The US National Elections: A View from the COHEAO Office in Washington

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November 7, 2012 · by mlivolsi · Spark Notes

Prepared by: Harrison Wadsworth (hwadsworth@wpllc.net) & Wes Huffman (whuffman@wpllc.net)

After $3 billion in campaign spending and two years of solid campaigning, the 2012 election produced a continuation of the status quo for two more years, with Democrats doing better than expected generally. The biggest surprise was that most of the close Senate races have fallen the Democrats’ way by narrow margins, much as most of the closely contested swing states went for President Barack Obama over Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney.

At this writing, with one seat (North Dakota) still undecided, Democrats look to surprise their most optimistic supporters and actually gain Senate seats, if you count the two independents expected to caucus with them. That will leave the Senate with 52 or 53 Democrats, 45 or 46 Republicans, and the two Independents caucusing with Democrats. This Congress’s ration is 51-47 with two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

In the House, Republicans seem likely to meet expectations, losing a few of the many seats they gained in the sweep of 2010 but still holding a comfortable majority. At this time, the Republicans have won a majority in the House of 232-193 with 10 seats still undecided.

Obama’s victory speech was full of promises to be president of the entire country. Despite the fact his victory his winning margin shrunk significantly from 2008, it is hoped that he will follow up on those words and that Congressional Republicans will also decide to set the next election aside long enough to resolve the many crises that form the “fiscal cliff” in time to stave off another recession.

Fears that the election could be a repeat of 2000 with weeks of uncertainty over the final result proved unfounded, as the television networks announced before midnight east coast time that Obama had won, the Senate would continue with a Democratic majority and the House would retain its Republican majority. Entertaining scenarios like a Romney-Biden government as anticipated by the 12th Amendment to the Constitution (an electoral college tie with the House electing the president and the Senate electing the vice president) did not happen, with Obama winning an Electoral College majority of at least 303 of the needed 270 votes, with one state, Florida, still uncertain at this time.

The current Congress – with several dozen members who have retired or lost their election — plans to convene next Tuesday, the 13th of November, to try and pass legislation that would keep the United States from defaulting on its debts, stop or narrow a large tax increase on everyone which takes effect January 1, head off automatic sequestration cuts in spending that would hit defense and domestic programs very hard, and come up with a different long-term plan to reduce the federal budget deficit. Economists generally predict that the combination of a steep tax increase and sharp government spending cuts would throw the economy back into recession.

Many believe that the old Congress will pass short-term laws to tide things over until the new year and leave all the problems to the newly elected one. Of course, the president and three-quarters of the new Congress will be the same as the current one, so they won’t be helping themselves much. Still, after all the election campaigning they may be tired and ready for a long holiday – during which some behind-the-scenes work could proceed on solutions.

Regarding the Perkins Loan Program, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and attitudes towards colleges and universities, the status quo is just that. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he plans to remain in office and could follow in the footsteps of the last Secretary in a Democratic administration – Riley in the Clinton Administration – who served a full eight years, unusual for a cabinet job. The Undersecretary Martha Kanter has not made her intentions known, although there is some speculation that she would like to return to academe. The other key political position for student aid issues, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, remains unfilled since Eduardo Ochoa departed in July. It will likely be filled early next year by Obama. In the meantime, the Acting Assistant Secretary David Bergeron will remain in the post. Bergeron is a career civil servant.

In the Congress, the leadership positions on the House Education and Workforce Committee that affect higher education are expected to remain the same, with Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Higher Education Subcommittee Chairman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and senior Democrat Rep. George Miller (D-CA) all winning their respective races. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is expected to continue chairing the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee although Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) will likely be replaced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (D-TN) as senior Republican on the Committee. Alexander has served as the US Secretary of Education, the Governor of Tennessee, and the president of the University of Tennessee.

By increasing their majority, Democrats in the Senate may demand that the committee member rations be changed to give then two-vote majorities on all the committees instead of the present one. Final decisions on Committee membership in both the House and Senate won’t be made until January. Overall leadership positions for each party in the House and Senate will be decided in elections later this month.

Some notable races are:

• Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), a friend of the Perkins Loan Program, was re-elected with a slightly wider margin than in 2010.

• Elizabeth Warren (D) defeated incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts for the seat once held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Warren while at the White House in the Obama Administration played a major role in starting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Congress created with the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

• Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education, was defeated in his bid to win a Senate seat in Montana by incumbent Jon Tester (D).

• Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), a member of the Education and the Workforce and Financial Services Committees with a keen interest in financial literacy, was defeated for re-election after redistricting took away most of the district she had been representing for many years.

• Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) won re-election and is expected to remain chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

• Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) was not up for election and is expected to remain chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Harkin is expected to remain Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee Chairman in addition to chairing the HELP Committee.

• Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a long time supporter of Perkins Loans, easily won her bid for re-election and early speculation indicates she will continue to move up within the Leadership ranks within the Republican Conference.

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COHEAO will continue to work with all sides in Washington in support of our members on Perkins Loans, other student aid, CFPB, TCPA, FDCPA and other issues that are of concern to our members. All comments and suggestions are eagerly encouraged. Please send them to Harrison or Wes, hwadsworth@wpllc.net or whuffman@wpllc.net .

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