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Think this Congress is bad? Just wait.

at 11:20 AM ET, 08/01/2012

Polarization in Congress is at record highs. Approval of Congress is at record lows.


The sun rises over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
And yet, it’s a near certainty that whatever lows the 112th Congress has sunk to will be eclipsed (de-clipsed?) by the 113th Congress sworn in next January.

Why? A confluence of factors ranging from the kind of people being elected to the circumstances that will greet them when they arrive in Washington.

Here’s our look at the five major factors for why the 113th Congress is already on track to be worse than what we have just endured over the past two years.

1. Ideologues on the rise: Instead of Dick Lugar, a noted moderate deal-maker, Indiana is likely to send Richard Mourdock, a tea party aligned conservative to the Senate next year. Texas is subbing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a conservative with a generally moderate approach, to politics for Ted Cruz , a conservative with a no-compromises attitude toward governance. Both Mourdock and Cruz identify much more strongly with the Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) approach to politics than the Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) approach. That means an even greater push for ideological purity, a move sure to gum up the Senate works.

2. Moderates on the decline: Retirement has badly thinned the ranks of centrists in the Senate — particularly on the Democratic side. Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Ben Nelson and Jim Webb (Va.) as well as Lugar and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) are all leaving the world’s greatest deliberative body this fall.

Of the “Gang of 14” a bipartisan group of Senators formed in 2005 to avert a destructive showdown over judicial confirmations, just seven will be in the Senate in 2013. And that number includes Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) who moved heavily rightward to win his primary in the 2010 election cycle.

3. No presidential mandate: In the aftermath of the 2008 election, President Obama had reason to argue that he had been given a mandate by the American people. (Three hundred sixty five electoral votes will do that.)

Regardless of who you think will win on Nov. 6, the electoral vote count will almost certainly look more like 2004 (George W. Bush won with 286 electoral votes) than 2008.

And that narrow margin means that neither President Obama nor former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will emerge from the election with any real sort of momentum that they can use to push their legislative agenda. It also means that the losing side will be less fearful of what not cooperating could to do them politically.

4. Narrower Congressional margins: Political handicappers seem to have settled on the idea that we are not headed to a(nother) wave House election in 2012.

But most also agree that Democrats will cut into Republicans’ House majority this fall, meaning that GOP leaders will have less margin for error when it comes to passing their preferred legislation. (If you need evidence of how little gets done when the House is in­cred­ibly narrowly divided along partisan lines, check out the late 1990s and early 2000s.)

On the Senate side, majority control is a toss up at the moment with Republicans insisting they can re-take the chamber and Democrats arguing equally forcefully that they can hold on. Under either scenario, however, neither side will enjoy a governing majority.

If Democrats maintain control, it’s likely to be by a single vote — or by the presence of Vice President Joe Biden as the tie-breaker; if Republicans win the majority, it’s likely to be by a single seat (or two). Either way, gridlock will almost certainly be the order of the day.

5. The sequestration cloud: Before we even get to the 113th Congress, the lame-duck version of the 112th has to figure out how to keep the country from falling off a fiscal cliff.

If no deal is reached — a real possibility given Congress’ inability to agree on much of anything over the past few years — sequestration, the fancy name for a package of deep cuts to defense and entitlement programs, would kick in.

Sequestration, according to most economists, would have drastic consequences for the national and international economy — not to mention establishing a decidedly sour tone for the start of the 113th Congress.

In short: If you think this Congress is bad, just wait. There’s plenty of reason to believe it’s going to worse before it gets better.

 
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