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Political gridlock strictly problem within Congress

Anyone who claims to understand the results of the 2014 midterm elections is fooling himself — the analysis and fallout from this Democratic shellacking will take months to unravel. After all, it’s an election where Republicans made big gains but progressive issues won handily. What that means is hard to decipher.

We like this tongue-in-cheek, election night tweet from FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman: “So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. OK then.” ( is a website about politics.)

That’s right. In an election year when voters returned control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans, where Republican governors won and in New Mexico, where the state House of Representatives has a GOP majority for the first time in decades, voters also approved binding increases in the minimum wage in South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and Nebraska and legalized pot in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Anti-abortion personhood amendments lost in Colorado and North Dakota. Massachusetts will now require paid sick leave.

Yet voters, angry about gridlock and do-nothing politicians, have managed to send to Washington a more conservative Congress that likes President Barack Obama even less. Now the Congress must move from politics to governing, while at the same time, keep the base happy. And governing — passing legislation and finding solutions — is what the country needs.

Instead, the National Review, a conservative magazine, calls for the GOP to spend the next two years developing a plan for what it would tackle with the presidency and Congress: “... not much progress is possible until we have a better president. Getting one ought to be conservatism’s main political goal over the next two years.”

Political writer Jonathan Chait points out that the much-loathed gridlock isn’t a problem between the White House and Congress, it’s a problem within Congress. “The legislative dynamics in Washington are very simple. Gridlock exists because Obama and House Republicans cannot agree on legislation. If Obama and the House could agree on legislation, their deal would be approved by a Democratic-controlled Senate or by a Republican-controlled Senate.”

So the focus will be on the House of Representatives (and its Senate ally, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas). It’s in the House that the GOP will have to decide if the extreme wing of the party runs the show, or whether it’s possible to find common ground with moderate and liberal Democrats. GOP senators are promising an ambitious legislative agenda, including an overhaul of the tax code, support for trade expansion and revisions (or repeal, again) of the Affordable Care Act.

Compromise — from all sides — is necessary. That’s especially true if politicians consider the reality that voter turnout was dismally low and older this year.

This election night tweet from The Atlantic’s David Frum is a reminder to savor victory, but remain humble: “Is tonight’s takeaway that Republicans do great when voter turnout drops below 38 percent?”

Come 2016, with higher turnout and an open presidential seat, the Senate gains of 2014 could be wiped away. Unless, of course, the GOP takes the reins and shows America how to govern.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican