Whenever anyone asked me to predict whether Congress would flip, I suggested the House would definitely flip but likely not the Senate. As we got closer, conservatives were becoming giddy and expecting the Senate would turn over to a slight Republican majority. Let’s face it: I wished that would have happened, but being a realist I did not truly expect it would happen. It was simply too much of a climb.
In fact, Republican control of the Senate would possibly have had some liabilities. First, some concerned Americans, whether they call themselves “tea party members” or not, might have ended up going ‘back to sleep.’ They might have felt like they did what was needed and no longer need to worry about the details of what some consider a boring subject: government. There are no “quick fixes.” The current situation where we have a very large flip in the US House, and a few flipped seats in the Senate, is a good motivator to keep working.
Second, this was not about handing the Republican party control. It was about replacing politicians who had shown themselves to be out of touch. These are politicians who were simply following party orders rather than adhering to the Constitution and representing their constituents. It was about sending a message. It was about giving the opposition party control of at least the US House, as a check on the president. The opposition party happened to be Republicans this time.
Third, any Republican victory in the Senate would have been narrow. Even with a US House victory, attempts to undo parts of some of the more attrocious legislation rammed through by the Pelosi/Obama/Reid triumvirate (a triumvirate that will lose its most obnoxious member come January) would be met by Obama’s veto pen. With such a narrow Republican majority, there simply would not be enough in the Senate to override a veto. And it’s a bit of a stretch, even with many Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2012, to expect more than a couple of them to assist in overriding a Democrat presidential veto. As it takes 2/3 of each chamber of Congress to override a veto, this is extremely difficult even in the best of circumstances. This type of situation could cause people to lose patience with the Republicans fast. Some conservatives might become demoralized and stay home in a presidential election year if they did not see enough progress due to the inability to override vetoes. Most people are simply not aware of the difficulty of an override.
Fourth, a Congress where both chambers are controlled by Republicans would have been a great opportunity for Obama. He would be able to play the victim and parlay that into a successful reelection bid. “I’m the only one keeping you from total Republican control!” As it stands now, the Republicans merely control the House, though by a wide margin. Obama’s party has a weaker hold on the Senate, but it still has control. Mistakes made by the Democrat Senate reflect back on Obama. Reid may have won reelection himself, but if he is obstinate it’s not going to be helpful for Obama going forward, and Reid could risk getting the title “minority leader” in 2013. It will be fun to continue to link Obama to Reid. Of course, with this in mind, having Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer as majority leader would have been even more fun.
Fifth, while control of a chamber of Congress does bring power, it also brings administrative burdens. With a larger number of Republicans, plus a number of Senate Democrats in conservative-leaning states up for reelection in 2012 (Tester in MT, Manchin in WV, Nelson in NE, McCaskill in MO, etc.), Senate Republicans will have a great deal of power without the burdens of administration.
Finally, the Republicans are on probation. Suddenly giving them full control of both chambers of Congress is a bit much. Let them prove themselves with the House. With so many Democrat Senators up for reelection in 2012, the Republicans will have plenty of opportunity to take the Senate at that point….if they do good things in the House.