Local Democrats ponder future of GOP-led House

The U.S. Capitol is seen November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol is seen November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Nancy Pelosi is out as U.S. House speaker; John Boehner is in. When the new Congress begins in January, Democrats will be the minority party again. Some veteran Democrats who’ve been through this before.

A philosophical Congresswoman Jane Harman watched election returns on a big night for Republicans. The GOP retook the House, after just four years of Democratic leadership.

She says losing the majority in the House "is a bitter pill" and returning to the minority – "a place I have seen for some long years in the past - is not a thrillingly exciting idea. But that is democracy and the people are speaking."

The eight-term representative from El Segundo says it’s time for her colleagues to stop pointing fingers and learn to work across the aisle. She says, "we are not going to create jobs, reduce the deficit, fix the problems with the health care law, and fix the problems with our Afghanistan policy if we just point our muskets at each other."

Republicans were the majority when voters elected Brad Sherman to Congress 13 years ago, and Newt Gingrich was Speaker. The Democrat from Sherman Oaks predicts that next year could be even more polarizing than the Gingrich era. "This spring," he says, "we have to raise the debt limit. If we don’t, you may see a default on US government bonds or a shutdown of the US government functions or both."

Sherman says GOP fiscal conservatives, particularly those allied with the Tea Party, will watch closely to determine whether newly-elected members of Congress will follow through with promises to cut government spending. One possibility, he says, is that Congress will fail to raise the debt ceiling and repeat the 1995 federal government shutdown.

"Another possibility is that the Republicans load it up with poison pills. What does President Obama do if sitting on his desk is a bill to increase the debt limit and allow the government to continue to function, but buried inside of it is also a repeal of health care?"

Senator Barbara Boxer is more optimistic. She can afford to be. Democrats held onto their Senate majority – barely. Boxer says all sides can agree on some issues – transportation, protecting Social Security, even deficit reduction. "Whoever reaches out their hand to us," she says, "and there will be many, regardless of whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, or Independents - we’re going to work together. Because the American people are watching."

Congresswoman Jane Harman – one of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats – agrees. She jokes that she’s signing up for the fictional “Solving Problems” caucus in the House.