Maybe Barack Obama and Republicans who won control of the U.S. Senate will really compromise for the common good. Maybe the president and congressional leaders of both parties will emerge from their first post-election sit-down Friday all smiles and end the dysfunction.
And maybe Obama will become BFFs with presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over glasses of Kentucky bourbon and become golfing buddies with House Speaker John Boehner.
We’re trying to be optimistic, but the track record is not encouraging.
What could easily happen instead is two more years of conflict and gridlock. The initial signs are not good when Obama immediately pledges to issue an executive order giving legal status to some illegal immigrants, and when Boehner vows to keep trying to kill Obamacare.
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First, they should focus on important business where reasonable deals can be made: rebuilding roads and bridges, simplifying the federal tax code, boosting foreign trade, helping students afford college and more.
After Republicans’ rout in Tuesday’s election, they will have at least 52 of the 100 seats in the Senate and at least 247 of 435 in the House. With that majority, the GOP can no longer be the “party of no.” Republicans have to prove they can govern, responsibly. Because candidates ran mostly against Obama, rather than putting forward an actual policy agenda, they can’t claim a mandate for sweeping change.
If Republicans overreach and try to roll back progress on health care, Wall Street reforms and the environment, Obama ought to use his veto pen, which has been gathering dust during his presidency. At the same time, the president must face his dismal approval ratings and the fact that many supporters chose to sit out this election. He has to act differently, too, to have any hope of building his legacy.
The Republican takeover of the Senate also means that come January, California’s two Democratic senators will no longer be chairwomen of influential committees.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein will give up the gavel at the Intelligence Committee. While we’ve urged her to be more aggressive in protecting Americans’ privacy, she has rightly pushed for a public accounting of the CIA’s use of torture. Her replacement-in-waiting is Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who will likely be much more deferential to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
Sen. Barbara Boxer loses the top spot at the Environment and Public Works Committee, where she played a key role in passing the bill this year to finish the levees protecting Natomas. In line to replace her, unfortunately, is Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has said that man-made climate change is a hoax and who once compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo.
If Republicans allow the extremists in their party to run roughshod, their stay in power could be short. In 2016, voters will punish them, including whoever turns out to be their presidential nominee.