Approaching US Midterm Elections: Debate Policy Without Conflict

The U.S. midterm elections are approaching in two and a half months. With President Obama’s popularity in a slump, the ruling Democratic Party is struggling, and the Republican opposition party is showing the momentum to win a majority in both houses. The fact that the Obama administration’s unifying force has weakened all at once and that both parties, scrutinizing the presidential election two years prior, spend all their time feuding with each other is cause for concern.

Now, in addition to immigration reform and racial harmony, domestic and foreign issues such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the Middle East and Asia diplomacy are piling up in the United States. I hope that voters will spend a lot of time discussing policy and show up to the polls on Nov. 4.

Midway between U.S. presidential elections, which are held once every four years, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and about one third of those in the Senate (this year 36 seats, including special elections) will be up for re-election. Republicans are expected to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives. The focus is on the prospect of a Senate with 55 Democratic seats and 45 Republican.

In most states, preliminary elections will come to an end by mid-August for candidates of both parties, and U.S. media are reporting predictions that Republicans will win six more seats than necessary to force a reversal in the Senate. Behind this is the broad support received by the Republican Party after the decline of the tea party, a conservative movement touting extreme opinions.

Although tea party candidates pulled ahead of Republicans in the Senate primaries two years ago, independent voters disliked the tea party’s argument for a ban on abortions, and Democrats were allowed to maintain a majority in the general election.

Also, because disputes between conservatives and party leadership intensified in fall 2013, completion of the provisional budget was delayed and it caused government agencies to temporarily shut down for a span of 16 days. As a result, there was a surge in “Republican hate” among Americans, and the leadership has been struggling to restore party unity.

Because several Republican incumbents, including the southern state of Kentucky’s Senate Minority Leader McConnell, bounced back from the challenge of tea party newcomers in this year’s preliminary elections, the Republican Party is claiming that incendiary candidates are no more. Moreover, it is also to Republicans’ advantage that Mr. Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 40 percent — his lowest since taking office — due to health care reform, setbacks in comprehensive gun control, and worsening conditions in the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.

What is worrisome is the prospect of a divided U.S. government becoming a reality, with a Democratic president and Republican majority Congress in opposition to each other.

In his State of the Union address this January, President Obama expressed his determination to promote important policies without relying on Congress. An increase in minimum wage for federal contractors and a ban on discrimination against gays were mandated by executive order. However, the legislation necessary to expand these measures to all companies was abandoned when met with Republican opposition.

Though compromise was considered possible between both parties, the Republican Party turned its back on immigration reform, which would have paved the way for illegal immigrants to receive citizenship. Conversely, many Republicans support the bill for TPP negotiation settlement, the contents of which were entrusted to the president, whereas Democrats have raised a voice of protest against it. Neither party is ready to discuss policy issues in a level-headed manner. I am concerned that as soon as midterm elections are over, political interests will immediately turn to the presidential election in fall 2016.

After the opening of the new Congress early next year, the cutoff date for the law that increased the federal debt ceiling will arrive. Depending on the interaction of both parties, there could be a risk of another government shutdown.

The candidates’ election results are important, but I hope American voters will have earnest policy debates about the course of their country and the world over the next two years.

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