Tuesday's blowout election was a clear rebuke of President Obama, who has now witnessed the loss of more of his party's House seats than any president since Harry Truman. Republicans dominated in close House, Senate, and gubernatorial races across the country, making inroads in many Democratic strongholds like Illinois.
By scooping up nearly every opportunity, Republicans not only gained control of the Senate chamber for the first time since 2006, but they also padded Speaker Boehner's majority in the House, giving him far more freedom to navigate his conference.
Durbin Survives, Davis Coasts, and Two Incumbents Fall
Senator Dick Durbin was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote, his lowest share ever. He called the political headwinds the most difficult he'd faced in his long career. While he successfully defended his seat and will likely keep his leadership position, he will return with diminished clout as a member of the minority. He'll still be the Democrats' ranking member on the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, but he'll no longer be writing the bill as he did when he was the panel's chairman.
In the House, two Republican challengers ousted Democratic incumbents. State Rep. Mike Bost defeated Rep. Bill Enyart in their Metro East/southern Illinois district and former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold defeated the Democratic incumbent Brad Schneider in their suburban, North Shore district. Dold ran as a self-styled moderate who supported priorities of both parties. Bost ran on a more conservative platform of reduced spending and lower taxes.
Two other House races—at one time thought to be very competitive—looked more like cake walks: Reps. Rodney Davis (R) in central Illinois and Cheri Bustos (D) in western Illinois easily fended off their challengers. Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D) and Bill Foster (D) also turned away upstarts in their Democratic-leaning districts.
Illinois' House delegation is now more evenly divided with 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans.
Photos: Chicago Sun Times & Murphysboro American
What Will Happen in the Lame Duck?
Congress returns next week and will begin organizing for the 114th Congress, which begins in January. But with federal funding set to run out on Dec. 11, Congress must take action to fund the government. Both Congress and the White House will want to prove they can govern and set the table for a productive session in the new year. Many hope Congress will finish its work and pass an omnibus spending bill that funds education and research priorities at the federal agencies.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will return as the upper chamber's Majority Leader in 2015, has stated he prefers to finish appropriations so that the next Congress can start with a "clean slate." But he'll be opposed by some within his own party.
Expect a Roaring Start
Now in control of both chambers of Congress, expect Republicans to shed their "Do Nothing" label and race out of the gate to send bills to President Obama to prove they can govern. President Obama, who said Wednesday he wants to be remembered for a "strong fourth quarter," similarly has an incentive to compromise and build legacies in his final term.
Expect legislation in energy, tax reform, transportation, and trade. In command of both chambers, Republicans can also use the budget reconciliation process to pass some legislation without the normal 60-vote threshold. (Democrats used this process to pass the Affordable Care Act when they held both chambers.) This tool was not available in a divided Congress that couldn't even agree on a budget resolution.
It will be difficult to find common ground on health care and immigration. President Obama has threatened to achieve immigration reform by executive order before the end of the year. He would veto a repeal of his historic health care law but might be open to very modest changes that tinkered around the edges.
What Does This All Mean for Institutions of Higher Education?
A Republican-led Congress will usher in both opportunities and challenges for the higher ed and research community.
Sequestration returns at the end of this fiscal year, and Congress will have to take action to stave off the next round of across-the-board cuts to research funding. Republican majorities increase the likelihood of curbing burdensome and duplicative regulations. Expect continued scrutiny of NSF social science grants by the House Science Committee.
President Obama has already signaled patent reform as an area where he'd like to work with Congress; Senate Democrats will no longer be able to table a bill that harms universities.
Expect continued congressional scrutiny on college cost, treatment of college athletes, and campus sexual assault.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former university president who served as U.S. Education Secretary under George H.W. Bush, will join Rep. John Kline (R-MN) as the leader's of their respective chambers' education committees. Here are some of the issues we are monitoring:
- Student Financial Aid: Republicans in both the House and the Senate have been rallying around proposals to simplify our federal student aid system. Particularly, they have coalesced around the idea of a "one grant, one loan" program, which will likely be considered during the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization process.
- Higher Ed Regulatory Reform: As co-chair of the Task Force on Government Regulation of Higher Education, Alexander has been working to roll back federal regulations that are unncessary or burdensome to colleges and universities.
- Gainful Employment: Republicans oppose the Administration's regulation of the for-profit higher education providers with its "gainful employment" regulations. Expect to see Republicans try to block implementation of the final regs, which were just released.
Ag Deputy Secretary Visits with Urbana's College of ACES
United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Krysta Harden, visited the Urbana-Champaign campus on Monday to speak with students from the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) about the future of women in agriculture.
“You are the ones the next generation will be watching,” she said. “They will listen to you tell the story. When you are in the classroom, you’ll have their attention. You can waste that opportunity or use it.”
As Deputy Secretary, Harden works to foster a diverse agriculture sector and promote a thriving biobased economy.
Joan Ferrini-Mundy Visits Urbana's College of Education
Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) visited Urbana's College of Education and its Bureau of Educational Research. While on campus, she delivered a talk entitled "Promoting Innovation and Building Foundations: Priorities and Perspectives from the NSF."
Hultgren Staffer Tours Urbana Research Gems
Andrew Mooney, the legislative staffer who advises Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) at the House Science Committee, visited Urbana's Research Park, NCSA's Blue Waters supercomputer, and the Institute of Genomic Biology. While on campus, he vistited with esteemed researchers in bioengineering and genomics, who explained campus aspirations at the convergence of engineering and life sciences as well as the social sciences. Hultgren's committee oversees the National Science Foundation and has recently questioned the value of some social science research.
UI BRINGS STRONG PRESENCE TO APLU ANNUAL MEETING
More than 1,200 senior leaders from public universities, government, businesses, and foundations gathered together in Orlando, FL for APLU's annual meeting. The University of Illinois had exceptional participation this year.
Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise was featured in APLU's opening video, where she echoed the conference's theme of "Progress through Partnerships" to address societal challenges.
A number of U of I leaders either led or presented in panel discussions.
- Urbana Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano moderated a panel on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on student health and insurance. Robert Palinkas, Director of Urbana's McKinley Health Center, was one of the speakers for that panel.
- UIC Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Barbara Henley moderated a panel on innovative admissions strategies for access, success, and community impact.
- Joey Mak, UI's Assistant Director of Economic Development, led a roundtable discussion on how the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities program creates value for institutions and their partners.
- Kathy Buettner, Director of Communications for Cure Violence at UIC's School of Public Health, and Eric O. Hersey, Lieutenant for UIC's Police Department, served as panelists for a discussion on community safety partnerships to promote transformative community development.
UI was honored to be a finalist for several economic development awards under the Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) Universities designation and awards program. APLU designated the University of Illinois as an IEP University in July.
OGR's Jon Pyatt was elected to serve on the Council on Governmental Affairs (CGA) executive committee beginning in January.
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas | OGR Federal Relations