Elections Leave Congress Divided, Further from Compromise

Anyone hoping that the next Congress will usher in a new era of civility, compromise and functionality will probably be disappointed.

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David J. Phillip / AP

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Ted Cruz thanks the crowd during a victory speech as he is joined on stage by his wife Heidi, right, in Houston, Nov. 6, 2012.

Paralyzed by partisanship, the 112th session of Congress was one of the least productive in history. Barring an extraordinary lame duck session, it punted on almost everything from tax reform and deficit reduction to routine legislation like the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education law. And anyone hoping that the next Congress will usher in a new era of civility, compromise and functionality will probably be disappointed. After Tuesday’s election, the new majorities are meaner, if not leaner, than ever.

Democrats are expected to pick up a Senate seat or two (Montana and North Dakota are still too close to call) and Republicans will likely gain a few seats (12 House races remain undecided), but control of both chambers will remain the same. The 2012 down-ballot elections culled some of the few moderates remaining in Congress, while many outspoken partisans rode to victory. Alan Grayson, the liberal firebrand from Florida who lost reelection in 2010, is back. This is a guy who called Republicans “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who know nothing but ‘no.’” Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who campaigned for President on an uncompromising conservative platform, will also return to Washington. Republican candidates such as Florida’s Trey Radel and North Carolina’s Robert Pittenger–dubbed “Tea Party hardliners” by Cook Political Report–sailed to victory. There are also winners like Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Though the new Senator-elect from Massachusetts is hardly Alan Grayson, she is more partisan than her defeated opponent Scott Brown, a Republican who had to be moderate to survive in blue Massachusetts.

Partisanship drove some Democrat-friendly Republicans to abandon Washington before the election. Three-term Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe announced her retirement in February, citing the increasing pervasiveness of “‘my way or the highway’ ideologies.” In July, Ohio Rep. Steven LaTourette, a close ally of House Speak Rep. John Boehner, felt the “toll” of partisanship had become too much. The nine-term congressman said the process “no longer encouraged the finding of common ground” and that compromise had become “a dirty word.” So he would be retiring, too.

There are legislators who said they’re retiring for other reasons, but their absence will nonetheless strike a blow to Congress’s thin center. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, will be gone, succeeded by Tea Party darling Deb Fischer. He tells TIME that Congress is “being pulled by the extremes, the ideologues.” The seat of Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will be filled by a more conservative politician, former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Hutchison supported the 2008 bank bailout and has sided with Democrats on women’s issues and education. Cruz, backed by super-conservative group Club for Growth, is also a Tea Party favorite who once said his view on compromise “is exactly the same as Ronald Reagan’s. President Reagan said, ‘What do you do if they offer you half a loaf? Answer: you take it and then you come back for more.’”

Some moderates did not go willingly this year. When Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar lost his Republican primary to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, he wrote a treatise about how his downfall symbolized the dysfunction of our political system. Lugar said his opponent—more recently famous for saying “God intended” pregnancies that are the result of rape—had promised “reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy.” On a broader scale, he wrote, “an increasing number of legislators in both parties who have adopted an unrelenting partisan viewpoint.” Mourdock ended up losing the race.

Blue Dogs, fiscally conservative Democrats whose numbers were halved in the 2010 midterms, will be even fewer in the next Congress. After redistricting, Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire lost his primary to Democratic Rep. Mark Critz, who in turn lost the race to Keith Rothfus, another Club for Growth candidate. “The American people want us to work together to find common ground. But Congress is populated almost entirely of partisans who are simply incapable of working together,” Altmire tells TIME in an email. “Candidates get no political benefit from working with the other side. In primaries, partisans will punish centrists by voting for more ideologically extreme challengers.” As of Election Day, 24 Democrats were listed as members of the Blue Dog Coalition. After primary losses, retirements and Tuesday night’s losses, only 14 of them will return. Yet one did have a high-profile victory: Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly was the candidate who beat out Mourdock for Lugar’s Senate seat in Indiana.

Nelson mainly blames division in Congress on extremists and special interest groups, but voters, he says, also bear some responsibility. While voters elected some extreme candidates this year, they also showed some taste for moderation. Maine’s Sen. Snowe will be replaced by another moderate, Independent Angus King, who is expected to caucus with the Democrats. Missourians reelected Sen. Claire McCaskill rather than Rep. Todd Akin, who punctured his campaign with a comment about “legitimate rape.” And Illinois voters ousted Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party firebrand.

Still, activists such as Amy Kremer, a Texan and chairman of the Tea Party Express, are hopeful that Republicans will stand their ground. “I don’t think we should be so focused on … the act of compromise,” she says. “We should be focused on what’s best for America.” Such sentiments do not bode well for legislative progress in the 113th Congress.

67 comments
ahandout
ahandout

It's Obama's economy, no more excuses.  When millions are suffering and unemployed, when the dollar is worthless and inflation is soaring (despite what the government tells you), when gas prices are going to $6-$7-$8 a gallon, when the national debt is going to double in the next 10 years, when Al-Qaeda is getting stronger (if not then why all those drone assassinations?).  You picked the guy with no plan to fix it.

But there is hope: gay marriage, food stamps, and abortions, that's what America wants.

grape_crush
grape_crush

It's probably going to be another eight years of trench warfare - at least - if Dems are both lucky and good.

Why? Gerrymandering after the 2010 elections and the fact that the Dems don't have a national figure that can turn out minority voters like Obama has. Even if such a person emerged, at best Dems can only hold the line in the Senate and White House and win in enough states in 2020 where redistricting will allow the possibility of a Dem majority House.

At worst, Dems lose the Senate and White House (which would end the contention, but not in a good way) over the next two elections.

anon76
anon76

Ms Steinmetz- where are you getting your information stating that the Republicans are going to pick up a few house seats.  Of the 435 races, 426 have been called, with Dems holding 193 to 233 for the R's.  Since the Dems already hold as many called seats as they did in the previous legislature, it seems it would be impossible for the R's to pick any seats up.  Furthermore, out of the 9 uncalled races, the Dem is currently leading in 7 (NC07, FL18!, AZ1, AZ9, CA07, CA36, and CA52), which would lead to a net gain of 7 seats for them.  Do you have any information that contradicts this, or is your summary of the results in fact incorrect?

AlexVallas
AlexVallas

Boehner has already set the stage by proclaiming that by re-electing GOP house members, Americans have indicated their opposition to tax increases.  He really has to lay off the booze.  The vast majority of Americans support tax increases for the very wealthy.  Further, I don't think most Americans would object to manageable tax increases coupled with significant cuts in federal spending and entitlements if it meant decreasing the deficit.  Above all, Americans want to country to be successful and prosperous and the obstructionist tactics of the past four years is not acceptable.  If Boehner and party plan to continue along the same path, they may find themselves in the minority in two years.   

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

And now No Dak-"Republican Rick Berg has conceded to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the North Dakota Senate race, according to the Associated Press."

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

The winner takes it allThe loser's standing smallBeside the victoryThat's a destinyI was in your armsThinking I belonged thereI figured it made senseBuilding me a fenceBuilding me a homeThinking I'd be strong thereBut I was a foolPlaying by the rulesThe gods may throw a diceTheir minds as cold as iceAnd someone way down hereLoses someone dearThe winner takes it allThe loser has to fallIt's simple and it's plainWhy should I complain.

stuart_zechman
stuart_zechman

Katy Steinmetz:

"anyone hoping that the next Congress will usher in a new era of civility, compromise and functionality will probably be disappointed."

To whom are you referring? Who exactly is this "anyone"? Do you mean elite opinion writers at national publications, perhaps?

The manner in which you describe the situation seems quite inflected with centrist media bias, doesn't it?

And "tax reform and deficit reduction"? Isn't that the ideological center's agenda you're talking about?

"In primaries, partisans will punish centrists by voting for more ideologically extreme challengers"? Really?

Is that claim accurate, as you seem to passively imply by its inclusion, Katy Steinmetz? Or is it more accurate to say that, in primaries, liberal Democrats will punish ideological centrists for not being liberal Democrats, and movement conservatives will punish establishment Republicans for making deals with the ideological center?

I mean, first you note that "Sen. Ben Nelson, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, will be gone," after which you faithfully transcribe this noted ideologue's claim "that Congress is “being pulled by the extremes, the ideologues.”"

Leaving aside for the moment the obvious irony of Sen. Cornhusker Kickback's bemoaning a new deal-making world in which corrupt legislation is harder to come by, are you actually implying that "the Senate’s most conservative Democrat" is somehow not an ideologue, Katy Steinmetz? Was the House's (former) most anti-abortion Democrat, Pennsylvania's Bart Stupak, also somehow not extreme in his ideological stance when he forced the President to accompany the PPACA's passage with an executive order banning abortion coverage? 

Is the definition of "ideologue" somehow only related to how often an elected defies his own party? Is the only measure of "extreme" the extent of a politician's partisanship?

It seems as if the terms "extreme" and "ideologue" employed in this piece are used as messaging pejoratives, in order to paint a picture of what ideological centrists believe about the situation in the capitol, Katy Steinmetz. And why would you look to a New Democrat like Nelson for a quote describing the political problems the country faces, going forward? Won't a New Democrat's quote turn out to be a predictable pining for Third Way bipartisanship --as the quote would have been, if you'd gotten Ben Nelson on the record in 2002, ten years ago? Isn't that exactly what the bipartisanship fetishists in the Democratic center always say, year after year, decade after decade?

Given these troubling inclusions, none of which seem to be offset by quotes from sources that aren't ideologically disposed to see the problems in Washington as due to a lack of "civility" or "compromise," aren't at all you concerned about leaving the impression of centrist media bias with your readers, Katy Steinmetz?

Thanks so much for reading and considering this comment.

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

Since I lost my bet on the presidential election this will be my last post on Swampland. I have a couple of thoughts to leave with the Swampland community.

1. The Associated Press called this a Big Win for President Obama. A 49-50% win of the popular vote is a Win but not a Big Win. My hope  for President Obama is that he governs in the best interest of all our citizens and not just the 49-50% who voted for him.

2. My second hope is that we have not created an American Hugo Chavez, an individual who was elected democratically but then became a  Dictator that used the illusion of Democratic elections to maintain his power and dictatorship.

anon76
anon76

I'm afraid the premix of the piece is flawed, Katy.  Many of the Democrats are strong partisans, but polls show that Democratic voters want and expect compromise, and their party has a history (for better and worse) of doing just that.  A Dem president willing to compromise (and with a strong desire to cement his legacy), a 55 seat Dem majority willing to compromise (and with several moderates, in spite of the tone of your post), and what I still expect to be a  2-8 seat gain of Dems in the House + enough rational Reps to get to 218 should be enough to get business done.

Tea partiers, the most visibly extreme element in the R party had a horrible night, from Aikman and Mourdock to Allen West and Joe Walsh.  It is true that Bachmann won, but just barely in a very red district, and that in spite of raising a very large amount of money.  Extremism is simply not selling.

In other races on the night, the Dems ran several moderate governors, and managed to win 7 of 11 races, including 3 of the 7 contests in states Obama lost.  I'll be interested to see how many state houses revert towards the mean after the rightward lurch in 2010.

This wasn't a wave election by any means, but it was still pretty one-sided.  And it happened to be one-sided in favor of the party that says it is willing to compromise in order to get things done.

gumOnShoe
gumOnShoe

Peurto Rico has asked to be a member of the USA as a full fledged state. Why don't we have a few reports on that and what it would do to the house? What I'm reading is it'd possibly take red seats away. Will republicans block this too?

MrObvious
MrObvious

There's nothing that says that Romney winning would've meant less divide. Nothing.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@ahandout Another rightist that hates his, or her, fellow citizens.

I think your fears are absolutely darling. I thought it was telling that gay marriage was first on your list. Is there something, deeply held inside you, that you want to get off your chest? It might help explain your on-line persona. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout Not quite. As long as the Tea Trolls in congress are willing to hold our economy hostage for their radical agenda they will share the blame. More importantly the country is in much better hands without Mitt the Twitt at the helm.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ahandout 

Don't shit your pants.

GOP tried real hard to tank our economy to win the presidency. They can either put up or shut up. As long as the filibuster rule is there nothing will happen unless GOP cooperates. Regardless how much you think the executive branch can somehow make congress do their job.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@grape_crush As cynical as this sounds...As long as the republicans run the candidates they do and advance the policies they do the top of the Democratic ticket will continue turn out increasing numbers of the growing minority vote.

anon76
anon76

@AlexVallas If Dems win all the undecided races in which they're currently leading, the new house will be 200 D, 235 R (a D + 7 seat gain).  Boehner's right that a lot of R's were re-elected.  But it's more accurate to say that there'll be less R's around in general than there have been the last two years.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@Paul,nnto WhooHoo!! More Senators when we were supposed to be unable to defend all and many that are more liberal as well. Should make for an interesting Dem caucus.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

@JohnYuEsq 

...what are you smoking/drinking, and can I get some of it???

stuart_zechman
stuart_zechman

CORREX: 

Oh my Lord. Where is the edit functionality when one needs it?

MICHIGAN's Bart Stupak. Of course. Joe Pitts is from PA. Of course.

I knew these things, juts not at the correct time, apparently.

stuart_zechman
stuart_zechman

Sorry, Katy Steinmetz, I meant to say "offset by quotes from sources other than Texan lobbyists for the "Doctor Patient Medical Association" --sorry, "Tea Party Express" chairpersons OR those that aren't ideologically disposed to see the problems in Washington as due to a lack of "civility" or "compromise""?

Sue_N
Sue_N

@73yearoldVet Well, I was about to give you credit for honoring your word and showing some class until that last point. Dictator? Really? Just how deep does the paranoia run with you baggers, anyway?

Turn off your radio, turn off your TV and walk a while in reality. You'll see the sky isn't falling after all.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@73yearoldVet As Paul,nnto said, Stay classy, but I would correct it to say try to learn a bit about what it means in your absence. You have done nothing but insult and call liberals names during your time here. When anyone tried to point out facts to you in opposition to the few right wing screeds that you posted in addition to your own opinion, it was more mocking insults.

I am not so generous as many of the others and won't care if I see you back unless you have something to offer to the discussion.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@73yearoldVet 

I salute you honoring the bet and leaving with dignity and I hope others will follow your example.  We will not have to worry about Obama becoming an "American Hugo Chavez" because that's just a silly concoction from the right that doesn't exist.  I know you've been conditioned to believe this, but I can only hope that you'll take this opportunity to expand your information base away from right-wing rags. 

So much for that Mitt Romney landslide, huh?  Happy trails Gramps.  :-)

MrObvious
MrObvious

@73yearoldVet 

My understanding was that part of your bet with Sacredh was that you would go on every subject and tell everyone that the public rejected Romney's policy and embraced Obamas.

And please drop the whole Chavez/Socialism hysteria. If he didn't go that rout after 4 years he won't during his second term. For all the kind of shrill nonsense rightwingers believe in none of us 'libruls' want Chavez type socialism nor support candidates that do.

I mean Bearnie Sanders is the closest you'll get to a 'socialist' in this country and he does not advocate for Chavez type policies and he's immensely popular in a part of his state that is blood red.

Hysteria like yours doesn't really add anything to the debate. Lets find common ground - not false invective.

jsfox
jsfox

@73yearoldVet Are you really this paranoid and unimformed?

1) 50 to 48% and the spread will only grow to 51 48 as more votes are counted. So yes a big win. 

2) he has always governed with the best interest of all our citizens. What makes you believe he hasn't?

3) And this bit about becoming a dictator is flat out nuts and screams you need to turn off talk radio for a long long time and actually pay attention to reality and the fevered paranoid dreams of hate radio.

outsider
outsider

@73yearoldVet 

3x, why don't we make it a month, not a year? It's up to you, but i wouldn't mind. I said all along you'd honor the debt, and you're demonstrating that you would. 

So just take some time, and come back; it needn't be a whole year. 

I appreciate your post - it's your call. 

Tero
Tero

@73yearoldVet 

Thanks for your "thoughts" grampa, are you sure you can spare them? Don't let the door hit your ignorant bigoted ass on the way out. Good riddance.

anon76
anon76

@73yearoldVet 

1) It was 48-50% but point taken

2) Obama has already said this was his last campaign.

Thanks for honoring the bet, and enjoy your Swampland vacation.  I doubt your bettor wants it to be a permanent thing, so check back in when we have new issues to argue about.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@gumOnShoe 

I kept bringing this up last night.  This could be the biggest news from the election.  51 states?

Sue_N
Sue_N

@MrObvious Democrats would certainly have opposed any attempt to turn the clock back to the GOP policies that ran us into the ditch.

But I think the Tea Party is going to remain a problem for the GOP. Orange Johnny can't control his own party, and that would be a problem for any GOP president who didn't toe the TP line.

The GOP is a mess, and until it gets itself straightened out, it's not going to work for or with anyone.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Just to be clear: LiveFyre is telling me at TopPage there are 10 comments, but BottomPage it says 0, even after I comment. 

Apparently I did not buy the elevator pass today.

ahandout
ahandout

@Paul,nnto @ahandout Gay marriage isn't on my list, sweetheart.  That's your wish list.

I noticed that you don't want to face the reality of what I said.  What else is new?  Dreamland liberals. 

ahandout
ahandout

@MrObvious @ahandout   What exactly is the big plan from Barry?  A new Secretary of the economy?  Maybe Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, or promote Turbo Tax Timmy.  

And if you want the Congress to do their job, have your Democrats majority in the Senate pass a budget.  You're a clown. 

bokeh9
bokeh9

Ivy: OT, but I too was very concerned about SCOTUS nominations.  My motivations, however, were more as a firewall against the Court becoming more reactionary, not in hopes it would become more progressive.  Since I can't see Justice Scalia/Thomas leaving for a decade, the only potential departures might be Justices Kennedy and/or Ginsburg, the latter the more likely.  Any  thoughts?

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

@Ivy_B @Paul,nnto I followed that race a little. Believe she started as a serious underdog. She was such an effective/likable campaigner that by the end Berg was reduced to "Yes she's nice but she's wrong for North Dakota"

How about that northern plain? Baldwin, Klobachar, and Heitkamp all elected on the same day. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

@stuart_zechman 

It's Fyre and forget, kind of like a scud. You don't get a second chance to hit the mark, unless you scrub the mission and start over of course.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@Sue_N

Time have run out. Our economy cannot afford more stonewalling from GOP and GOP is running out of old white folks to win elections with. All major demographics are pointing to a shift towards democrats. And social media is making it extremely hard for the type of dark room meetings meant to subvert our democracy.

They spent 6 billions dollars to verify the status quo. That's not exactly a lot of bang for you bucks. It thrills me to no end that they sunk so much money to keep people like Akin and Joe Walsh in the fight and still lost.

Money can't buy love.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@kbanginmotown OTOH, you seem to have bought the first class ticket because I don't remember seeing any other avatar on the top line where it notes People Listening!

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@kbanginmotown I've decided the whole numbering thing is simply a way for LiveFyre to toy with us.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ahandout

A rightie partisan dolt calling me a clown. Thank you; you're more likely to run into outer space aliens before you run into socialists among liberals but don't fret. Social conservative ideas were absolutely savaged in this election so my only hope is that you keep clinging to them. Please don't get a clue.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@bokeh9 I agree that Obama nominations probably won't make the court actually progressive because not is not necessarily his nature and because the Senate wouldn't let anyone too progressive get through. However, at least he will be making the nominations and it won't be someone advised by Robert Bork who was working with Mitt! SCOTUS is my greatest relief as I guess you have gathered. I think Kagan and Sotmayor were good appointments and expect at least one, maybe two more in that vein.