especially Chief Justice John Roberts, have issued rulings that have resulted in the Court being labeled the most pro-corporate Court in 70 years. Senate Republican anger over Obama appointing federal judges—after Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the filibuster rule to thwart GOP obsructionism on federal judgeships—would emerge.

Obama, for his part, would likely become the vetoer-in-chief, rejecting bill after bill from the GOP-run Congress. In the recent past, House Republicans have tried to break up major legislation—such as immigration reform— into smaller bills to pass what they like and kill what they don't. We could expect similar uncompromising tactics, like Republicans sending Obama spending bills restoring cuts from the so-called sequester for the Pentagon, and then separating bills cutting funds for agencies they don’t like.

From the outside looking in, the GOP would claim that Obama and the Democrats have become the party of vetos and saying no. People who don’t pay close attention would see a federal government tied up in terrible knots. Republicans would like that, saying they are fulfilling campaign pledges to stop spending. And young people who want to believe in government as a problem-solving force would become increasingly skeptical, and keep drifting in Libertarian directions, which pollsters say is already happening.

Right now, WaPo is forecasting there’s an 86 percent chance the Senate will have a Republican majority after November. Those aren’t the odds found at the New York Times, the Cook Political Report or the Rothenberg Political Report. And Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball says the GOP has a long way to go toward ousting the Democratic incumbents who stand between it and a Senate majority.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats should not be worried. If Democrats keep their Senate majority, it will likely be by one or two seats. Meanwhile, Americans who care about effective federal government and a fair-minded judiciary should take notice. If you think things are tied up in Washington now, they can get a lot worse.     

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