GOP Senate Win Opens Door to Deals

By Siobhan Hughes

Republicans’ Control of Both Chambers Could End Years of Partisan Gridlock

KNTRepublicans prepared to take control of the Senate in January for the first time in eight years—a power shift that almost certainly will put the chamber’s gavel in the hands of Sen. Mitch McConnell and opens up new possibilities for deal-making after years of partisan gridlock.

While government will be divided—with Republicans in charge of both chambers and Democrats controlling the White House—President Barack Obama may find a new path for compromise in his final two years in office.

Leaders of both parties will go to the White House on Friday to meet with Mr. Obama.

In his first term, a Democratic-controlled Congress enacted Mr. Obama’s signature health law and attempted an ambitious climate bill. Now, at the end of his second term, Mr. Obama will be under pressure to negotiate with Republicans, a dynamic that could lead to deals involving taxes, trade and energy.

Aside from its partisan control, the Senate itself will be a changed place as a batch of new faces—several of them from the House—mix with an older guard of lawmakers intent on bringing back the art of the legislative deal.

With a third of the Senate up for re-election every cycle, lawmakers already were thinking about what could be accomplished in the short, two-year window before the next presidential election.

With their newly fortified hand, Republicans prepared to look to Mr. McConnell for the kind of deals on which he has built a career in the Senate.

Two of the party’s big victories of the night were takeaways of Democratic Senate seats by Republican House members. In Colorado, Rep. Cory Gardner upset Democratic incumbent Mark Udall. Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton defeated incumbent Mark Pryor by a wide margin.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Kay Hagan, and Republicans won an open seat in Iowa, where Joni Ernst defeated Rep. Bruce Braley. Republicans held on to a seat in Kansas and took open seats in Georgia and South Dakota.

Mr. McConnell himself survived the toughest race of his political career to beat Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in a costly, combative race that was typical of the 2014 midterms.

Democrats did beat back some GOP challenges, including one in New Hampshire, where Sen. Jeanne Shaheen defended her seat from GOP challenger Scott Brown , who had previously served as a senator from Massachusetts.

In Michigan Democratic Rep. Gary Peters defeated Terri Lynn Land to fill the seat left open by the retirement of Carl Levin.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner was in a surprisingly close race against challenger Ed Gillespie, a Republican political strategist. Democrats also retained seats across the Northeast—in Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey—as well as in Illinois.

But it wasn’t enough for the party to hang on to the majority it’s held for the past eight years.

In anticipation of the potential shift, a group of Republicans and Democrats have begun discussions on possible areas of compromise, which in a Republican-controlled Senate could include deals on taxes, trade, energy and infrastructure.

“It’s time for us to stop politics and start legislating—that is what we were hired to do,” said Sen. Rob Portman , a Republican from the battleground state of Ohio.

Mr. Portman experienced his share of disappointment as a member of the supercommittee that tried and failed to negotiate an alternative to the budget cuts that were part of a 2011 deal to increase the federal government’s debt limit.

The prospect of such deals could be complicated, though, by the chamber’s new composition and the 2016 presidential campaign. Several senators will be seeking to burnish their credentials for possible White House bids. Some older, experienced hands, including four committee chairmen, are retiring.

On the right, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) is eager to reprise a fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act—a battle that many of his Republican colleagues say has been litigated and lost, and that they need to move beyond.

Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), who like Mr. Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential bid, is pushing anew for a deal linking a tax overhaul to infrastructure funding—even as he tests out themes like changing sentencing guidelines that he hopes will appeal to constituencies such as African-Americans who traditionally back Democratic candidates.

On the left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has focused on income inequality, pushing for lower student-loan rates and a higher minimum wage, and inveighing against the power of big banks and corporations—likely to figure prominently as campaign topics ahead of the 2016 election.

The cacophony of voices will pose new tests for Senate leaders, whose power comes from their ability to control what bills are on the Senate floor. Mr. McConnell would have to show he can govern while facing a conservative flank that wants to aggressively advance their legislative goals.

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