So, how about the 113th Congress?
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 19:02
In January, the United States welcomed the 113th Congress as we said goodbye to the least popular Congress in the country’s history. Despite the fact that the 112th had documented an incredibly horrible 9 percent approval rating, only 26 incumbents in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate lost their seats on Nov. 6, 2012. Democrats ended up picking up two seats in the Senate and nine in the House. So after all the bitterness surrounding the 112th Congress, we basically ended up with the same old characters in the 113th.
So what can we expect from this repackaged Congress? We can count on the deadlock in the chambers to continue, though there has been some movement on immigration reform. The Senate has adopted a set of rules reforms − a very scaled back version of filibuster reform. What this tells me is that while there will be some progress in the 113th Congress towards policy compromise, the leaders on both sides haven’t changed at all. It’s still Speaker of the House John Boehner and Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) v. President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi − a recipe for a stale legislative process. We have not and will not in all likelihood pass a budget for this fiscal year, as has been the case since 2011 and we still have to face the sequestration issue, which was kicked down the road. Don’t look for that to be solved in a way that anyone will be happy with, and really, just don’t expect much from the 113th in terms of an improvement over the 112th. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some storylines to keep an eye on in the meantime.
In the Senate, the story was an attempt at filibuster reform. Filibustering in the Senate by the minority party can delay the vote on any bit of legislation brought to the floor. It has been used extensively by Republicans and Democrats alike in the recent past. Reid, the majority leader, and McConnell were rumored to have come up with rule changes that would reform the filibuster, making it less powerful. However, Reid ended up caving on the issue by all reports and now we are stuck with needing 60 votes to break a filibuster. So much for change.
Leading into this session, one of the big positions in question is the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, the Republican from Ohio’s 8th District. Boehner has a tough task heading up the Republicans in the House, with the Tea Party, an ultra-conservative, spending-conscious faction, being represented in their caucus.
The rift surfaced in the recent debt talks between party leaders like Boehner, McConnell, Obama, Reid and Pelosi, ahead of the fiscal cliff deadline and the two sides each took to their parties. Boehner was rebuffed by his party to the point where he couldn’t even bring it up on the floor for a vote because the support was so low and when it came time to elect the Speaker of the House, he lost votes from his party. He may be slowly losing his grip on the Republicans in the House.
The other danger for Boehner may be his face against a primary challenger in 2014. Due to gerrymandering, a process involving manipulating district lines for political power, the primaries are now the places where incumbents will lose their seats. There’s a distinct possibility that his popularity could wane in the next 18 months to the point where he could lose his primary, but, chances are he will survive. Another unpopular compromise could easily number his days left in office.
The same goes for Pelosi. She has shown us over the past term that she is not comfortable when in the minority after contrarily holding a large majority as the former Speaker of the House. She was able to push bills through and doesn’t seem to be able to be as effective working across the aisle. She never had to take the time to build working relationships with her cross-party colleagues. She needs to be able to adapt to this in her second term as House Minority Leader. She doesn’t face a great risk of losing her seat in the House, but losing her party leading status is a possibility in 2014, provided someone else can step up to the plate. It’s unlikely, but not implausible.