Election yields uncertain changes

It’s been a week since the midterm elections and the changes that we can expect are anything but clear.

At the federal level we have a divided Congress, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the Republicans in control of the House. Such a division between the two houses might well slow the pace of any new legislation, which, generally, I think that most Americans would welcome. On the other hand, the new Republican majority in the House is determined to preserve all of the Bush era tax cuts and repeal or at least undermine as much of the health care reform legislation as they can. This is an activist agenda. So what we have is a new House attempting to pass new legislation at a time when neither party actually has an easy way to accomplish anything.

The president, for his part, appears to speak in somewhat conciliatory terms, but whether he is willing to compromise on legislation about which he and his party feel passionate and about which the Republicans feel passionate — but in the other direction — seems doubtful. We may well discover over the next few weeks and months that the conflict and dissension that marked the last congressional session may intensify.

And, of course, there’s a new group in Washington: Republicans who won their seats through the support of Tea Partiers. These new members of Congress have pledged not to permit business as usual. Their ties to the traditional two-party system are tenuous; in many cases they gained victories over opposition by both Democrats and Republicans. If the Republican leadership in the House believes that they can control the votes of their new Tea Party candidates, they may be in for a very grave shock and disappointment.

And we should not forget that this new Congress comes into Washington with some very large issues in the background.

First, of course, 2012 is getting closer and the presidential election will cast a massive shadow on everything Congress does from now until then.

Second, the economy, if it is recovering, is doing so in fits and starts, and with unemployment as high as it is, many Americans are hard-pressed and growing increasingly frightened and angry about the lack of progress. For the first time in history, the U.S. Treasury issued bonds with what was, in effect, a negative interest rate, the Federal Reserve has quietly instituted its own $600 billion quasi-bailout for Wall Street under the seemingly innocuous name “QE” and the extent of fraud in the mortgage market can only be guessed at.

At the state level here in Kansas, the situation is different but no less problematic. With the start of the new legislative system we will have a new Republican governor, and stronger Republican majorities in both legislative chambers. There will be virtually no impediments to the new majority pursuing whatever policies it chooses.

Already, the newly elected secretary of state, Kris Kobach, has promised to propose legislation to cure our “election fraud problem,” although there is absolutely no clear evidence that there is one in Kansas. If his proposal is passed and signed into law, we may well begin this new legislative session with what could be an unfunded mandate to localities, since his proposals will have a price tag attached, a price tag that will undoubtedly be imposed on counties and municipalities. And, just to complicate things further, the school funding litigation is back on the table once again.

It would take a prophet to predict what all of these new factors will produce at the state and federal levels over the next weeks and months. I can claim no prophetic powers, but I think anyone who looks at the political situation as it now stands could easily say that changes are ahead. I am reminded of the old Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times.” I’d say that we are about to do so. I can only hope that things get better and not worse.