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Environment

Yes, the Midterms Actually Do Matter

Voter choices today will directly impact the quality of air we breathe, how much we pay in taxes, and whether the country's broken immigration system gets fixed before we start collecting Social Security.

by David Mark
Nov 4 2014, 4:24pm

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo via Facebook

​The 2014 midterm elections are ​​fin​ally u​pon us, and no one in America cares. Hell, you probably didn't even know there was an election today until Faceb​ook started fucking with your new​s feed. Less than 40 percent of registered voters are expected to participate in this year's elections, and pollsters say that those numbers are generous. Any way you look at it, the vast majority of Americans will stand by, passing up their chance to vote in key gubernatorial, Senate, and House elections, and on dozens of ballot initiatives and other down-ballot races today.

And that's a shame. Sure, the 2014 campaign may have been about nothing. But voter choices today will directly impact the quality of air we breathe, how much we pay in taxes, and whether the country's broken immigration system gets fixed before we start collecting Social Security. And all this, of course, will determine whether or not President Barack Obama spends the rest of his presidency playing defense, his legacy petering out in an anticlimactic sigh that reminds us there really is no such thing as hope or change.

With the House expected to stay firmly in Republican control, and the GOP in a good position to capture a Senate majority, the first order of business for a unified Republican Congress will likely be to pass a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, kicking off what could amount to a two-year cycle of GOP leaders passing bills just for Obama to veto. Big tax cuts will also likely be sent to the president for all-but-certain rejection. It's the sort of whack-a-mole position that tied President George W. Bush in knots during his final two years in office, after Democrats swept control of Congress in 2006.

Here's a look at some of the other key issues at stake when voters head to the polls on Tuesday: 

Poisoned Climate
Republican Senator James Inhofe's views on climate change are captured neatly in the title of his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. If the GOP wins a Senate majority on Tuesday, the Oklahoma Republican has a good chance of chairing the Committee on Energy and Public Works. The panel has broad sway over climate legislation. Or in Inhofe's case, the ability to block it from even being considered.

Inhofe authored a report titled  ​"The Facts and Science of Climate Change," arguing that "alarmists will scare the country into enacting their ultimate goal: making energy suppression, in the form of harmful mandatory restrictions on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, the official policy of the United States." He also questioned whether global warming "is even a problem for human existence."

It doesn't matter than 97 percent of scientists polled say human-caused climate change is a real and present danger, ​ ​according to a National Academy of Sciences survey. In a unified Republican Congress, it's all but guaranteed the Obama administration will be forced to constantly fend off proposals to weaken environmental regulations.

Just look at what's happened in the GOP-controlled House of late. Republican lawmakers have voted to dial back, or altogether block, a wide range of EPA regulations. That includes controversial regulations at the center of Obama's climate change agenda, like the EPA's plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Another GOP-passed measure would block the EPA's proposal to tighten restrictions on what fill materials companies may dump into waterways. On top of that, Republicans have also tried to block the Interior Department's efforts to list certain animals on the Endangered Species List. If the party wins a Senate majority, and the accompanying control over key committees, expect the GOP to double down on these efforts.

A Last Stand in Kansas
Washington isn't the only place where the midterms will affect Americans' everyday lives. State capitals are arguably even more important to policy change. That's why it's notable that the Republican governor of Kansas, one of the country's most blood-red states, is in serious electoral trouble this year. 

Governor Sam Brownback, a red-meat Republican who previously served in the Senate, is seeking a second term, after spending the last four years building a Tea Party utopia of slashed social services, reduced education spending, and joyous tax breaks to business. According to the ​Associated Press, "at Brownback's urging, legislators cut the state's top personal income tax rate by 26 percent, exempted the owners of 191,000 businesses altogether--and promised future reductions."

Brownback argued that his plan would bring a flood of jobs to Kansas, pumping up income tax collections. But the "Kansas experiment" hasn't gone the way that Republicans had fantasized it would. In fact, living in Kansas kind of sucks right now, especially if you like things like jobs and schools and healthcare. State revenue has been down more than 35 percent, according to official estimates, and it's been unclear at times whether the state had enough to open schools on time or keep state prison inmates behind bars.

"The tax cuts are bleeding the state of needed funds to pay for high-quality public services to the people of Kansas," the  ​Kansas City Star​ editorial page recently intoned. "If the revenue problems continue, the next governor is going to have to cut services to the people--and certainly halt proposed bigger tax reductions in their tracks."

All this has given an opening to Brownback's Democratic challenger, state Senate minority leader Paul Davis, who has gained support from moderate Republicans and independents turned off by Brownback's draconian reforms. The Republican governor might still survive on Tuesday (the  ​latest polls shows him catching up to Davis) but any illusions conservatives had about his prairie utopia probably will not.

Immigration and National Security
Since President Barack Obama cruised to reelection in 2012, Democrats and political analysts have been making dire predictions about the GOP's future ability to compete, given the nation's rapidly shifting demographics. Obama won twice with an expanding coalition of young voters, blacks, and Latinos. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney crushed Obama among white voters, 59 percent to 39 percent, but ultimately it didn't matter.

Midterm elections are different. The voter pool on Tuesday is likely to be at least 30 percent smaller than it was for the 2012 presidential race, and those who do show up to the polls are expected to be much older and much whiter than they were two years ago. As a result, Republicans, particularly in states with small percentages of minority voters, have spent the past year slamming Democrats for supporting amnesty, and generally killing any chances that the President has of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

For one thing, House Republicans come from districts that are considerably less diverse than the nation as a whole. Many represent rural areas, where white voters are the overwhelming majority. There's simply no political imperative for the House GOP to move on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws. At the same time, Senate Republicans have seized on immigration this year in an attempt to scare voters to the poll, capitalizing on voter an​xiety about the general direction and leadership of the country.

The outcome of the elections, and particularly of the battle over the Senate majority, is also likely to have a big impact on the direction of foreign policy. Lawmakers left Washington this fall without debating whether Obama should have authority to intervene against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Obama has said previous authorizations of force could be used to justify intervention, but some Republican lawmakers will likely relish the chance to reclaim the foreign policy mantle that the party lost during the final years of the Bush administration. Republican Senator John McCain will likely take the lead on this, as well as continue to hammer the Obama administration for allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to run roughshod over Eastern Europe.

***

Midterm elections are usually decided by getting the party faithful out to vote on Election Day, rather than persuading undecideds. There's every reason to believe voter turnout Tuesday will be dreadfully low. This year's campaigns haven't done much to capture the American public's attention. Television networks have largely avoided midterm coverage altogether, according to a recent​ study that found only handful of evening news stories in the closing weeks of the campaign. ABC's primetime newscast went 137 days without mentioning the elections at all.

But on climate, taxes, immigration, and foreign policy--as well as a host of other issues--midterm election voting matters more than you would probably like. Whether you cast a ballot of not on Tuesday, you'll be living with the consequences Wednesday and way beyond.

David Mark isa former senior editor of Politico, andan author, with Chuck McCutcheon, of the recently released bookDog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech. Follow him on Twitt​er.

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