HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - The pollsters got it more or less right this time. The Democrats will run the U.S. House of Representatives, securing a majority of the 435 seats in Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to news networks projections. With the Republicans keeping control of the Senate, though, Democrats will need political smarts to avoid being painted as the new obstructionists.
In House races, the Democrats overcame healthy economic growth – traditionally a positive factor for the party in power – and the GOP’s success in recent years redrawing voting districts to the party’s benefit. They capitalized on the opposition’s usual advantage in midterms and the unpopularity of President Donald Trump in the country at large.
The Senate was always a tougher proposition. Trump will no doubt take the credit for the GOP probably increasing its slim majority, although that had a lot to do with the seats being contested this cycle. Overall, though, the new shape of Congress makes the president’s position much tougher.
The Democrats now control the legislative agenda, so that most likely puts paid to any cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare and probably to further tax reductions, too. Wall Street and big technology firms like Facebook (FB.O) could face increased scrutiny over market dominance and data privacy. So too could Trump himself, with House committees empowered to demand his hitherto elusive tax returns and scrutinize all manner of things, just as the Republicans did with former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Some such enquiries are justified, but one danger is the House does little else. The GOP earned its reputation as “the party of ‘no’” by blocking pretty much anything Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, tried to get done. Fair or not, Republicans would soon throw that critique right back at Democrats.
Maxine Waters – the Democrat likely to run the House Financial Services Committee – and her colleagues could find patches of common ground with Republicans. They include the overdue reform of government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, federal infrastructure funding, and approving the new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement recently inked by the Trump administration.
It would stick in many Democrats’ craws to work with Trump and Senate Republicans at all. That may be what they need to do, though, to make the best of being political spoilers.
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