This is it. In just a few days, the mid-terms will be over, and if the predictions are correct, both branches of the legislature will be controlled by Republicans. If you thought GOP obstruction was bad since 2010, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. President Obama’s job description for the next two years will be vetoing bills and… well… that’s about it. Sure, he’s still got a few executive powers he can bring to bear, but rest assured, he will be hamstrung in the worst possible ways.
Democrats are notorious for midterm somnambulance, so this year is nothing new. It’s sad, because by the numbers, if Democrats simply voted at the same rate as Republicans, we wouldn’t be in our current mess, and things wouldn’t be getting worse for us next week. We have the numbers. Whatever the cause of Democratic apathy in midterms, the consequences are undeniable, and unfortunately, they’re a lot worse than just two more years of gridlock. To understand why, we need to do some numbers first, so please bear with me for a couple of paragraphs. I promise it’ll be worth it.
Suppose the GOP controls 52 seats after this election. Let’s look ahead to 2016, when all the pundits say Hillary (or dare we dream, Warren?) will win the White House. Democrats always show up strong in presidential years. This will bode very well for the Senate races, too. Because of the GOP landslide in 2010, they’ll have to defend 23 seats, while only 9 Democratic seats will be challenged. (Seven of those are lock solid, and the other two will likely hold.) After six years of GOP insanity, a lot of those GOP seats will be extremely vulnerable. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Democrats to win 7 or 8 of them, which would give them a majority of 55 or 56.
If things work out this way, we’ll be exactly where we are today. That is, we’ll have a GOP controlled house, and a Democratic Senate that can’t do very much of anything. The problem is that then, as today, we won’t have a 3/5 majority — 60 Democratic seats. Why is that important? Well, most notably, 60 votes are required for what’s called a “cloture vote.” When the Senate “imposes cloture,” it forcibly ends debate on a bill and proceeds to a real vote. Simply put, 60 Democratic Senators would end the GOP’s ability to filibuster.
Why does that matter? Republicans have filibustered bills that would have:
- Nullified the Hobby Lobby decision.
- Nullified Citizens United.
- Raised minimum wage to $10.10.
- Guaranteed women equal pay for equal work.
- Required background checks for gun purchases.
- Required millionaires to pay at least 30% in taxes.
- Encouraged companies to bring outsourced jobs back to America.
That really is just a short list. This is why we can’t have nice things — because we don’t have 60 Democratic Senators.
So, returning to our prognostications, let’s imagine that the predictions are all wrong, and Democrats actually hold their majority this year. Let’s pretend they’ll only lose one seat, retaining a 52-48 advantage in 2016. There would still be gridlock for the next two years, but let’s do a little math…
52 + 8 = 60.
There it is. If Democrats were to hold in 2014, and win the predicted number of seats in 2016, the Democratic president would have a filibuster-proof Senate, filled with people who have already tried to pass all the wonderful things we progressives would like to see. So we’re talking about the possibility of real, sweeping changes in just two years. IF Democrats would vote in midterms.
But it’s not just about bills. It’s about much, much more than that, because among the Senate’s powers is approving presidential appointments — presidential appointments such as Supreme Court Justices. If the Democrats lose the Senate next week, that means two years in which it will be impossible for President Obama to flip the Supreme Court. If any of the conservative Justices resign or pass away in the next two years, we can only hope for a “moderate” like Anthony Kennedy, who isn’t much of a moderate, but throws progressives a bone from time to time. Even worse, what if something happens to one of the liberal justices? Ruth Bader Ginsberg is no spring chicken. If something were to happen to her in the next two years, the court would swing even more conservative during a Democratic presidency!
Let’s look ahead to 2018, the next midterm. If things go as predicted, remember the GOP will have marginal control in 2014, then the Democrats will have marginal control in 2016. In 2018, I’m sorry to say, it’s likely the GOP will take it over again. Flip flop. Flippity flop. And nothing gets done. And it’s another two years in which a Democratic president will have no hope of creating a liberal Supreme Court.
Finally, let’s look at 2020. Hillary will be up for re-election after four years of the same do-nothing GOP Congress and an impotent Senate. Her presidency will look a lot like President Obama’s, and she’ll have spent all her political capital on whatever turns out to be her “One Big Thing.” It’ll be watered down, just like the ACA was watered down. Hopefully she can get herself re-elected. If she does, she’ll probably have a slight Democratic majority in the Senate again. What’s more, there’s a slight chance that Congress could flip back to Democratic control in that year.
But don’t bank on it. Instead, bank on Democrats showing up for presidential elections, staying home at midterms, and this eternal flippity-floppity Senate that comes up with great ideas for two years of every four, only to be filibustered to political death. All the while, Citizens United will allow the GOP to keep stealing elections with mountains of dirty money. Students will still be underwater from loans. Guns will still proliferate. Wage slavery will still be a thing. Jobs will continued to be outsourced. And the Supreme Court may very well become more right leaning than it already is, despite a Democratic president. And that could mean another 30 years of really bad rulings.
What will it take to get Democrats engaged in the midterms? I wish I knew. For all the social media blitzing over the past several months, predicted turnouts are about the same as last election. It’s a shame, really, because this mid-term is about a lot more than the next two years. States like Georgia, Texas, and Kentucky are flirting with becoming swing states. If we can somehow pull out an upset next week, we can conceivably put the Tea Party to rest in just two more years, and end this interminable gridlock.