The American public is fixated on who will win the White House in November — but the next president’s ability to implement his policies may depend on which party controls Congress, Penn State professors said.
For now, Republicans control the House, and Democrats control the Senate. However, that’s subject to change in this election.
Luke Keele, associate professor of political science at Penn State, said close state-by-state polling numbers make it difficult to predict if Democrats will retain control of the Senate or if Republicans will take over.
Most of the Senate seats open in this election are held by Democrats, giving Republicans an opportunity for gain, said Michael Berkman, a Penn State professor of political science.
The House is a different story. Keele and Berkman said chances of the House changing hands are fairly low, because of the size of the gap between the number of Democrats and Republicans is high.
Berkman said it’s possible for Democrats to gain control of the House, but it is unlikely.
“The Republicans won a lot of seats in the midterm election that will be hard to hold onto. That speaks to Democratic gains,” Berkman said. “The other side of that is that Republicans have controlled the redistricting lines.”
If Republicans control both the House and Senate and President Barack Obama is re-elected, Obama will seek ways to accomplish his goals without the help of Congress, Berkman said.
Changes in the Republican Party make it unlikely that Republicans will work with a Democratic president, he said.
Berkman said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could face a tough time getting legislation passed if he’s elected and Democrats keep their hold on the Senate.
House Republicans would push an “extremely conservative agenda” on Romney, and such legislation would be a challenge to get through the Senate, he said.
Michael Mahon, president of Penn State’s Political Science Association, said if Romney is elected amid a Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House, Romney may have to negotiate with a few moderate Democrats to pass his key pieces of legislation.
Mahon (junior-political science and economics) said Obama may have to bargain, too, if Republicans keep control of the House and become the majority in the Senate. That would give Republicans the “power cards,” he said.
No matter the president, no matter the congressional situation, the means for accomplishing policy goals is the same: sharp negotiation skills, Mahon said.
“In all of these scenarios,” he said. “It will come down to how well they’re able to negotiate to get what they want.”
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