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 ManchinJoe ManchinChristian voters left wanting in Trump vs Clinton New Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension 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 ReidReid: Congress should return 'immediately' to fight Zika Classified briefings to begin for Clinton, Trump The Trail 2016: Her big night 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 NelsonBill NelsonTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense More automakers admit to equipping new cars with defective airbags GOP warming up to Cuba travel MORE (D-Fla.), Jon TesterJon TesterSenate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Bayh jumps into Indiana Senate race Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (D-Mont.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense The Trail 2016: The newrevolution begins Liberal group: Kaine could be 'disastrous' VP pick MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDems begin ‘treason’ talk against Trump The Republicans' hypocrisy on minimum wage Watchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation 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 BrownThe Trail 2016: Her big night Kaine as Clinton's VP pick sells out progressive wing of party Unions want one thing from Hillary tonight: A stake in TPP’s heart MORE (D-Ohio), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowDem sen: Clinton 'focused and prepared to keep us safe' Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Dems to GOP: Admit Trump is 'unfit' to be president MORE (D-Mich.) and Robert MenendezRobert MenendezTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense GMO labeling bill advances in the Senate over Dem objections Overnight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal 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 ClintonBill ClintonRomney: Trump victory 'very possible' What does Bill think of Hillary's Chris Wallace interview? Dem anxiety hangs over Clinton 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