WASHINGTON – With just days to go before the midterm elections and an increasing likelihood that Republicans will win back control of the Senate, Maryland’s congressional delegation is in danger of losing some of its power to influence national policy on issues such as the environment, health care and the economy.
Both of the state’s Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, would be in the minority if Republicans take over.
Seven of Maryland’s eight House members are Democrats in a chamber already controlled by Republicans, meaning that the overwhelmingly Democratic state will have only one member of congress, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, in the majority party.
“Elections are consequential,” Cardin said about the possibility of a Republican-led Senate. “If the Republicans win, they’re likely to roll everything back we’ve been fighting for, like the minimum wage, policies for social equality. They’ll do what they need to do to pass their agenda.”
According to the most recent model by FiveThirtyEight.com, which combines hundreds of opinion polls with voter demographic information, Republicans have a 64 percent chance of taking back the Senate Tuesday.
Some members of the party have already been vocal about what their goals will be if they win the majority, and many of those goals are anathema to Democrats like Cardin and Mikulski.
In audio from a private meeting in June reported by The Nation, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the presumed Majority Leader of a Republican-led Senate, said that if victorious, he would use amendments to spending bills to try to pressure the president to agree to dramatic policy changes.
“We will be pushing back against this bureaucracy … We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board,” McConnell said.
Earlier this month, Sen.Ted Cruz of Texas outlined a 10-point plan in an op-ed for USA Today that called for a repeal of the president’s healthcare plan, passing a balanced budget amendment and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service.
Mikulski currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, the committee that controls discretionary spending bills. But she’ll lose her ability to control the spending agenda if she falls into the minority.
The big question for Democrats, said Benton Strong, associate director of communications at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, is how Republicans will handle the budget once they are in the majority. Their recent history has led them them toward shutting down the government and constant budget battles with the president, he said.
“They’ve showed no sign that they’re going to change that,” he said.
Cardin sits on the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which will likely be chaired by its current ranking member, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.
Vitter, in a recent committee report, referred to environmental groups as “an elite group of left wing millionaires and billionaires who directs and controls the far-left environmental movement, which in turn controls major policy decisions and lobbies on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a series of new rules that seek to lower carbon emissions nationwide by 30 percent before 2030. Maryland would be required to reduce its carbon emissions by 36.5 percent from its 2012 levels once the rules go into effect.
But Republican opposition toward environmental regulations leaves the possibility of a confrontation with the president that could see the new rules either weakened or eliminated.
Other items, such as the state’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Maryland $1.02 billion by 2018, with the majority paid by federal funding, could be at risk. With repeal unlikely, Republicans who have been eager to see the law weakened could use their newfound control over the budget to cut part of its funding.
“It would leave this gaping hole to fill,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, of possible cuts to the program’s federal funding.
“It would say you either get rid of the whole thing or you pay for it all yourself,” DeMarco said.
But it’s not likely that Republicans will be able to check off many of the items on their wishlist, said Thomas F. Schaller, professor of American politics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Obstacles, such as the the 60-vote limit to pass Senate legislation, which Republicans will fall well short of, will prevent their most ambitious attempts to roll back legislation from passing through the chamber, he said. The rule may also be the only real way Cardin and Mikulski have left to affect policy, he said.
A more likely scenario is a Congress and president that spend the next two years at odds, with only minor concessions on issues that have some degree of bipartisan support, such as trade and tax reform, he said.
“I think you’re likely to see a lot more vetoes if the Republicans get ambitious,” he said. “It would take some incredible skill for them to accomplish what they’d like to accomplish. It’s more likely that they’ll (Congress and the president) just halt each other at every moment.”