Should Republicans Focus on Taking Back Congress?

American conservatives can reclaim control of the legislature in November.

View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, January 20, 2009
View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, January 20, 2009 (Wikicommons/Bgwwlm)

Americans not only elect a president this fall. There are also 33 Senate races across the country while all members of the House of Representatives must fight for reelection.

Republicans are poised to do well in these contests. Even if they lose seats in the House, they could win a majority in the upper chamber and claim control of the legislative branch.

Given the weak field of Republican presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee, has seen his disapproval ratings among centrist voters rise as a result of a nasty nominating battle with two right-wing challengers — perhaps conservatives should consider winning back Congress their priority this November?

“If Republicans do,” writes influential columnist George Will in The Washington Post, “their committee majorities will serve as fine mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation.”

Such a restoration would mean that a reelected Obama, a lame duck at noon January 20, would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm.

Without a friendly majority in the Senate, President Barack Obama’s bureaucratic and judicial appointments could be blocked while Democratic legislations would fail to pass or be repealed — although repeals are subject to presidential vetoes.

In the Senate, Republicans are defending ten seats, seven of them safe. Maine and Nevada are less reliably Republican but according to opinion polls, Democrats stand little chance of gaining ground there. Only Massachusetts senator Scott Brown’s seat may be in jeopardy because the northeastern state usually favors Democrats but Brown is considered a moderate and his challenger very left wing.

Republicans, then, have little to lose — unlike the Democrats whose senators for otherwise red states Nebraska, North Dakota and Virginia are retiring. Republicans are fielding strong candidates there as well as in Missouri, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, traditional swing states, could further change party while the popular West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a former Democratic governor of the state, is vulnerable.

Recent polls predict an even split between the two parties in the Senate if the races that are currently “undecided” break evenly. Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Wisconsin and Virginia are all in the “tossup” category. Republicans victories in at least five of them would tilt the balance in their favor.

In the House, the outlook is even better for Republicans. They won back control of the lower chamber in 2010 and are unlikely to lose it this year although their majority could shrink.

Generic congressional ballot polls suggest roughly an even split between voters of the two major parties but far fewer identify as Democrats than Republicans.

If there is divided government, Republicans will likely hope to convince the president to enact deeper spending cuts and tax reforms which are needed to balance the budget and help stir economic growth.

Reform of the nation’s major entitlement programs, which Democrats have hesitated to pursue, could still have to wait until there is a Republican in the White House.

Although President Obama has recognized that something must be done to rein in the rising costs of public health-care and retirement programs, his solutions — rationing care and asking wealthy seniors to waive their right to a fully funded government pension — are unpopular on the right.

Republicans’ solutions — replacing the direct financing of seniors’ medical needs with an insurance subsidy and privatizing Social Security — are wholly unacceptable to the left. But if they push ahead with such plans nonetheless, as they did last year in the House, would the president veto? He and other members of his party may be glad to let Republicans take responsibility for changing these very popular welfare programs in the hopes of winning again in 2016.

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