The big story of the 2014 elections is the Republican pickup of at least seven Senate seats, putting it in the majority. The GOP also added more than 10 seats in the House embellishing its majority. Now President Obama must contend with both Houses of Congress firmly in the opposition’s hands.
This election was more than a downer for the Democrats, it was a resounding repudiation of President Obama and his style of governance, or at least the results of his leadership. The Republicans won big almost everywhere and came within a whisker of winning Senate seats in New Hampshire and Virginia where they were given almost no chance. They even won the governorship of Maryland, one of the bluest of blue states.
As for the implications of the elections, I am cautiously optimistic. When President Bill Clinton’s ill-fated health care reform plan evoked a massive influx of Republicans into Congress in the 1994 Congressional elections, the pundits were predicting doom for the young chief executive from Arkansas. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To get anything done, Clinton had to sit down and negotiate with the leaders of Congress and that is what happened. Somehow Clinton and the Republicans even balanced the budget — producing surpluses in four consecutive years. The result was a long, sustained economic expansion.
The Republican Congress must set the agenda now, but to do that they must put aside obstructionism and petty political vendettas. The voters have made it clear that the country has problems and they are exasperated with the gridlock in Washington. They want action.
There is much that needs doing and can be done. The Keystone Pipeline would be a good place to start. It enjoys wide bi-partisan support and public approval. The nation is in dire need of major infrastructure investment that will heighten economic growth and create jobs. We need a serious national training initiative to prepare people for productive jobs. We need a more aggressive program to promote manufacturing and exports. All of this is about growth and jobs and it is doable. President Obama will likely go along in part because he also is concerned about jobs, and also because he does not wish to squander the last two years of his Presidency.
The big difference in the 114th Congress will be in the attitude of the Republicans. Most of the new faces in the Senate and House are Main Street Republicans, not bomb throwers. House Speaker John Boehner should now have a sufficient power base to enforce discipline among the ranks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell is chomping at the bit to demonstrate his leadership. He managed the campaigns quite well and can handle the unwieldy dynamics of the Senate as well as anyone.
If there is one clear message in these elections, it is that most voters are sick and tired of the status quo and want action, mainly on the economy. They have given the Republicans a chance to produce results and if the Republicans want to capitalize on this opportunity, they had best heed the message, roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as president of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute.