WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives adjourned for its August recess last Friday after passing legislation that will be more of a symbolic political gesture than a serious policy effort. That adjournment marks the beginning of the final stretch into this fall’s midterm election.
This midterm, however, won’t quite have the same tectonic shift as the 2010 midterms.
There is widespread resentment toward Washington. President Barack Obama’s latest approval rating is in the low 40s, upper 30s depending on the poll you’re reading. Congress’ approval rating is somewhere between single digits and the low teens.
But aside from handful of Senate races in swing states, nothing is going to change this November that will dramatically alter that landscape.
Regardless of one’s political stripes, political leaders have for the most part let the American people down. President Barack Obama’s hope and change mantra has turned out to be nothing more than a cynical political marketing campaign.
In 2010, Republicans came into power with the Tea Party wave, which saw U.S. government as bloated and called for lawmakers to get back to the basics of the Constitution.
Rick Santelli of CNBC epitomized that sentiment in his 2009 rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, in which he took on the possibility that the Obama administration might push a home mortgage bailout for underwater borrowers.
“How about this, president and new administration – why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages,” he said. “Or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?”
The call sounded the alarm that led to the Tea Party. Suddenly Ayn Rand and the Founding Fathers were back en vogue. And the 2010 election reflected that.
That 2010 Congress wound up being a bit of a letdown. And eventually the enthusiasm waned. This time around, there does not appear to be an overarching national theme that will drive Americans to the polls like in 2010, or 2006 with Iraq fatigue or in 2008 with the economy.
The August recess could provide some cues as to what, if anything, political parties should focus on as members of Congress host town hall meetings. But the news cycle has preempted any overarching theme.
The ideal topic for Republicans to run on would have been the failed rollout of ObamaCare. But those headlines have been buried under ones about immigration and unrest in hotspots around the world like Gaza and Ukraine.
Instead, when the exit polling is done for the 2014 midterm elections, respondents are likely to say they came out to vote because their guy is better than the other guy in power or that they voted for a Republican as a protest measure against an underwhelming Barack Obama.
Neither of those rate highly on the enthusiasm scale. Barring any sort of earth-shaking event between now and Nov. 4, turnout will be low, as is the case traditionally in midterms. But even as marginal as this midterm is shaping up to be, the GOP will likely eke out the majority the U.S. Senate.
The real political theater will begin once that new Congress is sworn in.
In 2010, when the GOP took the House, the House passed a flurry of legislation, including about a dozen measures attempting to repeal Obama’s 2010 health care reform legislation. But those efforts withered on the vine because the Senate remained under Harry Reid’s leadership.
Should the Senate change, it could be expected that we’d see something similar – a series of legislation passed but this time by both chambers and sent to the White House.
In nearly six years, Obama has vetoed just two bills, neither of which were particularly consequential pieces of legislation. Over the last 13-and-a-half years, presidents have used veto powers just 13 times. So, one has to go all the way back to Bill Clinton to a find a president that was prolific with the veto pen.
That’s likely to change and the American public will instantly be re-familiarized with the constitutional veto.
But that means suddenly President Obama’s critique of Congress, which is that it doesn’t do anything, will now be reflected upon him – that is if he decides not to actively work with Congress, and there’s no indication to date that he would be willing to do so.
Will impeachment be a possibility? The Democratic National Committee and other fundraising Democrat-affiliated apparatuses would like their voters to think so in order to get them to the polls. But the potential John Boehner-Mitch McConnell duo in charge on Capitol Hill won’t have the appetite for that.
For those of you keeping score – headed into the August recess, expect the GOP to pick up four or five seats in the U.S. House and to take the U.S. Senate by a narrow 51-49 margin.
It will by no means be a referendum that the country has taken a giant shift to the right. But what you have to look forward to is a lot more analysis about how the back and forth between the Congress and Obama will impact the 2016 presidential race.