Did you notice March 4 come and go again? Any applause, or “Pomp and Circumstance”? Ok, so the date is not important anymore. But a few of you may remember that every fourth March 4 used to be Inauguration Day for the U.S. President. That changed in 1933 with the 20thAmendment to the Constitution, which moved the big event to January 20. The amendment also ordered Congress to convene on January 3 every other year.
The present 113th Congress looks a lot like the 112th. Yet both of them are different from any other Congress in living memory. A Republican House, Democratic Senate, and a Democratic president have not been in power since before the Civil War. But the last 80 years have seen anything but a balanced numerical political history.
Beginning in 1933, the Democratic Party held both houses of Congress for 56 of the next 80 years, until 2013. This included one 26‑year period. For 34 years Democrats had total power, controlling both the Congress and the White House.
By contrast, Republicans held full power in Washington for only six years, while holding both houses of Congress for 14, including one period of six straight years. The two parties have had divided control over Congress for only 10 years since 1933.
During these eight decades, Democrats have maintained a big majority in the Senate – 55% of the seats or more – for 48 years, including one 22‑year stretch. They also had filibuster‑proof power – 60 votes or more – for 22 years. And for 10 years, Democrats retained a super majority two-thirds control that could override presidential vetoes.
Meanwhile, Republicans have held 55 Senate seats for eight years, including six of the last 16, but they have never exceeded 55 seats. Republicans have enjoyed a majority for 10 years since 1995 – but overall they have only held the Senate for 22 years, never exceeding six in a row.
The tale is even brighter for Democrats in the House of Representatives. It has been under “blue” control for 64 of the last 80 years. For 52 years, Democrats held at least 240 seats, 55%, including a 36‑year stretch that lasted from Presidents Kennedy to Clinton. They also held a super majority of 290 seats or more for 12 years.
In contrast, the House has only been “red” for 16 years, 12 of which were from 1995 to 2007. The GOP controlled 240+ seats for four years since 1933 – 13 times less than Democrats. Republicans have never held 250 seats in the House, let alone 290!
So how significant is this new Congress? Both sides could gain or lose a lot in 2014. Republicans cannot expect to halt all Democratic measures. Equally, Democrats cannot ignore the concerns and strength of the minority party.
In the end, congressional numbers show that the secret to the future of the United States cannot be found in politics. Rather, it is captured in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Whether the next 80 years swing to the right or not, bipartisan commitment to virtue and freedom is the key to a successful 113th Congress – and beyond.