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Political Stalemate Isn't Ending Any Time Soon

Nika Shahery |
November 23, 2014 | 9:34 a.m. PST



Earlier this month, Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in eight years. However if the past two weeks are any indication, there is only a glimmer of a promise of ending stalemate in Congress, despite Republican dominance of both houses.

Carbon emission talks with China, immigration reform, the never-ending battle with the Keystone XL Pipeline, net neutrality: both parties have punted issues back and forth. Already, it appears that there is more contention rather than consensus. Instead of increasing bipartisanship, the next two years will likely be met with increasing polarization, provided that both parties continue on paths on opposite sides of the divide.

Polarization is unfortunately promulgated in election time, as the two main parties attempt to attract voters by distancing themselves from one another. Though the strategies vary by season - some situations call for distance from a person, others from an agenda - the action is nevertheless met with the same result.

History shows a distinction between how Americans vote during presidential and midterm elections. Presidential election voting is primarily guided by, as James Carville so eloquently stated, “the economy, stupid." In 1992, as the U.S. economy floundered, George H.W. Bush lost the presidency to challenger Bill Clinton, despite his foreign policy successes with Operation Dessert Storm. The economy, though, is generally not the determining factor for midterm elections.

READ MORE: How Social Media Can Impact An Election

Rather, eligible voters - or at least the 1/3 that turn out for elections - take one of two directions in deciding their vote. The first is that they vote their party line, which in some states has become as easy as marking “Vote Democrat.” The other route is gauging the temperature of the county. When asking “how is America,” voters tend to look at a series of aspects including impacts of domestic and foreign policy, their confidence in the administration, and examples—or lack thereof—of governmental efficacy. Based on their assessment of these aspects, voters then decide whether they should reward or punish the administration, and more specifically the president.

Presidential agendas thus are largely accredited for midterm outcomes; their policies either appease or repel voters. On average, over the last 80 years, the president’s party has lost 27 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate during midterm elections.

This election cycle, though some states are still being settled in run-offs, the president’s party lost a net total of 12 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate. The Senate in particular is larger than the average number of seats lost, however the 2010 election had already seen to the loss of 63 Democrat seats. The loss was largely attributed to the movement toward partisanship, and for some increased conservatism, in response to Obamacare.

Many qualified this election's results as a direct “rejection” of President Barrack Obama. While a portion may have cast their votes with this guiding belief, others may have rejected incumbents or shaped their votes with a desire to cycle out individuals.

Still, both parties were set on contending the President’s agenda: Republicans claimed they would dismantle Obamacare, while Democrats attempted to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular President, a strategy that brought limited success in practice.

READ MORE: Obama's Presidency Isn't Over Yet

Both parties should strategically look toward finding middle ground amidst staunch differences in order to create uniformity over dissension. The days preceding the election saw an enthusiasm around this idea emerge.

It’s nice to dream about an era of good feelings with friendly discussions over Kentucky bourbon.

It has been nearly three weeks though, and the division is manifesting.

Attributing the delay in the passage of Immigration legislation to Republicans in Congress, Obama announced on Monday that he would use an executive order to make a sweeping change in the national immigration system. His move toward executive action was encouraged by Speaker of the House John Boehner's decision not to vote on immigration legislation this year; instead, Boehner mourns the failed attempts in creating a cohesive effort for "fixing our broken immigration system."

READ MORE: For Immigrants, Executive Action Overdue

The GOP and Democrats alike engage in polarizing conduct, accounting for a divide today larger than that of the Civil War era.

(Peter Stevens, Creative Commons)
(Peter Stevens, Creative Commons)
On November 12, Obama reached an agreement with China that the Americans will cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and the Chinese will peak carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. Not long afterward, Boehner issued a statement claiming that the plan will crush jobs and squeeze middle class families, and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell deemed the plan unrealistic.

Net-neutrality also poses an area of conflict between both sides, as Obama announced his plan on November 10 to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to enforce stricter regulations on ensuring a free and open internet. Republicans have voiced skepticism over the plan, claiming the “solution” may just create a problem, as opposed to letting the market naturally handle Internet deals.

On Tuesday, for the ninth time, the lame-duck Senate narrowly defeated the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that was passed by the Republican-controlled House on Friday. As Obama again escaped making a decision on whether to support the pipeline, he was spared having to determine the political implications of either supporting or vetoing the bill as fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu, who proposed the bill, still faces a December 6 run-off. Should the bill be voted on again when the 115th Congress reconvenes in January, it will be interesting to see the President's response, as the bill will likely pass in both Republican majority chambers.

READ MORE: Keystone XL Pipeline Defeated By Senate

While the election tide may have left the opposing party at large, the GOP will likely have limited success ramming their agenda through. The President still has his veto power and the Republicans do not have the critical 2/3 majority to override. The issues mentioned are indicative of the perpetual political polarization that will stun an active Congress and executive.

Republican control of both the House and Senate suggests there will be a strong look at tax reform and some adjustments made in regards to international trade. While there may not be a dramatic undoing of Obamacare, Republicans will attempt to chip away at the Affordable Health Care Act through legislative action, as opposed to waiting for pending court decisions.

Obama will likely keep his word of using executive action to mandate a plan for immigration reform; and it will serve both parties needs if there is an effort to find some areas of convergence. Obama, though, will likely spend his next two years playing an active role in determining his legacy, as is noticeable in his proposed plan for net neutrality and his present role internationally in the implementation of environmental strategies.

As the Obama administration continues to combat ISIS, the strategy will likely evolve, exacerbated by the political divide. While members of Congress have pushed for a more pronounced presence (Boehner has argued boots on the ground may be necessary), the White House will continue to opt for a more indirect deterrence strategy.

An immediate challenge to the administration is the fate of nuclear talks with Iran. As the November 24 deadline approaches, the potential of a deal being reached calls into question whether Obama will sign off without Senate approval. Though, it looks as if the deadline may be extended again, its extension will of course be met with discontent, impatience and criticism on both sides.

Inevitably, Obama will continue to scramble to leave a legacy, and Republicans will push their agenda and claim credit when applicable as they look to the 2016 presidential election.

However, it’s highly doubtful these two parties will be able to converge to purple anytime soon.


Contact Contributor Nika Shahery here; or follow her on Twitter.



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