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No state gains more than Alabama if Republicans take over US Senate

United Stats Capitol
United Stats Capitol

Although Republicans have had a pretty dismal run lately in presidential election years, midterm elections have given the GOP a chance to make up some ground. Most notably, the Tea Party wave of 2010 (GOP picked up a whopping 63 seats in the House) installed a Republican majority in the U.S. House that has a very good chance of getting even larger in 2014. With the House safely in Republican hands for now and the presidency on lock for Democrats until 2016, all eyes are on the United States Senate.

Here’s a quick look at 2014 U.S. Senate races by the numbers:
35: Number of seats up for re-election
21: Number of those seats held by Democrats (60%)
17: Number of combined terms served by three longtime top Democrats who are retiring this year (Iowa’s Tom Harkin, Michigan’s Carl Levin, Montana’s Max Baucus)
6: Number of Senate seats GOP needs to regain control
6+: Average number of senate seats the minority Party normally gains in a midterm election in a president’s second term
7: Number of the contested seats held by a Democrat in a state Romney won last time

Those numbers have given Republicans a great deal of optimism this election cycle. Famed election prognosticator Nate Silver stoked the GOP fire by predicting Republicans would pick up 6 seats, the exact number they need to assume the majority.

Here’s the graphic Silver used to lay out the 36 seats up for grabs, along with the probability of each Party winning each race:

538 Senate
So having established that the political winds are favoring Republicans’ right now, what would it mean for Alabama if the GOP does indeed take the Senate?

In short, Alabama stands to gain as much or more than any other state in the country by a Republican takeover of the Senate.

Here’s why:
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Sen. Shelby will Chair the Banking Committee and be the second-ranking Republican on Appropriations:

We’re several years into the implementation of Dodd-Frank, the sweeping — many conservatives would say onerous — financial regulatory reform package passed by Democrats in response to the so-called “Great Recession.” If Republicans take the Senate and Shelby chairs the Banking Committee, which he almost assuredly would, it would be the first time that a Banking Chairman would likely dig into Dodd-Frank and start calling out some of the more egregious regulations that have been imposed on the U.S. financial sector. That could become the basis for doing something about it.

Shelby would also be at the center of housing finance reform, an issue that has not been getting the headlines but is incredibly important for the U.S. economy. Close to 100 percent of the U.S. mortgage market is currently backed by the federal government. A bipartisan group in the Senate Banking Committee is currently trying to reform the government’s role in the market, but many conservatives don’t believe their efforts are going nearly far enough and leave the government no less involved than they were prior to the 2008 crash. With Shelby guiding the process, he would have the opportunity to build consensus around a more conservative proposal, and close the gap between the Senate and the House, where Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-TX, is pushing major reforms.

Assuming Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, survives his primary challenge and rises to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Shelby would be the second-ranking member of the panel. Shelby is already a legendary deal-maker when it comes to Appropriations. With Republicans in the majority, he gains even more leverage over decisions about where the federal government spends tax dollars.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Sen. Sessions will chair the Budget Committee:

The Budget Control Act of 2011 set spending caps for the next several years, which has led Democrats to simply say there is no need for a separate budget. In reality, Democrats don’t want to put their name on a budget and give Republicans the opportunity to call out their big spending and deficits. Meanwhile they can spend all their time bashing House Republicans for their budget proposals.

All of that could come to an end if Republicans re-take the Senate and install Sessions as the Chairman of the Budget Committee.

Having a conservative warrior like Sessions crafting the budget is a dream scenario for many Republicans. But there would be some interesting behind-the-scenes dynamics that would be worth watching.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, remains a key Republican player when it comes to budgeting due to his time as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush Administration. Sessions would have an opportunity to carve out his space as the go-to-guy on budgeting matters if he positions himself well, which he is unquestionably capable of doing. But being in the minority Party has afforded Sessions the luxury of laying back and throwing stones at Democrats’ irresponsible budgeting practices. It will take some maneuvering to maintain his brand while working to build consensus around his own budget. He will have to work closely with GOP leadership (i.e. Mitch McConnell, et al) to get a budget resolution passed.

If Republicans take control of the Senate in 2014, Alabama would likely be the only state with two chairmen of A-level committees. No other state has that level of seniority.

On top of that, the way that the Budget and Appropriations committees interplay with each other would create a unique situation in which Alabama’s senators would be playing leading roles in shaping U.S. economic policy. There’s a very realistic potential scenario in which one Alabamian (Sessions) sets the number for how much money the federal government has to spend, and another Alabamian (Shelby) plays a major role in how the money is spent.

That’s why it’s safe to say that Alabama stands to gain as much or more than any state in the country by a Republican takeover of the Senate.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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