Control of the Senate doesn’t matter much

Many, many hours of broadcast time and rolls of newsprint have been expended on which political party will control the U.S. Senate after the November general election.

The real question is how much difference it will make. It seems to me the answer is, not much.

The House will probably remain Republican. So if the Senate also goes Republican, the GOP will control Congress.

But Democratic President Barack Obama will remain in office for another two years. What major policy changes would take place with a Republican Congress and a Democratic president?

Defense policy?

Not likely.

The president as commander-in-chief orders troops, planes and ships where he and his defense advisers decide they should go, and how they should engage America’s enemies.

It’s been decades since Congress has exercised its sole prerogative to declare war, and it has never done so without the concurrence of the president.

Health care?

Not likely.

Even if Tea Party conservative Republicans convince their more moderate leaders and colleagues in both houses to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the president would veto the repeal bill.

And the Republican majorities would have to explain to the voters why they tried to do away with insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, universal coverage, elimination of the Medicare “doughnut hole” and other Obamacare benefits.

Significant changes to Social Security?

Not likely.

They haven’t happened under a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, and a Republican Congress and Democratic president wouldn’t appear to accomplish anything more.

Social Security is the third rail of American politics, and without a sincere bipartisan effort, nothing will change. Only pressure from the public can make any difference.

Social issues, like abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control?

Not likely.

Federal decisions on those issues have transferred from congressional to judicial control.

States can still tweak them around the edges, but the Supreme Court trumps Congress at the federal level. And conservative legislation on those subjects still requires a presidential signature.

A Republican Congress would try to reduce spending in general, and Obama might agree to some of that. But significant tax reductions for the well-to-do, or shifts away from a progressive tax system toward a flatter “fair tax,” or enactment of a national sales tax, also would require the president’s signature. Not gonna happen.

Other impediments to change:

• The Senate still allows the filibuster, and Democrats in the past have shown their willingness to use it against the majority’s agenda just as much as Republicans do so in the present.

• If a Supreme Court justice dies or resigns, the president will send up a nominee to the Senate for confirmation.

He will not nominate a conservative, and he can’t get a knee-jerk liberal approved — the Senate has made it more difficult to filibuster some appointments, but not those for Supreme Court justices.

Any new Supreme Court justice will have to be moderate to some extent, regardless of which party controls the Senate.

The same arguments against significant change can be made for foreign policy, ag policy, conservation policy, gun control — you name it.

The more potent election for significant change will take place in 2016.

That’s when the presidency will be up for grabs, and it’s a year when a higher percentage of the registered electorate turns out.

If Americans really want to take their country in a different direction, it’s more likely to happen then.

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