After eight years in the minority, the Republican Party has regained control of the U.S. Senate.
Seven Republican candidates have captured Democratic seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. The Republican majority could widen, pending a December runoff in the Louisiana senate race.
For the first time since 1994, Republicans will control both houses of Congress with a Democratic president in the White House.
Both of Michigan’s Senate seats remain in Democratic hands. In a race that was once seen as a potential pick-up for the Republicans, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D–14th District) secured a widening lead over Republican challenger Terri Lynn Land, former Michigan Secretary of State.
With the turnover of the Senate, Michigan’s U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) will lose her chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Committee chairs wield considerable power in setting the legislative agenda, which could mean decreased state clout in the Senate and diminished influence for Michigan’s delegation.
Stabenow is one of 17 senators who was in office in 2006, the last time Republicans held a majority in the upper house.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Political Science Prof. Mike Traugott said the turnover signals a future of increased partisan gridlock in Congress.
“We’re in for two years of severe gridlock in Washington,” he said. “If we thought the current congress was unproductive, it will be nothing compared to the next one.”
Though Republicans will have the ability to move legislation through both houses with increased ease, the proposals will likely meet the president’s veto. Traugott said securing enough votes to overturn those vetoes will be extremely difficult.
Though the executive and legislative branches have been divided in the past, Traugott said the increasingly polarized political culture could further hinder the possibility of enacting bi-partisan legislation or confirming White House judicial and executive branch appointments.
“There used to be a substantial numbers of senators willing to cross lines to reach compromise and now we’re in the situation where’s there’s almost no voting across party lines,” he said.
Aaron Kall, director of the University’s debate team and an expert on election politics, said he is not certain the new composition represents a sure-fire sign of additional gridlock. While he said heightened partisanship could cause increased gridlock, he said there is also the potential for the shift to promote compromise.
“It could go either way,” he said.
With two years left in his presidency, Kall said President Barack Obama may have an incentive to move more legislation through Congress as he tries to shape his legacy with some final pieces of signature legislation.
“The election result tonight could be the impetus for a broader congressional agenda, more legislation being passed and the government being more functional,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic we could see that in the next few years.”
However, Kall said Republican gains could be short-lived. If gridlock continues, there could be plenty of Republican senators trying to defend their seats in traditionally blue states by 2016.