by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Like it or not, it took Republicans four election cycles to retake the Senate majority after losing it in 2006. Once the majorities are attained, seniority still rules in both houses. Furthermore, a minority of 41 senators can bring the Senate to its legislative knees with filibusters, and the normal divisions of the country usually do not award the majority party 60-vote control. Democrats had 60 votes for 60 days during 2009 and 2010; Republicans haven’t been able to break a filibuster by their own votes alone since the Andrew Johnson administration.
If that’s not enough, there is always the president. To override a presidential veto requires two-thirds majorities in both houses. Of the 1,497 vetoes in U.S. history, Congress has managed to override just 110. The country hasn’t elected a veto-proof Congress since 1964, and it has never raised up a veto-proof Congress to oppose an elected president of the other party.
Republicans who think they can control the government next year are just kidding themselves. The more they may try, the less they will succeed. Without Democratic collaboration, there will be only a few opportunities to send their fondest legislation to the White House and no opportunities to enact laws without President Barack Obama’s acquiescence.
That doesn’t mean that gridlock is inevitable or permanent. It does mean that President Obama will have to play give-and-take with presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner. Obama and Boehner are familiar with the game, even though they played to ties on the budget and the debt the past four years. With McConnell and a Republican Senate majority at the negotiating table, grand bargaining could be more much productive than it was with Sen. Harry Reid leading a Democratic majority. …
… One of the more useful results of the election could be restoration of the regular order of business to the Senate. For the past four years, Majority Leader Harry Reid severely limited the number of floor votes on controversial bills. Bills passed by the Republican House of Representatives on some issues, notably construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and authority for the president to conduct free-trade negotiations with a free hand, were blocked from the floor altogether. More understandably, Reid blocked votes on 50-some House-passed measures to defang Obamacare.
Reid blocked the votes, even though he was sure of defeating the Republican bills, because some of his weaker members were afraid that their voters and donors would hold their pro-Obama votes against them.
Now many of those endangered senators have been defeated anyway, and Reid no longer will control the Senate’s legislative schedule. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he will allow lots more recorded votes.