With less than 10 weeks to go before the midterm Congressional elections Americans in general are frustrated with Washington. National polls show that about three quarters of all Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. By comparison, about half of those Americans polled disapprove of President Barack Obama's handling of his job.
Sunday's New York Post reported that 163 laws have been passed and signed by the president since this two-year term of Congress began in January 2013. That is far lower than the 284 laws that were passed by the 2011-2013 session, which is an all time record for fewest bills passed. Congress passed 386 laws during the 2009-2011 session. Former Representative Lee Hamilton (R-IN) told the Post, "I've never seen it any worse in terms of public esteem for the Congress. I can't find anybody who says a good word about it."
Despite Congress's lack of productivity, and as outrageous as it may seem, it appears that most incumbents will be reelected in November. Conventional wisdom is that while most Americans want to get rid of Congress, they nonetheless support their own representative. This is especially true during midterm elections because voter turnout is often very low, which gives incumbents an advantage. But both parties are leaving nothing to chance, as a record amount of campaign dollars will be poured into this election, surpassing the $3.6 billion spent in 2010.
Republicans currently hold a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, 233-199; there are three vacant seats. The GOP expects to expand its majority in the House. Meanwhile, Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate. But of the 36 Senate seats in play, 21 of them held by Democrats, while 15 are held by Republicans. If the GOP picks up six Senate seats this midterm they will be in the majority in both houses of Congress. Most experts, including Nate Silver, of the election site FiveThirtyEight, give Republicans a slight edge to take those seats and become the majority party in the Senate.
The Republicans are targeting the seven Democratic seats that are up in states where Mitt Romney beat President Obama in the 2012 presidential election. They are also going after four additional Democratic seats in states where the president remains unpopular. Republicans will do all they can to make this election about President Obama's unpopularity.
Domestically the president has been attacked for executive actions he has taken to bypass the blockade that Congress has become. For example, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who himself has presidential aspirations, has regularly attacked the president, telling Fox News "He believes somehow that he's become a monarch or an emperor that can basically ignore the law and do whatever he wants." On the other hand, Republicans have attacked President Obama for being disengaged and "leading from behind" on foreign policy. The president's recent comment the he does not have a strategy on dealing with ISIS in Syria was seized upon by Republicans. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), said on CBS Sunday, "What I want to hear from the president is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off, to defeat ISIS."
Congressional and Senate Democratic candidates have tried to localize their elections, but Republicans are focusing on President Obama in an effort to energize their base. So Democrats are trying to mobilize minority voters, especially African-Americans, who generally don't vote in midterms. Party activists are using the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and conservative calls to impeach the president, to mobilize Blacks. An increase in the number of Southern Blacks helped Democrats during the 1998 midterm election, when President Bill Clinton was under heavy fire from the right.
Ironically, the one Republican Senator who is in the toughest fight to be reelected is the man who has the most to gain if Republicans win majority control. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the Senate minority leader, has done all he can to obstruct and block the agenda of President Obama since the day he was sworn in to office in 2009. McConnell is facing a vigorous challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is not popular in Kentucky, but a recent state poll shows he has the edge. Lundergan Grimes is making McConnell's failings in Congress the issue. But McConnell is tying his opponent to President Obama.
Should Republicans take control of both houses the legislative process will grind to a halt. Anything the Republicans pass, like efforts to defund Obamacare, will be vetoed by the president. Meanwhile, congressional investigations into the so-called scandals surrounding the IRS and Benghazi will intensify. The partisan divide will widen as Republicans try to score points before the 2016 Presidential Elections.
Because so much is at stake, this coming election day is not a time for eligible voters to stay home.