Democrats Retain Control of Senate, Republicans Maintain Majority in the House

Presidential Election

President Barack Obama was re-elected by the American people and becomes the third straight president to be elected to a second term. This is the first time this has happened since the earliest days of our country when Jefferson, Madison and Monroe each served two consecutive terms. President Obama received 303 electoral college votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 electoral votes with Florida’s 29 electoral votes still to be determined.

Going into Tuesday’s election most eyes were focused on nine battleground states that were expected to determine the winner. Of those nine, President Obama has been declared the winner in seven of those states, including the most hotly contested state of Ohio. Florida’s electoral votes are also expected to be awarded to President Obama once all of that state’s votes are counted. Governor Romney was only able to win in North Carolina.

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Congressional Races

After a grueling election season and all-time low Congressional approval ratings, there were no significant changes to the overall make-up of either the House or the Senate. Democrats are expected to expand their majority in the Senate by two seats. In the House, the GOP will control at least 234 seats, while the Democrats will control at least 187 seats. Going into the election, the GOP controlled 242 seats. With the GOP leading in several of the undecided contests, it appears that the Democrats have gained no more than eight seats. 

In the Senate, Democrats picked up seats in Massachusetts and Indiana, and the newly-elected Independent Senator from Maine, Angus King, is expected to caucus with Democrats. The only Republican pickup in the Senate was the Deb Fischer victory in Nebraska. When the new Senate convenes in January, it will include at least 19 women, making it the largest total of women Senators in our nation’s history.

In the House, at least 18 incumbents were defeated including 12 Republican incumbents and six Democratic incumbents. These numbers are expected to increase as several incumbents still trail slightly in some of the remaining undecided races. At least eight former House Members will return to Congress next year; five of them are Democrats who were defeated in the GOP wave of 2010. 

Outlook

Despite more than $6 billion spent to influence the 2012 election, voters made no significant changes in the make-up of the federal government. Although Democrats continue to control the Senate, they are well short of the 60 votes necessary to override filibusters from the opposition. There are expected to be few significant changes to Committee Chairman in both the House and Senate. However, the pending fiscal cliff coupled with the break from divisive campaigning for the next several months, provide an opportunity for Congress to move beyond the gridlock that has paralyzed both the House and Senate. 

Congress is scheduled to reconvene for a lame duck session on November 13. Since most issues were left unresolved when they adjourned in September, Congress will be forced to deal with a host of major issues including:  sequestration, the expiration of all income tax rates, Medicare payments to physicians, unemployment benefits, the payroll tax holiday and the extension of expiring business tax provisions. While it may be nearly impossible for Congress to pass legislation to address all of these issues in what is likely to be a four- to six-week lame duck session, it is equally impossible for Congress to ignore the consequences of inaction. As a result, Congress is expected to explore a number of possible paths to address these issues ranging from comprehensive tax reform and a “grand bargain” related to deficit reduction to a temporary extension to many of these expiring provisions. Ultimately, most expect the lame duck to simply “kick the can down the road” and leave major fiscal issues for the new Congress. That said, the rhetoric and tone of the lame duck session should prove to be an early indicator whether this election will lead to more results and more compromise in the coming session, or if Congressional gridlock is likely to continue.

Shortly after Congress returns in January they will be forced once again to deal with raising the debt ceiling. Many expect this will serve as the impetus for Congress to take major action on difficult spending and tax issues. On the campaign trail, President Obama has said that he will not allow the sequestration to take effect and that he will not agree to extending the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000. Last night in a speech to supporters, Speaker Boehner indicated that he believed that with Republicans retaining control of the House, voters were sending a message against any tax increases. The debt limit may force both sides to find a way to reconcile these contradictory positions. 

Although the President and Congress are expected to devote a great deal of attention to the serious fiscal issues facing the country, several other issues are likely to achieve higher priority in 2013. The President has hinted that he will make comprehensive immigration reform a top priority in his second term. There is also likely to be renewed interest in climate change issues in wake of  Hurricane Sandy. Finally, the President’s re-election also likely means the end for efforts to repeal “Obamacare” and makes it highly unlikely there will be any major changes to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.