The Pragmatic Sophist


Rick Sorrels

What to expect from Congress 

The 2014 election has set the Democratic Party back to the least number of office holders since the 1920s. Let’s see what changes we should expect after the newly elected take office in January. 

Federal government: 

The Democrats lost their majority in the Senate the Republicans now control. The Republicans already had a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives; now they have a stronger majority, almost enough to override a presidential veto. 

With the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, expect the past history of a paralyzed, do-nothing Congress to change to one with a record number of bills being passed. Do not expect, however, that they will actually become law. 

President Obama’s record has been one with few vetoes. That will change. The president has already announced his intention to exercise his right to veto, which can only be overridden by a two thirds vote of both Houses. 

Do not expect enough Senate votes to override presidential vetoes, which brings us back to the ineffective place where we were.  The only thing to effectively change is where to place the blame. The president will now be in the blame chair. 

The Republican-controlled Senate has the sole discretion to approve presidential appointees, treaties, et cetera. Expect these to become bargaining chips with which bills are not vetoed. 

Absent action by Congress on certain issues, the president has already announced that he will issue executive orders so he could institute the changes he wants. There is a strong argument that this violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. This could result in impeachment proceedings. 

There is a frequent misunderstanding that impeachment is the removal of a president from office. This is false. Impeachment is the proceeding itself, which may or may not remove a president from office. With Republicans controlling both Houses, this could get quite interesting. 

State government: 

The Republicans gained enough seats to move them from a marginal control to a definite control of the state Senate, with 26 seats vs. 23 seats. The Democrats still control the House with 51 seats to 47 seats. 

Controlling both houses and the governor’s office for decades, the Democrats must finally resort to something new, bi-partisanship, in order to get any bill at all passed. The Democratic governor can still veto however, so also expect an increased involvement from the governor’s office in pending legislation. 

In Washington, the governor has the power to “line item veto,” where he can strike portions of passed bills and only implement those portions that he chooses. Line item vetoes are risky, because the normal vetting process is frequently bypassed.  

Things have changed, but only time will tell if it is for the better. The general election in two years will be the important one.