Americans across the country voted November 6 to essentially maintain the division of power that has existed at the federal level since 2011—retaining Barack Obama as president, Democrats in control of the Senate, and Republicans leading the House.
Americans across the country voted November 6 to essentially maintain the division of power that has existed at the federal level since 2011—retaining Barack Obama as president, Democrats in control of the Senate, and Republicans leading the House. The largely status quo results come after an estimated $6 billion in political spending by candidates for federal office and outside groups. Unlike the 2010 mid- term elections where Republicans made large gains spurred by the Tea Party movement, voters seem to have cast their ballots for individual candidates rather than party messages in 2012—as evidenced by multiple states that elected a senator from one party and supported the opposing party’s presidential candidate.
Republicans will likely have a 235-200 majority in the House after Democrats appear poised to gain seven seats compared to 2010 results. Democrats also gained two seats in the Senate, increasing their majority from 53-47 to 55-45—Senator-elect Angus King (I-Maine) has not officially announced which party, if any, he will caucus with once sworn in but is widely expected to choose to select the majority.
With votes still being counted in a number of states, both parties used the election results to affirm their long-held positions relating to the so-called fiscal cliff—a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will be implemented at the end of 2012 barring no legislative action. While President Obama’s post-election speech highlighted the need for Republicans and Democrats to compromise on matters
critical to the country, White House aides are claiming the election shows the American people support the President’s efforts to increase taxes on high income individuals. House Speaker John Boehner (R- Ohio) held a November 7 press conference at which he expressed a desire to work with President Obama to find common ground. He reiterated criticism of raising tax rates, but signaled the party was open to reforming the tax code which he claimed could generate a growth in overall tax revenues.
This public jockeying is not surprising as each party knows a negotiation on taxes and spending is looming and they are staking out initial positions. The tone of the engagement between President Obama and congressional leaders in the coming days—particularly during the post-election session of Congress that convenes November 13—will provide a better indicator of how the two sides will work together now that the political environment has stabilized. In addition to the fiscal cliff, major transportation-specific items on the congressional agenda for the next two years include: federal transportation investment levels for the remainder of FY 2013 and 2014; the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21); the overdue port and waterway authorization bill; and broad reform of federal tax policy.
House & Senate
In the Senate, the Democrats’ gains are significant as many pundits speculated the Republicans would take control of the chamber because Democrats had to defend 23 seats to the Republicans’ 10. Republicans were hopeful Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) would be able to hold onto the seat once held by Ted Kennedy in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, but Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren pulled away in the last weeks of the campaign to switch the seat back to the Democrats. Heidi Heitkamp (D) successfully defended retiring Senator Kent Conrad’s (D) senate seat in North Dakota despite tough opposition from U.S. Representative Rick Berg (R-N.D.). The controversial statements of Representatives Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Richard Mourdock (R-Ind.), who were each expected to win their respective Senate races, weakened chances for the Republicans take over the Senate.
The Democrats’ pick-ups in the Senate are marginal and will not necessarily change how it is governed for the next two years. Senate procedures empower the minority to block legislation—unless a three- fifths super majority can be achieved. Securing this 60-vote threshold has been necessary for most major bills over the last decade, including reauthorizations of the federal highway/transit programs, no matter which party controlled the Senate. Democrats and the Independents who are expected to caucus with them will still need at least five Republicans to get the votes necessary to move bills in the next Congress.
The institution of the House of Representatives greatly advantages the majority party. Although Republicans lost a few seats, they will still enjoy control of the chamber and will be able to dictate the House’s legislative agenda in the new Congress.
The congressional redistricting process, which follows each U.S. Census, did not have a major effect on party control in this election. States like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington each added one House seat to their delegations. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one House seat. Florida gained two seats, while New York and Ohio each lost two. Texas saw the biggest shift in its congressional delegation with four new House seats, reflecting a significant population shift to the state over the past decade. The redistricting process did not have a large effect on party control in the House as state-approved redistricting plans left both Democrats and Republicans in difficult situations, sometimes pitting members of the same party against each other in what are referred to as “jungle elections” which abandon the traditional party versus party format.
State and Local
Of the 11 gubernatorial races on the ballot this year, two switched party control—each party gained and lost one—resulting in a wash. As a result, Republicans continue to hold 29 governorships to the Democrats’ 20. Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is an independent and former Republican.
Voters also participated in ballot initiatives in 15 states regarding transportation and showed once again the importance of transportation by approving 68 percent of the measures to increase or extend funding for highways, bridges and transit. This is in line with years past—in 2010 voters approved 61 percent of similar measures; they approved 78 percent in 2008; 77 percent in 2006; and 76 percent in 2004. The total value approved this year was over $2.4 billion.
ARTBA tracked 31 measures overall—five were statewide initiatives and 26 were local. All of the seven bond initiatives were approved by voters. Eighteen measures called for increasing, extending or renewing a sales tax for transportation purposes, two were property tax extensions and one was for a local gas tax.
Given the relatively status quo results of the 2012 election, Congress now has an opportunity to build upon the passage of MAP-21. The freshman class of the 2010 elections now has a transportation bill under its belt and is significantly more familiar with the issues affecting ARTBA members. They should stand ready to begin work on the next reauthorization well ahead of MAP-21’s September 30, 2014, expiration as well as developing solutions to the long-term fiscal health of the country, which should include transportation revenue and investment decisions. The divided party control of the House, Senate and White House continues to demand bipartisan support for enactment of legislation. The passage of MAP-21 was one of the few bipartisan achievements for Congress in 2012.
ARTBA will adhere to its long-standing practice of working with members of both parties to advance pro- transportation policies.
2012 Congressional Elections
The Senate will remain in Democratic control in 2013, with the party adding two seats to its majority in the 2012 elections. As a result, Democrats will have a clear advantage in votes requiring only a simple majority, but still need bipartisan support from at least five and possibly six Republicans to break a filibuster or any other votes that require a supermajority of 60 for passage.
Going into the 2012 elections, Democrats and Independents were defending 23 senate seats, while Republicans were defending 10, most of which were rated “safe republican” by election analysts. Due to retirements and primary defeats, 10 of the 33 races were without incumbents. The seat held by retiring Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was won by Angus King (I), who will likely caucus with Democrats. The seat held by retiring Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was won by Republican Deb Fischer. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who shocked many with his 2010 special election win to complete deceased Senator Ted Kennedy’s term, was defeated by Elizabeth Warren which returns the Massachusetts delegation to full Democrat control.
Finally, a pair of seats critical to the Republicans’ math for Senate control will be instead held by Democrats. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Representative Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) capitalized on controversial statements made by their opponents and were able to win senate elections long-targeted by the GOP.
House of Representatives
Republicans maintained their significant advantage over Democrats in the House of Representatives and will likely enjoy a 235-200 majority when all undecided races are tallied. While Democrats gained seven House seats, Republicans maintained a comfortable governing majority.
2012 Elections and the Relevant House and Senate Committees
While there will be many new faces in the 113th Congress, the balance of power in both chambers will remain the same. In the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to retain the Speaker’s gavel. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will likely remain in their leadership positions. On the Democratic side, all eyes are on former House Speaker and current
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as some speculate she is contemplating stepping down from her leadership post. If Pelosi decides to stay, no major changes are expected in the House Democratic leadership ranks. If Pelosi does step aside, it could trigger a domino effect allowing current Democratic leaders to move up a position. Under such a scenario, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) would become minority leader and House Democratic Caucus Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) would ascend to minority whip.
In the Senate, no leadership changes are expected on the Democratic side of the aisle, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Policy Committee Chair Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) all remaining in current roles. On the Republican side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to remain the top Republican in the Senate. However, GOP leadership positions below McConnell are up in the air, with Republican Whip John Kyl (R-Ariz.) retiring and Republican Conference Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) having stepped down from his post earlier this year.
ARTBA will provide an update on House and Senate leadership decisions as they are made by each party in the coming months.