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The Republican Senate

Republicans gnashed their teeth in frustration as the national tide of GOP resurgence washed up against the massive Democratic fortresses in Nevada, Washington state, Colorado and California. When they neither toppled nor faltered, most conservatives resigned themselves to a divided Congress with the Republican House and the Democratic Senate forever at war.

Not so. The vote on the extension of the Bush tax cuts reveals that the Republican Party has, in fact, gained effective control of the U.S. Senate. We are facing the same situation Ronald Reagan confronted in 1980 when his revolution brought him control of the Senate, but left the House under the nominal reign of Tip O’Neill and the Democrats. But, in fact, as the new president soon discovered, the House Democratic majority was subservient to the tide that had swept the Senate. Terrified by the Republican sweep, the Democrats were unable to muster a coherent opposition in the chamber they controlled. So it will be in 2011.

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The Democrats will keep the corner offices in the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings and retain their committee chairmanships, but their ability to summon a majority to sustain their president on crucial votes is gone. The defection of Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D-W.Va.) and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut indicates that the 53-47 Democratic tilt of the Senate is more apparent than real. 

Webb, Nelson, Manchin and Lieberman are all up for reelection in 2012. Each is very good at reading the handwriting on the wall left by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Bob 
Bennett (R-Utah) and Russ Feingold 
(D-Wis.) on their way out the door. It reads: “The conservatives are coming!”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) could well afford to lose four votes while he controlled the Senate 58-42, but he can ill afford four defections when his margin is only three. And Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGingrich says arming teachers only long-term solution to school shootings Florida students turn to activism in wake of shooting CNN invites Trump to town hall with parents, students of Florida high school MORE (D-Fla.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWith vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   MORE (D-Mont.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems hit stock buybacks in tax law fight Dem senator warns Mueller against issuing Russia report near 2018 election Dem praises gay US Olympian who feuded with Pence MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mo.) — all from red states and all facing close reelection battles — cannot be far behind these four in considering periodic abandonment of the ship on key votes. Only the likelihood of retirement saves Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) from a similar fate. Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE (D-Ohio), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mich.) and Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJustice Dept intends to re-try Menendez in corruption case DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest Senate DACA deal picks up GOP supporters MORE (D-N.J.), also vulnerable in 2012, probably think they can ride out the tide in their more Democratic states. (And in any event, Brown, Stabenow and Menendez are too liberal to notice what has just happened.)

So, on key votes, the endangered Democratic senators are likely to dodge the bullets coming from the House and defect from Reid’s majority. Why should they take the rap for blocking conservative legislation when they have a presidential veto backing them up at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue? “Let the president take the rap; why should I have to?” they will ask as they lend their assent to House-passed bills. The inability of President Obama to reelect those who supported him hardly encourages others to risk their careers doing so.

Indeed, Reid can only regain his functioning majority if more Democrats choose to retire rather than face the music in 2012. If Kohl, Bingaman, Webb and Ben Nelson decide to retire after this term, the Democrats could have enough lame ducks to keep control of the Senate floor for one more cycle — hardly a pleasing prospect for their party.

The result of the functional 
Republican control of the Senate is that the forum for decisionmaking in a divided Washington will not be the conference committee, but rather White House negotiations between the two political parties.

It remains to be seen whether the endangered Democrats can save their Senate seats from the likely GOP tide of 2012 by switching in time to pretend to be moderates. What is clear is that they are not going to block the Republican bills coming over from the House.

The Democrats will still control the committees in the Senate, but the Republicans will own the floor.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Make the compromise: Ending chain migration is a small price to legalize Dreamers Assessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lens MORE, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced and Catastrophe. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan, go to dickmorris.com