In just a few short weeks, we could witness a major reversal in the makeup of the U.S. Congress. Currently, the smart money is on the Republicans to win a majority in the House of Representatives along with a narrow possibility of accomplishing the same feat in the Senate.
Four years ago, Democrats cast out the GOP by winning majorities in the House of Representatives, the Senate, state governors' offices and state legislatures. As a matter of record, Republicans were complicit in their own ouster: In many instances they confused love of power with love of country, overobligated, overspent and, in several cases, were guilty of lapses in ethics and were convicted of corruption.
Two years later, led by a charismatic, popular and extremely well-organized presidential candidate, the Democratic Party won the House by 257 to 178, enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and carried the presidency by a significant margin. Along with the ever-present respect for apple pie, motherhood, the flag and an unalterable aversion to sin, the new broom promised to provide the most ethical and transparent administration in history, to end partisanship and to fulfill the popular, populist goal of leveling the field for the working man and the disadvantaged.
Imbued with these lofty aims, a leader to articulate them and an impenetrable legislative majority, what could possibly go wrong?
The response to that question was not long in coming as the party in power miscalculated its mandate and misread the electorate. It also was not particularly beneficial that only 8 percent of the president's appointments and hires had any experience in the private business sector.
It was no secret that the people's focus was on job creation, the economy and ending reckless spending. Having controlled the power of the purse since 2007*, the Democrats embarked instead on a number of extremely unpopular legislative programs, which included health care reform, cap-and-trade and a stimulus package that did little other than stimulate government and outspend their predecessors by a sizable margin.
Not only was this ill-conceived and hastily prepared legislation rejected by a majority of the voters, but the often underhanded and coercive means of passage were viewed with equal distaste. Cap-and-trade passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. Health care passed in both houses and featured sops, intimidation and forms of bribery to obtain the necessary votes.
The intentions, good or otherwise, of this legislative process notwithstanding, independents, Republicans and conservative Democrats recognized two realities: the heavy hand of government intrusion and the exorbitant price of that incursion — a price that must be paid. That 30 million people could be added to the health care rolls, children could stay on parental insurance until age 26 and medicare reduced by 500 billion dollars with an overall savings of money defies simple arithmetic.
The subsidizing of health care, energy, housing and employment costs along with increased entitlement spending cannot be ignored nor covered by printing of money; these are costs that are going to come due. And the uncertainty of the costs of health care to employers and individuals, the pending known and unknown tax increases and the added government regulatory agencies do not encourage businesses and individuals to expand, invest, start up or hire.
Admittedly, this is a rather harsh indictment of the party in power; however, unless you are a government employee, are you better off today than you were two or four years ago? To be sure, government is a necessary adjunct of good order and discipline, but it must answer to its citizens who are, after all, the source of power; as it says in the Declaration of Independence, "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The outcome of this midterm election will, of course, depend on turnout. Two of the major issues are related: taxes and size of government. Generally, those who depend on government pay little in taxes. Big government takes more from Peter to give to Paul; accordingly, a status quo will exist if the Pauls outnumber the Peters at the polls.
If, as predicted, Republicans supplant Democrats in either or both houses of Congress, the time for celebration will be short-lived inasmuch as the electorate is not in a forgiving mood. High unemployment, slow economic growth, wasteful spending and the deficit have, at long last, awakened the public.
The days of self-aggrandizement and blaming the predecessor are over; the public wants measurable progress.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.