SJM-USSENATE-1018-90

By Josh Richman
jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted: 10/17/2014 03:16:45 PM PDT
Updated: 10/17/2014 06:34:14 PM PDT

Californians won’t have any say about which party wins this year’s biggest political prize — the reins of the U.S. Senate.

But that doesn’t mean the Golden State has nothing at stake.

What happens in states like Kansas, Michigan, Arkansas and Alaska will determine whether California’s two Democratic senators get to keep two key Senate posts: Dianne Feinstein is head of the Intelligence Committee and Barbara Boxer chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

If Feinstein and Boxer suddenly find themselves in the minority party, they will have less clout to make national policy and secure funding for things like the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore or Los Angeles subway improvements, drought relief, and a myriad of programs and causes.

Some political experts believe losing all that influence might push them toward retirement, leading to a mad scramble among ambitious California politicians who have been forced to sit on the sidelines for years.

And, no doubt, a lot of Democrats and left-leaning independents won’t like what a Republican Senate majority decides to do on issues as wide-ranging as immigration, health care, climate change and high-speed rail.

“Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi only half-jokingly told television host Bill Maher last month.

But many political analysts and average Californians view such comments with a jaundiced eye.

Whichever party holds the reins “is pretty much playing politics,” said Blanca Hernandez, 31, an undocumented immigrant who was raised in Richmond. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the party is — it’s important what each politician’s real agenda is.”

That’s why Hernandez heckled President Barack Obama during a speech earlier this month for delaying any executive action halting deportations.

Long before this election season began, Hernandez said, she and many other immigration activists had basically given up on Congress passing meaningful reform no matter which party is in charge.

Political experts note that the majority party hasn’t been able to achieve much since a tea party rebellion in 2010 resulted in a Republican takeover of the House. Even when Senate Democrats overcome a GOP filibuster, most of their bills have been dead on arrival in the House, such as the bipartisan immigration bill in 2013.

So, the theory goes, even if Republicans hold a majority, they probably still won’t have the 60 votes they need to break a Democratic filibuster. And even if they do, President Obama can uncap his veto pen, especially if it means protecting his health care law or any cause he has championed.

Expect Republicans “to pick on the health care law, push for stronger military intervention and go after Obama on immigration,” said Bruce Cain, a Stanford professor who directs the Bill Lane Center for the American West. “But the main effect will be an increase in theater with an eye toward laying groundwork for the presidential race in 2016.”

If, for example, Republicans can ram through an immigration bill lacking the path to citizenship many Democrats consider a must-have, they will be intentionally drawing the president’s foul, Cain said. That could work to the president’s political advantage, he added. “It makes it clear that the real problem there is that he disagrees with Republicans — and not that he doesn’t have a clear vision or can’t get it together with his fellow Democrats.”

But if Obama vetoes GOP bills or resorts to executive actions, two Republican-led chambers could soon be howling in stereo.

Perhaps having the GOP run both houses of Congress will change Obama’s policy priorities, suggested Dan Schnur, who directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

Schnur foresees “a series of policy tradeoffs — if the Republicans win control, climate change legislation becomes even less likely but perhaps a trade bill or tax reform becomes more of a possibility.”

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