Congressional Digest

    The Implications of Election Day 2012

By , Editor,
November 10, 2012

On Tuesday, Americans went to the polls across the country to vote. Elections were held for president, every seat in the House of Representatives, and one-third of the Senate.

The result is that the political playing field in Washington will look much the same as it has for the past two years. President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term by a solid margin in the Electoral College. Democrats will continue to hold power in the Senate, adding two seats to give them a 55-45 majority (assuming Bernie Sanders (Socialist Party) of Vermont and newly elected independent Angus King of Maine join them). Meanwhile, the House of Representatives will stay in firm Republican control as, their previous 242-193 majority will likely become 236-199, pending the results of a few yet-to-be-decided races.

What does this mean for the areas that this blog and our magazines cover — international issues, Congress, and the Supreme Court? Here’s our take.

First of all, U.S. foreign affairs will remain largely the same. Although some of the faces in the Obama Administration’s national security and foreign policy team will likely change, there will be a continuation of the goals and strategy that have been in place under Obama for the last four years. That means, for example, working cooperatively with international institutions such as the United Nations and NATO, continuation of the U.S. withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, and a reliance on toughened sanctions to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already announced her intention to step down in the coming months, in which case President Obama will nominate her successor for Senate confirmation. Some names that have been mentioned recently are Senator John Kerry (MA-D), Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. A rumored wildcard pick is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who served as Obama’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 and unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination this year. In addition, with the surprise resignation of David Petraeus, Obama will have to nominate a new CIA director in the coming days, as well.

In Congress, the continuation of Republican control of the House of Representatives and Democratic control of the Senate means the chances of significant legislation being passed in the next two years is slim. The two chambers will have to come to some form of agreement if they don’t want to allow the Bush- and Obama-era tax cuts to expire at the end of the year, however. In addition, if Congress fails to act, 2013 will see mandatory reductions in both domestic and defense spending — the so-called “sequestration” that was part of the 2011 budget deal that raised the national debt ceiling.

Speaking of the debt ceiling, Congress must once raise it in 2013. In addition, Congress will eventually have to agree on a Federal budget, or the Nation will be confronted by the prospect of a government shutdown.

Finally, the election will not have a direct influence on the U.S. Supreme Court, but that does not mean the outcome wasn’t significant — specifically, the continued Democratic control of the Senate. In each of the past two presidential terms, the president has been able to name two new Supreme Court justices — John Roberts and Samuel Alito for George W. Bush, and Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan for Obama. Over the course of the next four years, it is entirely possible Obama will have a chance to name more justices.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79 years old and has a history of poor health. Both Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are 76. Justice Steven Breyer is 74. If one of these justices leaves office, Obama will have the opportunity to name a successor, who will then have to be confirmed by the Senate. Having 55 Democratic or Democratic-leaning votes in the Senate should assure majority support for anyone Obama picks and is only five votes shy of the number required to break a Senate filibuster.

The American people have expressed their will at the ballot box once again this year. And once again, Congressional Digest, Supreme Court Debates and International Debates will keep you up-to-date on the pros and cons of all the latest developments.

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