WASHINGTON — It’s easy to think that little will change if Republicans win the Senate. They won’t have a filibuster-proof majority. The place is a sinkhole of inaction. Democratic leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell are withered peas in a pod. Torpor will reign, right?
Wrong. The numbers and images are deceiving. A GOP victory would scramble the higher math of power and policy in the Senate, in the final two years of President Barack Obama’s administration, and in the 2016 presidential race. The earthquake wouldn’t level cities, but it would shake foundations.
1. A Deal on Immigration? Many scoff at the notion. “The issue just tears the Republican Party apart,” said Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “It is too divisive for them to touch.” But Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, for one, wants a deal.
2. Trade Pacts. There would be a chance for trade deals, produced by a coalition of pro-corporate Republicans and moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
3. Probing Panels. Committees amplify the clout of even thin Senate majorities. GOP chairmen would have relatively untrammeled subpoena power.
4. Nominations. If President Obama wants to get a new attorney general confirmed — or judges for that matter — he might want to focus his efforts on the lame duck session.
5. Old McConnell’s Farm. Kentucky’s 72-year-old senior senator has worked for decades to obtain the job that is now within his grasp. If he took over as majority leader, that grasp would become an iron grip. He has vowed, publicly and privately, to stop any bills to raise the minimum wage, strengthen federal guarantees of pay equity or tighten rules on the use of coal. Would a Democratic majority be able to pass such bills? No. Would they even be debated under the GOP? No.
6. The 2016 Circus. The majority leader controls the floor, and with at least four GOP presidential hopefuls in the Senate, McConnell would play choreographer in the run-up to the 2016 contest.
7.Ramrod Votes. McConnell decried Reid’s move last year to shield judicial nominees from the filibuster, ensuring they can be confirmed by a simple majority.
8.The New Fulcrum. There is a slim possibility that the Senate could have four independent members next year, four lawmakers not formally affiliated with the major parties, and they might form a new and unpredictable center of power.
9.Reid Redux? If the Democrats lose the Senate, will 74-year-old Harry Reid remain as their leader? He’s running for re-election in Nevada in 2016; colleagues would be loath to try to strip him of his title in advance of what will be another tough race.
10.Next Turn. As bad a year as 2014 seems to be for Senate Democrats, early projections show that 2016 could be even worse for the GOP, which will have twice as many Senate seats at stake then.