Senate flip

How much will Republicans actually do in the next two years?

Regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you may be expecting some economic (or even just plain political) impact from the recent election’s Senate flip, but most experts caution against getting too excited about the seven-state gain in Republican seats. That’s in part because the next election, which includes the Presidential race, is just around the corner in 2016, so politicians in Congress have about a year before their attention turns to maintaining or winning voter confidence rather than promoting economic reform agendas.

However, some economists believe the Republican sweep of both the Senate and House will reduce gridlock, increase pro-business legislation, and perhaps even lead to tax and immigration reform. One thing’s for certain — Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage are now dead in the water.

If laws become more favorable to business by reducing the expenses associated with excessive regulation and complex tax laws, companies may be more inclined to hire in the coming months and years, particularly if they see some relief from the financial pressures created by the Affordable Care Act.


While it’s unlikely Republicans will kill the act (though many might like to), they could change how it works, including defining “full-time” employees as those working 40 hours or more per week instead of the currently defined 30.

 And thanks in large part to the blundering of the original rollout of the ACA, Obama’s approval rating now stands at 40%, meaning he could be inclined to pass Republican-sponsored legislation in an effort to win more support for his party for the 2016 elections. Right now, plenty of Americans perceive Democrats as responsible for the still-lagging economy.

Much of this corporate tax, immigration and entitlement reform may have to wait until 2016, however, and that assumes that Republicans can win the presidency and maintain their hold on Congress.

David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, is doubtful of any major immediate impacts, saying that the U.S. economy cannot grow much without an increase in both labor and capital supply. Barring those things, he sees higher inflation and rising interest rates.

And with one of the biggest issues in housing finance reform being the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it’s highly unlikely any member of Congress is going to touch that hot potato too much.

That’s because the two government-sponsored enterprises back about half of all new mortgages in the U.S., so their impact is far-reaching — hitting homeowners and renters. Plus, both Fannie and Freddie have been making substantial profits of late, making it hard to justify killing or winding down either firm.

Fannie pulled in $3.9 billion in earnings in the third quarter of 2014, and Freddie posted net income of $2.1 billion for the third quarter. Both GSEs have more than repaid their debts to American taxpayers for their 2008 bailout.

Some analysts and housing industry trade groups think the new Republican guard in Congress will be more focused on getting their party in the White House in January of 2017 than in pushing housing finance reform. 

Mortgage Bankers Association President David Stevens said, “Time is the biggest challenge,” given that Congressional Republicans feel they’ll have greater success pushing for a housing market geared toward private capital funding with a Republican in the White House.economy quote

That being said, there could be some minor movement in addressing the economy in the coming year.

Among the more passionate lawmakers is Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who has labored hard to pass a housing reform bill to dramatically reduce the federal government’s role in housing finance. Analysts expect he may join forces with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Even so, Republicans don’t have a veto-proof hold on the Senate, which will make the passage of highly partisan housing finance reform legislation unlikely.

Analysts agree, however, that Republicans will be taking a hard look at the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and may try to overturn what they see as its negative impacts on banks, particularly smaller community ones, and small businesses.

Congress is most likely to reduce the regulatory burden on banks with assets under $10 billion. Big banks will see little change, however, given that voters, as well as Democratic and Republican lawmakers, support having “too big to fail” banks hold more capital to help protect against another recession.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has long been a target of conservative ire, and it’s likely Republican lawmakers will call for greater oversight of the agency, including creation of an Inspector General’s Office for it.

And while it will be hard for Republicans to modify laws coming out of Dodd-Frank with a Democrat still in the White House, they may attempt to control how the act functions through the appropriations process, which only requires 51 votes. They could decrease funding to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, for example.

Thomas Gorman, a partner at international law firm Dorsey Whitney and an expert on SEC enforcement and insider trading, says he fully expects the Republican win “to have an adverse impact on the SEC and particularly enforcement.”

He says the new Congress will likely reject requests for budget increases from regulatory agencies, which could ultimately result in “lapses in enforcement” for new bank regulations.


Voters can also expect to continue to see stock market gains. The day after the election, the S&P 500 rose 11.47 points, in response to both the Republican victory and an increase in oil prices. Plus, the election removed a lot of uncertainty among investors as to the direction the country will take in the coming months.

History says the gains will persist, too. Analysts at S&P Capital IQ looked at data going all the way back to 1946 and found the stock market has seen its best returns in years where a Democrat occupied the White House, and the Capital was controlled by Republicans.

In the eight years this combination has existed, the S&P 500 saw an average gain of 15.1%.

In keeping with its pro-business agenda, the Republican-controlled Congress will likely push for lighter regulations on the coal industry, which has been burdened by tight pollution regulations under the Obama administration. The President will probably veto any legislation designed to loosen those regulations, but that situation could change if a Republican wins the White House.

Analysts expect coal stocks to rise with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., becoming Senate Majority Leader and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairing the Environment and Public Works committee.

The election was barely over before the House passed, 252-161, after eight previous failed attempts, a bill approving construction of TransCanada’s controversial $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline project.

The pipeline would transport crude oil from Canada to refineries along the United States’ Gulf Coast. Movement on the project has been stagnant for more than six years because the Obama administration has been concerned about its potential environmental impacts.

Congress could pressure President Obama to pass the bill — which was still being considered by the Senate at press time — citing the desire of the American people for more energy independence and more jobs.

Of course, whether or not the pipeline will actually create the nearly 140,000 jobs predicted by TransCanada remains to be seen, as does its impact on energy access and prices. There are Democrats who favor the bill, particularly those from energy-producing states like Louisiana, but it’s highly unlikely that the Keystone XL bill could get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

The real gain from the election, in the near-term, may be economic stability. Banks and businesses could gain a clearer sense of where the country is heading and have greater confidence to hire and make capital improvements.

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