What the GOP majority means

Published 11:02 pm Friday, November 7, 2014

By Katherine Robertson

Tuesday, the GOP picked up seven seats in the U.S. Senate resulting in their first majority (52-46) since 2006. House Republicans expanded their majority by 12 seats, bringing their total to 246. The election results nationwide indicate the voters’ desire for a new direction. Now they’ll wait to see if Republicans can really offer more than the status quo under Harry Reid. The Republicans’ agenda faces major roadblocks without the support of the White House, but there are at least three key implications of the new Senate majority that could force the Democrats’ hand.

1. Rolling back the Affordable Care Act. The GOP has known all along that without the White House or a supermajority, full repeal of Obamacare would be impossible because of the president’s veto power. However, much ado has been made about what a simple majority can do in terms of rolling back the ACA. Budget reconciliation seems to be the most promising possibility. Reconciliation is a provision of the Congressional Budget Act allowing for expedited consideration of mandatory spending and tax legislation. The Democrats used the reconciliation process to pass aspects of the ACA because it is filibuster-proof and can be passed with only 51 votes. In theory, Republicans could now use the process to undo some of those same components. The Wall Street Journal suggests that a reconciliation bill could repeal Medicaid expansion, tax increases, and insurance premium and drug subsidies–all with just a simple majority. The reconciliation measure would still be subject to a veto, but the president would be left defending his healthcare law without the support of Congress and Republicans could prove to the public that they weren’t just talking the talk on repeal.

2. Blocking Executive Action on Immigration. The White House has made clear that “before the end of the year” the president will “take action to use his executive authority to fix…aspects of our broken immigration system.” In other words, the president plans to grant executive amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants who would otherwise be deported. Sen. Sessions (R-AL) tried to preempt the possibility through a failed procedural motion on the Senate floor in September, but with a Republican majority he believes that any executive order of this kind could easily be blocked. In fact, the House already passed legislation in August that would defund the president’s plan for granting amnesty. As the new Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will now control whether this bill receives a vote in the Senate.

3. Rejecting Radical Nominees. Judicial nominations arguably have the most far-reaching impact of any other decision made by a president. Appointments to the federal judiciary are for life, and in the U.S. Supreme Court, one new justice can change the entire direction of the Court. Senate Republicans have already been successful in stopping some of the president’s most extreme nominees and are positioned now to reject any lame duck attempts to pack the courts before he leaves office. Once the president nominates an individual to an executive office or the judiciary, the nominee must be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This powerful committee will now be chaired by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. As Ranking Member of the committee, Sen. Grassley has led the Republican opposition to a number of the president’s nominees and has been a staunch critic of Attorney General Eric Holder, whose successor will also need Senate confirmation. The Committee can choose whether to report the nominee out to the full Senate for debate and a vote. Once a nominee is reported out, any senator can seek unanimous consent to vote on the nominee, as is the common practice, but it only takes one senator’s objection (or hold) to delay a vote. A cloture motion would then be necessary to proceed and would require 51 votes. Assuming Republicans are united against a particular nominee, there would be little Democrats could do to ensure his or her confirmation.

Of course, all of these possibilities will come to fruition only with strong Republican leadership in the Senate and a united front within their majority. Senate Republicans have a small window of time to deliver on the principles they espouse. While they don’t have the votes to overcome a filibuster or presidential veto, they will have every opportunity to put congressional Democrats and the president in a high-pressure situation that ought to result in a change of course. If it doesn’t, the Democrats should expect more losses in 2016.


Katherine Robertson is vice president for the Alabama Policy Institute (API), an independent non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization.