Fewer judges will get confirmed. Those who make it through the Senate will be more moderate. And the Obama administration will face an onslaught of investigative oversight hearings on everything from Benghazi and Obamacare to the Secret Service.
That's about what you can expect if the Republicans hold the House and win a Senate majority in next month's election. As for the rest of the agenda touted by Republican congressional leaders—tax reform, entitlement reform, tort reform, deregulation, school choice—don't hold your breath.
Political donors are pouring millions into Senate races based in part on the assumption that firing Democrat Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader would be a big deal. And it would be a big deal. But if the Republicans do in fact find themselves with majorities in both the House and Senate, the post-election euphoria will wear off pretty quickly once the Republicans and their agenda start to confront the political reality that President Obama will have the veto power and that in the Senate, any majority short of 60 votes can still be blocked by a determined minority.
Even claims that at least a Republican Congress, unlike a Democratic one, at least won't do any more damage are undermined by the fact that President Obama has expressed and demonstrated a willingness to act on his own, without congressional action.
While Republicans haven't issued a Newt Gingrich-style "Contract With America" this year, the GOP has been more or less transparent about their plans. In a September 19 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, outlined a five-point policy agenda that included corporate and individual tax simplification, reform of the entitlement programs that dominate government spending, civil litigation reform, regulatory reform, and education reform. I wish him the best of luck in getting any of that past President Obama, but I sure wouldn't bet on his chances of success.
On October 2, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, gave his own speech detailing 11 "Principles for American Renewal." One of the principles is a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Again, good luck getting that one past President Obama.
The Senate-majority-leader in waiting, Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, told Republican donors that Congressional Republicans would push back on the federal bureaucracy in spending bills with riders restricting certain expenditures: "No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency." If precedent is any guide, President Obama will go ahead and do whatever he wants, notwithstanding these laws. By the time the courts sort it all out, it will be Hillary Clinton's problem, and by then, the voters (in a higher turnout 2016 election with a more Democrat-friendly Senate map) may have reinstalled Majority Leader Reid, or Durbin, or Schumer.
So, if we can't expect major legislative progress, such as tax reform or an Obamacare repeal, to be enacted into law so long as President Obama is in the White House, what can be expected from a Republican Congress?
There will be plenty of hearings and congressional investigations aimed at discrediting the 2016 Democratic presidential contenders. Anyone who worked for Hillary Clinton's State Department may want to consult with the IRS information technology department for tips on how to permanently "lose" emails.
Judges and executive branch officials nominated by the Obama administration will have a tougher time getting confirmed than they do now, no matter what Senate Republicans decide about whether to reverse the "nuclear option" rules adopted by the Harry Reid Democrats over Republican protest.
And there will be plenty of theatrics involving the House and Senate passing bills that they know President Obama will veto. These are "bludgeon bills," not intended to become law, just to make political points.
As for genuine compromise of the sort that brought a Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, and Trent Lott to work with Bill Clinton to pass welfare reform and a capital gains tax cut—well, stranger things have happened. But it's the longest of long shots. Obama has spoken in favor of regulatory reform, charter schools, corporate tax reform, and immigration reform, which are all things that Republicans have spoken in favor of, too.
But the last time Republicans took over Congress—the Tea Party Republican victory that made John Boehner speaker back in 2010—all talk of a "grand bargain" deteriorated quickly into shutdown threats and tax increases.
To achieve policy successes as grand as the ones Boehner and Priebus are talking about, one needs the popular mandate that comes with a victory not just in a midterm election but in a presidential year.