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What do the midterm elections mean?

  • Published at 02:20 pm November 9th, 2018
What’s next? 
What’s next? / REUTERS

A view of the consequences and challenges ahead

he results of the elections in the United States can be summarized as follows:

House of Representatives

Democrats: 223 confirmed wins; 7 leading. Received 51% of the votes cast for the House contests.

Republicans: 197 confirmed wins; 8 leading. Received 47% of the votes cast for the House contests.

With 435 seats at stake and control requiring 218 seats, the Democrats now control the House, taking it away from the Republicans.  

Senate

Democrats: Total of 46: 23 won plus 23 held by Democrats not up for election. 

These include two independents elected who usually vote with the Democrats. The Democrats lost 2 seats.

Received 57% of the votes cast in the Senate elections.


 Republicans
:  Total of 54: 9 won; 3 leading. 42 held by Republicans not up for election. The Republicans won 2 new seats.

Received 42% of the votes cast in the Senate elections.

Governors

Democrats: Hold 23: won 16 plus 7 that are not up for election. Gained 7.

Republicans: Hold 27: won 19, leading in 1 plus 7 not up for election

The election that is not yet final is for Georgia.

What does it all mean?

The main point is that the Democrats won the House of Representatives.

Certainly, the Republicans did better than was earlier expected. They strengthened their hold on the Senate, which in turn means that they will, over the next two years, be able to continue to fill vacant judgeships with persons who have beliefs that the Republicans favour.  

The second main point is that Trump’s vigorous and aggressive campaigning helped the Republican candidates. The Democrats do not really have a leader who could take on Trump head to head.

But the popular vote clearly indicated the Democrats are in a majority. Just as the total vote was higher for Clinton than Trump in the 2016 election, the vote was higher for Democratic candidates than Republicans. At this point, one can say that the American voters prefer the Democrats to the Republicans.  

The losses sustained by the Republicans are not unusual in American midterm elections, so one cannot conclude that there is a strong anti-Trump movement in the electorate.

The turnout to vote was very high for a midterm election, indicating great interest on both sides. 

Hard as it is for the Democrats to swallow, Trump is a very good politician and is able to build up support for the candidates in his party.  

Many women entered politics, and there are now more than 100 in the House of Representatives, an increase from 84. The shock of Trump’s election in 2016 has triggered a powerful movement of women to enter politics. I think that this will continue. The very sight of Trump angers many women who see him as an abuser of women.

Two Native American women were elected to Congress. Two Muslim women, Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and Ilhan Amar (Minnesota) won seats in the House. 

In a previous article on the election, I discussed the importance of cooperation and compromise in a democratic political system. A lot of words were said in the past 24 hours by Trump and Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House, calling for cooperation and compromise. Those of us who hope for such behaviour will be disappointed.  

There are five issues that would benefit from cooperation.

Developing an infrastructure investment program

The issue here is how to find a balance of private and government investment in infrastructure. The government has to go deeper into debt to finance roads, ports, airports, better Wi-Fi, bridges, schools, and hospitals. Debt paid through user fees is the appropriate path. There are complex issues of user fees and how the private sector participates. The first efforts of the Trump administration on these issues were naive and unworkable.

Health care and the future of the Affordable Care Act 

This is an explosive issue as the Trump administration is trying to destroy the ACA. Should they succeed, it will end all hopes of cooperation. Trump’s unending explanation that he has a better health financing plan is simply an outright lie. The Republicans are continuously concealing their real intent, and Trump has little understanding of these issues.  

Trade policy

The president is trying to carry out trade policy without the participation of Congress. He does this by claiming that these are national security matters. This is nonsense, but to date, there is little opposition. Higher prices from tariffs, reduced economic growth from a less efficient economy, and the decline of competition will cause great harm. 

Immigration

This is an odd issue, and an attempt at cooperation Trump simply abandoned. His word is no good and it makes negotiation very difficult. As Trump uses this issue as a political stick to attack the Democrats, it is hard to see how anything good can be achieved.

Government finance and fiscal policy 

One can excuse the president for having a limited understanding of macro-economics. But he has advisors who are highly intelligent economists. 

They have been helpless before a rush of greed to lower taxes and spend more government money just at a time when the opposite was the correct policy. 

Pushing the American economy when it is already running above its maximum sustainable growth rate is irresponsible. 

How he will negotiate a program to contain the government deficit is hard to comprehend.

On these five critical policy issues before the US, all would be delighted if a satisfactory outcome could be reached through negotiation and compromise. But it will prove very, very difficult to legislate anything. The tax and budget acts from last year were shameful abdication of responsibility.

We should expect little from the next two years. On the above critical issues facing the American society, we should have no illusions as to what can be achieved. 

Forrest Cookson is an American economist.