The pundits who live in cable TV-land tell us to keep our eyes on the looming battle royale in Washington, D.C. In one corner, the 242-member-strong Reagan Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which can pass almost any conservative legislation and defeat any liberal effort. They are assisted by the 47 Republican senators who can (unless the Democrats change the rules) filibuster any truly destructive liberal proposal. And on some issues, Senate Republicans might be able to join forces with any four of 12 vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection in 2012 to pass legislation through the Senate.
In the other corner stand Obama with his veto and Harry Reid's Democratic majority in the Senate. The Senate Democrats have near-total control over the schedule and the determination of which votes will take place. And the Democrat-friendly establishment media will referee the bout.
Yes, out in America voters support the GOP agenda of repealing Obamacare and reducing both spending and taxes, but within the Beltway the two teams each have veto power over the other. Watching this "Mexican standoff" for the next two years will, to mix metaphors, look like watching well-matched sumo wrestlers push each other around, or two rugby teams contest the same two yards for hours.
There will be no big victories or losses. Obama's plans for ever bigger government cannot pass the House. Republicans' plans to roll back the damage of the last two (or 20) years can be stopped in the Senate and/or vetoed by Obama. So in D.C. the real action will be each party positioning itself for 2012. Republicans are likely to win a net gain of at least four of the 23 Democratic seats contested in 2012, thereby gaining a majority. It is possible they could win 13 seats for a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority. The big prize, therefore, is the presidential veto pen.
The battlefield is quite different in the 50 states. There the 2010 elections yielded examples of unified government, as opposed to the gridlock gripping the U.S. Congress. It is at the state level that legislatures and governors will enact game-changing legislation that could move the country toward or away from European welfare statism.
WHEN THE DUST SETTLED from the 2010 elections, in which Republicans gained six governorships and 715 state legislative seats -- including winning control of an additional 21 legislative bodies (taking into account the 25 party switchers from the Democratic side). The GOP now has control of the governor's office and both houses of the legislature in 21 states. The 21 unified Republican states are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Republicans also possess majorities in both houses of the state legislature, but lack the governorship, in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.
Democrats have complete, unfettered control and the opportunity to create little Greeces in just 11 states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
There is a legislative stalemate in D.C.: liberal senators from California can vote to stop conservative senators from Texas from reducing taxes, reforming entitlements, liberalizing labor law, and dismantling regulatory schemes. But at the state level, majorities can have significant effects. Illinois is a good example: the unchallenged Democratic majority there had no one to stop it from raising the personal income tax by 67 percent as its first official act.
In states with GOP majorities in both legislatures, governors are consciously channeling New Jersey's Chris Christi -- although Christie, working with a Democratic-controlled assembly and senate, does his high wire act without a net. The governors of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas have taken the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to oppose any tax increase. What that pledge means in effect is a requirement to reduce future spending by $5 billion in Pennsylvania, $8 billion in Ohio, and $3.6 billion in Florida. Spending will have to be cut by more than $20 billion in Texas, according to its comptroller's office.
Such large reductions in the growth of spending fall heavily on the key constituents of the modern Democratic Party, namely public sector unions, big city political machines, and the grant recipients who use taxpayer dollars for "community organizing." And the promise for tort reform, which would never escape a Democrat's veto, threatens the power and financial clout of trial lawyers, another key Democratic bloc.
Labor laws written to force millions of Americans to pay union dues to labor union bosses are another obstacle that Republican governors and legislatures could undo. States like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana could enact right-to-work laws making union membership voluntary, or "paycheck protection" laws that stop unions from taking your union dues and spending them on politics without your express consent.
PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT TASK for state-level Republicans will be redistricting. Redistricting for the 2012 election will work to maintain the unified party control of the incumbents, in both Republican and Democratic states. The partisan gap between red and blue states will continue to grow over the next 10 years. In turn, many small businessmen, high-skilled workers, and wealthy retirees will move from D to R states. And that dynamic will confirm and reinforce the partisan trends. For example, Illinois may drive away all of its entrepreneurs. Texas would welcome their talent and their resources...and their Republican votes.
In 2012, based on population migration, 10 states will lose congressional seats, and eight states will gain seats. Personal income tax rates are twice as high in the loser states. Government spending is one-third higher in losers, and four states gaining seats levy no personal income tax at all. Republican-controlled states such as Arizona, Georgia, and North Dakota could encourage further immigration of talented, productive, and industrious workers to their own voting rolls by eliminating their income taxes. By the same token, if states like Illinois and California continue their "job creator-cleansing" policies, they will create a more solidly government-employed and welfare-dependent Democratic voting bloc.
The question before America is whether, when this process reaches its natural conclusion, the productive, well-governed, job-creating states have more electoral votes than the mini-Greeces being created in states like Illinois and California. Ultimately, control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House will depend on the answer to that question.