Finally, one of the least important elections in American history is almost over. Yes, everyone should go out and vote, especially for local offices, but there’s little chance the congressional elections can result in meaningful change.
After Tuesday, we will still have a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and even if the Democrats miraculously hold onto the Senate, they’ll do so with independents and red-state Democrats who have little interest in helping President Barack Obama. Legislative ideas from Obama will die in the House, and GOP-passed laws face vetoes by Obama. This is a situation that encourages nonsensical proposals rather than problem-solving.
The parties are treading water, each hoping that the 2016 election gives it control over both branches of government. And, to put it plainly, both parties are itching to find out what happens when the face of the Democrats is no longer a black one.
If the polls are correct, Tuesday will be good for Republicans, who can capture the Senate and expand their majority in the House even if they can’t evict Obama. Though the government is divided, voters tend to see the president’s party as being in charge, so the Democrats will suffer most of the blame for any and all problems in America—if not through voters switching parties, then through Democratic supporters not showing up to vote.
The result will be a mandate by default for the Republican Party and its goals of smaller and more localized government. That means no significant action immigration reform, income inequality, long-term unemployment, or climate change. It means that any reform of the Affordable Care Act will involve rolling back insurance coverage.
Over the next two years, we can expect more lawmaking and policy changes to occur at the state level. Last night, HBO’s John Oliver made this point, even as his clips of state legislators engaged in bad behavior made the U.S. Congress look brilliant by comparison. Before this year’s election, most states had unified governments in which the same party controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, making them far more productive than Washington has been.
Many state legislators will, in fact, end up in Washington; about half of the members of Congress once served as at the state level. So voting in local races will not only affect state legislation, it will also help to shape national politics. This is more than sufficient reason to look past the less-than-edifying campaigns for the U.S. Senate and vote on Tuesday.