Analysis: Expect more of the same from the 113th Congress

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

If you didn’t like the 112th Congress, you will hate the 113th. 

Derided as dysfunctional and panned for partisanship, the brawling, divided Congress is back, but more so.

With a Republican House, Democratic Senate, and President Obama reelected, things are superficially similar. But behind those similar contours, Congress is changed.

In the House, the parties retrenched toward partisan corners, with regional divisions sharpened. In stark result, Republicans were shut out in 21 House races and four Senate contests in New England. Blue Dogs lost seats, and Republicans increased their stranglehold on the South.

The 87-member, ardently conservative class elected in 2010 was mostly returned intact, bolstered by a big new class of GOP freshmen. After a cycle that saw a 20-year high of seats without incumbents seeking reelection, at least one-third of the 113th Congress will feature House members with less than three years of experience, as The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman wrote.

The hardening of political lines means more obstinate party leaders yoked to the will of their conferences. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has a more liberal conference to run; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already declared the GOP's retention of the House majority a mandate for opposing any tax increase despite Obama's win.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday night the election results provide an opening “to put politics aside, and work together to find solutions.”

“The strategy of obstruction, gridlock, and delay was soundly rejected by the American people,” Reid said. “Now, they are looking to us for solutions.”

Obama can bank on strong support for his tax and deficit plans from energized Senate Democrats—at least next year. In a remarkable result, Democrats, once expected to lose Senate control in this election, gained two seats. But Senate’s dynamic may not change much. A handful of candidates, including Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.,and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and, it appears, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, won despite running in states easily carried by the other party’s presidential candidate.

But more candidates, including Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Linda McMahon in Connecticut, former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, former GOP Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico and Democrat Richard Carmona in Arizona, could not overcome the partisan deficit in their states, despite running what were generally seen as strong races.

The result is a more partisan Senate, and a more anonymous one. Twelve new senators will join the 113th Congress. That continues a rapid pace of turnover in the body unmatched since the 1978 and 1980 elections. Senior members and committee leaders are departing, leaving a large pool of relatively new members yet to distinguish themselves.

An important question in coming weeks will be whether former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent, will caucus with Democrats. King has said he may not caucus with either party, but the expectation is that King will work with Democrats. Regardless, his voting record will likely be to the left of that of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, the famously moderate retiring Republican he replaces.

Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, I.D.-Conn., who usually voted with Republicans on defense issues and backedSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2000 for president, will be rsucceeded by Rep. Chris Murphy, a more reliable Democratic vote.

Gone next year will be moderate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is no moderate, but she is pragmatist who was more inclined to work with Democrats than her GOP successor, Sen. Ted Cruz, likely will be. As ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Hutchison has worked closely with Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Her likely successor as the panel’s top Republican is Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who has argued repeatedly that the GOP should not compromise with Democrats.

Tonight’s results offer a pill of bitter disappointment for Republicans and might generate internal backlash against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas over the party’s Senate-race strategy and tactics.

Cornyn was contrite in a statement early Wednesday. “It’s clear that with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” he said. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight.  Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

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