Resurgent Republicans take back control of the House
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 2:09 AM
Republicans captured control of the House on Tuesday, all but ensuring that a chamber that has been the primary accelerator of President Obama's ambitious agenda will instead begin crafting legislation that would seek to undo it.
The GOP easily picked up the 39 seats it needed to take power and eclipsed the 52-seat gain that propelled the party into the majority in 1994. Fueled by frustration over the economy, voters backed Republicans in every region of the country after a campaign that focused on downsizing government and rolling back Obama's signature legislative accomplishments.
"While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people's House, we must remember it is the president who sets the agenda for our government. The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight, and that message is: Change course," Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), the current minority leader and probable speaker in the GOP-controlled House, told supporters at a rally in downtown Washington.
Always prone to displaying his emotions publicly, Boehner teared up at times. He was greeted by chants of "speaker, speaker."
Republican advisers said they expect the House to vote in January on a plan to cut $100 billion from federal agencies and, at some point soon after, on a bill to repeal Obama's health-care law.
The Republican Party's most far-reaching initiatives will still face significant uphill battles; Boehner's new Republican majority was expected to be smaller than the bloc that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has led the past two years. Even if Boehner pushes legislation through the House, a narrowly divided Senate and the presidential veto create long odds for the muscular anti-government agenda favored by the tea party activists who helped drive the GOP comeback.
This dynamic could set the stage for legislative gridlock, or it could force two figures who spent much of the fall campaign publicly lambasting one another - Obama and Boehner - into prolonged negotiations over the size, scope and direction of the federal government.
Democrats retained the Senate majority, creating an unusual arrangement. In the past 24 years, the parties have split the two chambers, with one party holding power in each, for only one 18-month period - in 2001 and 2002, when the focus was on a largely bipartisan agenda of fighting terrorism.
One flash point is likely to come even before Boehner officially claims the gavel in January: The expiring Bush-era tax cuts will top of the list of must-do items during a lame-duck session of Congress slated to begin Nov. 15. Congressional Republicans have vowed to push for a full extension; Obama and many Democrats would like to extend the cuts only on income under $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals.
With its authoritarian rules, the House has been the launching pad for the most far-reaching versions of Obama's economic stimulus plan, health-care legislation, Wall Street reform and other measures. Pelosi pushed through those items knowing that the Senate would water them down.
Pelosi has not indicated whether she would run for minority leader and did not appear publicly after the election results were known. In a statement just before 1:30 a.m., she said: "The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward."
Pelosi was the target of thousands of attack ads linking her to Democratic candidates across the country. For many Democratic incumbents, it did not matter what lengths they went to to distance themselves from Pelosi and Obama.
Reps. John Boccieri (Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), both of whom embraced Obama's agenda, including switching their initial no votes on a health-care overhaul to yes on the bill's final passage, lost decisively. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who hosted Obama at the president's only rally for an individual House member, also lost.
Yet some who ran away from Obama's agenda, including Reps. Zack Space (Ohio) and Glenn Nye (Va.), also lost decisively. Perhaps no Democrat ran farther from Obama and Pelosi than Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.), who pronounced that he had voted for Republican John McCain over Obama in 2008 and declared that he would never vote for Pelosi for speaker again. He lost by about 10,000 votes.
Among the other Democrats ousted Tuesday were House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (S.C.), a 28-year veteran, and Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), a 36-year veteran who chairs the Armed Services Committee. The losses decimated the ranks of Democratic centrists and will leave few potential across-the-aisle allies for the new speaker.
But Boehner will also face challenges managing his party's lawmakers. The incoming freshmen include dozens of conservatives from the South, Midwest and Mountain West, and they will have to work with Republicans from moderate terrain in the Northeast.
The more conservative freshmen think they were sent to the Capitol to shake up the institution - on what what Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the Democratic campaign chief, called a platform of "extremism, no negotiations." Those from moderate regions represent more pragmatic voters, who are searching for centrist solutions.
Boehner thus could struggle to pass the farthest-reaching conservative items on his agenda because of an insurrection from moderates in the GOP ranks, and if he seeks compromise with Obama, his conservative wing could rebel.