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2010-11-04 | Republicans Win Majority in U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans Win Majority in U.S. House of Representatives

04 November 2010
President Obama sits with leaders of the 111th Congress on July 27. All will serve in 2011, but roles will shift with Republican control of the House of Representatives.  (Photo: AP Images)

President Obama sits with leaders of the 111th Congress on July 27. All will serve in 2011, but roles will shift with Republican control of the House of Representatives. (Photo: AP Images)

By Ralph Dannheisser
Special Correspondent

Washington - Republicans gained at least 60 seats in the House of Representatives in elections held November 2, more than enough to wrest control of the chamber from the Democrats when the 112th Congress convenes in January 2011.

With about a dozen results still outstanding at midday November 3, Republicans had secured 239 seats in the new Congress, compared with 185 for the Democrats.

The result means divided government for at least the next two years, as Democrat President Obama will have to share power with Republicans in the House of Representatives. Democrats retained control of the Senate, but with a reduced majority.

The Republican victory gives its House members the power to elect the chamber's leader, the speaker, who will set the agenda for what measures are considered on the floor and has a major say in selecting the chairmen of House committees.

President Obama stressed the need for compromise in a November 3 news conference, saying the results showed "no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here, that we must find common ground in order to ... make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges."

Obama said he had telephoned Representative John Boehner of Ohio and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leaders of the two chambers, and told them he is "very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together."

In 2010, Republicans generally campaigned on the issues of cutting government spending, reducing taxes, and curbing what they portrayed as misguided Obama administration efforts such as the landmark health care reform law, economic stimulus programs, a law tightening regulation of financial markets, and climate and energy legislation.

Many political observers attribute the Republicans' electoral success to public discontent with incumbents, fueled by a high unemployment rate and the fragile economy.

Among the newly elected Republican members are many of the more than 70 who ran with the support of elements of the tea party, a loosely organized movement of activists determined to reverse what they see as a dangerous growth in government.

They can be expected to pursue that goal in the new Congress.

An early objective of these activists likely will be extension of tax cuts initially passed a decade ago in the George W. Bush administration that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. President Obama and many Democrats favor extending the cuts for most taxpayers, while permitting the rates for the wealthiest 2 percent to return to higher levels.

Representative Michele Bachmann, a mainstay of the tea party movement who was re-elected to a third term in her Minnesota district, has called the repeal of the health care law another top priority. Such an effort would almost surely be futile: Even if both the House and the still-Democratic Senate went along, Obama would be virtually certain to exercise a veto that requires two-thirds votes in both chambers to overcome.

Complicating the legislative picture in the short term is the fact that, although the Republicans will assume power in January 2011, the Democrats will retain control during a so-called lame duck session of Congress scheduled to begin November 15. Such post-election sessions gain their name from the fact that members who did not run for re-election or were defeated - the "lame ducks" - retain their seats and voting rights during that time.


Boehner, the Republican minority leader for the past four years, is a likely choice for the speakership. A House member since 1991, he played a major role in the most recent Republican takeover of the chamber in 1994, when he joined then-Representative Newt Gingrich and others in devising the "Contract with America" that helped the party gain the congressional majority for the first time in 40 years. Eric Cantor of Virginia, second-ranking Republican leader in the 111th Congress, is likely in line to succeed Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland as House majority leader.

As for the committee chairmanships, the likelihood is that many will be filled in the new Congress by those Republicans who have been serving as ranking minority members of the respective committees.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House for the past four years, easily won re-election in her California district and will retain her own congressional seat, though not the speakership. It is unclear whether she will wish to be elected minority leader by her House Democratic colleagues - or whether she would be chosen even if she seeks the post.

Several senior Democrats were swept out of office in the Republican tide, including three committee chairmen:

• James Oberstar of Minnesota, a 36-year House veteran who serves as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and prides himself on being the institutional memory of the body, lost his bid for a 19th two-year term.

• Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton was defeated for the Missouri seat he has held for 34 years. John Spratt Jr., who helped push through the Obama budgets and the stimulus plan as chairman of the Budget Committee and serves as second-ranking Democrat on Armed Services, lost his South Carolina race after 28 years in office.

• Rick Boucher, another 28-year veteran, lost his re-election bid in Virginia and still another, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, appeared to have lost to a tea party newcomer by less than 800 votes, though he had not yet conceded defeat at midday November 3.