In case you weren’t aware, change is the call of the times. Taking 52.3 percent of the popular vote, President-elect Barack Obama is the first Democrat since Carter to win the popular election by more than 50 percent. Debate its raison d'être until the cows come home, what’s not up for debate is the strong connect the parlance has found with the American people. However, it’s really the bold overhauls made in the House and Senate that will allow the new administration to usher in some serious changes next year.
Two years after regaining a 12-year minority slot in the House, Democrats have now boldly increased their majorities in both Congressional chambers. A six-seat gain in the Senate now offers a 57-member majority (including two independents who will caucus for the Democrats) giving the party near filibuster-proof status. Similarly, a 22-seat gain in the House, for a total 256-member majority (or nearly 59% of the voting share), features the largest House majority in 15 years. Change indeed.
Of the six new Democrat Senators-elect, three have political tendencies I’d consider notably “progressive,” at least given their previous voting histories. We have Jeff Merkley (D-OR), whose progressive record is buttressed by years of work as a community volunteer organizer for affordable housing initiatives. There’s Mark Udall (D-CO), a self-proclaimed environmental activist who has previously supported partial-birth abortion and a series of alternative energy programs, and has opposed construction projects in Iraq. There’s also Mark’s cousin Tom Udall (D-NM), who voted for troop reductions in Iraq and was against the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Senators-elect Mark Warner (D-VA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) also boast long progressive voting histories for bills relating to healthcare, trade, energy and taxes.
Of the 29 total Democratic-elects who took seats in the House and Senate that were previously held by Republicans, progressive strategy center The Campaign for America’s Future cited “bold progressive economic positions” held by 26 of them. This includes 21 House candidates and 5 Senate candidates who passed a progressive litmus test created by the organization, ranking candidates’ voting histories in regards to six major economic issues: healthcare, workers rights, tax policy, social security and clean energy. These findings were released by the CAF as part of a post-election report the organization says represents “a swing to the left of 34 votes in the House and 10 in the Senate, reflecting a clear mandate for progressive change.”
According to an immediate post-election poll of 2,000 voters conducted by the CAF, Democrat takeover in Washington is a direct result of a massive swing in public opinion that includes a recent acceptance of progressive leadership and desires for change after years of conservative rule.
“The consolidation of a new majority coalition, and the mandate provided for progressive reform makes this a sea change election,” said CAF co-director Robert Borosage at a National Press Club event on Friday. “Republicans emerge from this election as an aging, isolated, regional party, increasingly in the grip of its dwindling base. Democrats are consolidating a governing majority in what is, increasingly, a center-left nation.”
Political recruitment and training group Progressive Majority cited 80 candidates endorsed by the organization who won ballots on Nov. 4 in Congress, state legislatures and local offices.
So, what’s the first order of business for the freshman class of 2009? For one, we might expect to see the outlines of a notably more progressive economic policy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already said the economy will be a first priority for the 111th, temporarily taking precedence over big issues like health care and dependence on foreign oil. Obama reiterated this sentiment Friday in what was his first post-election address to the public.
Anything to contrast the rollover mentality of the 110th would be a welcome change.