Analysis, House News, Opinion

Congress’ attempt to “Save America’s Pastime”

sapa
Summary of the “Save America’s Pastime Act”

In late June 2016, two members of the United States House of Representatives- Cheri Bustos (D- Illinois) and Brett Guthrie (R- Kentucky)- announced they were planning on introducing a bill into Congress. Ordinarily, such a routine announcement would not even register on the radar of much of America, outside of Washington insiders and policy wonks. However, this announcement was no ordinary announcement (and not just because it introduced by a Democrat and a Republican). The House members introduced a bill that even by Washington standards was fairly shocking- an act that would limit the salaries of minor league baseball players. Titled the “Save America’s Pastime Act”, the two sponsors of the “common sense proposal” claimed the act would “close a loophole to ensure the long-term viability of Minor League teams in communities across our nation.”

Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball released a statement shortly after the announcement of the act, pledging its “full support” of the bill (it should also be noted that according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan research group dedicated to tracking the influence of money in politics, Rep. Bustos received a $2,000 campaign donation from MLB’s political action committee, or PAC, in 2016. Rep. Guthrie and other members of Congress also received various amount of campaign donations from the PAC). The joint statement also makes reference to what spurned the creation of the bill, which is a lawsuit in California brought on by former minor league baseball players who are looking to make minor league pay subject to the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). Before we dig into what the lawsuit claims and discuss whether they have a valid point, let us first briefly direct what the FLSA does.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was one of the many bills passed into law by during the years of the Great Depression under the President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to support those Americans who were working and were trying to make a living wage. After several years of trying to pass similar laws through Congress, the FLSA finally passed in 1938 and established many aspects of working life that today we take for granted: standards involving child labor, the creation of a minimum wage, and standards on who is eligible for overtime pay. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the bill’s enactment brought the wages of roughly 700,000 up at the time of enactment and introduced a workweek which by 1940 was limited to 40 hours, with any hours over that being subjected to overtime pay.

In February 2014, three ex-minor leaguers (Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odl) filed a lawsuit against the MLB Commissioner’s Office and all thirty major league teams. The three plaintiffs in the suit (formally called Senne, et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al) claim that MLB teams violate the standards laid out in the FLSA and that ballplayers should be subjected to overtime and minimum wage laws during the regular season and offseason. It should be noted that in July 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, concluding that “the individualized issues that will arise in connection with adjudicating these questions [of minor league wages and overtime] will be extensive and will make class-wide treatment of plaintiffs’ claims virtually impossible”, decertified the lawsuit from a class action lawsuit, knocking some 2,000 fellow ex-players from across the country off the suit.

milb-salaries
Salaries of MiLB Players (Chart from ThinkBlueLA.com)

For a visual look at the pay minor league ballplayers receive, consider the above chart. This chart covers the salaries of each and every minor league player not on the 40-man roster (which will be explained later) in all levels of the minor leagues. To compare how those salaries stack up to other occupations in the United States, please see the chart below.

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-2-50-23-pm
Chart from HardballTimes.com

As one can see, wages for minor league baseball players fall well below those jobs that most consider to be worthy of just minimum wage. This does not factor in having to also pay for food, rent, cell phone bills, and many other expenses typical of an American worker. In addition, many minor leaguers must take offseason jobs to help supplement their meager minor league pay. While some might point to the large signing bonuses draft picks in the early rounds of the MLB Draft receive (the average signing bonus of a player selected in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2016 was $2,897,557), players drafted after the tenth round (a team’s signing bonus money pool is set before the draft and each pick has a dollar amount attached to it, per the CBA) of the forty-round draft typically do not receive bonuses over six-figures, or even high five-figures, especially college seniors with no negotiating leverage. Just over 300 players are drafted within the first ten rounds. Roughy 900 are selected in rounds 11-40. Of the 900 in that range that do sign contracts with the team that drafts them, they do so with meager salaries and low signing bonuses to draw on to pay for housing (which teams do help players get). Players also get a small amount of meal money, which often goes towards food that is not the healthiest for a professional athlete.

It is apparent that ballplayers in the minor leagues are getting taken advantage of, much in the way major league players were prior to their gains brought on by unionization and collective bargaining. Their meager pay does not justify the hours of work they put into their craft, both during games and training for them. For many minor leaguers, playing baseball is not an “apprenticeship”, as some have argued. It is a full-time job, and anyone who commits to a full-time job should not be forced to accept pay that falls well below the poverty line or minimum wage standards. A bill like the “Save America’s Pastime Act” does nothing but further harm those who want to play the sport, and harm those who want the participation and popularity of the sport to increase.

As for the fate of the aforementioned act, Representative Bustos pulled her support for the bill just six days after it was formally introduced to the House, saying that “while it’s important to sustain minor league baseball teams that provide economic support to small communities across America, I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players”, further adding that she believes “that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do.” The bill has been sitting idle in a subcommittee within the House Committee on Education and the Workforce since September 19. Both representatives won re-election to the House in November.

After the decertification of the lawsuit as a class action suit, the plaintiffs in Senne v. the Officer of the Commissioner of Baseball filed a motion on September 7 for an appeal on the restoration of the classification. While Judge Spero reconsiders the classification, the trial for the lawsuit, which had been scheduled to begin next month, has been indefinitely postponed.

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Analysis, Elections, White House 2016

Race to #45: Hillary Clinton

Ready for Hillary? (Photo by Gary Cameron of Reuters; photo from MSNBC.com)
Ready for Hillary? (Photo by Gary Cameron of Reuters; photo from MSNBC.com)

On Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, someone will raise their right hand, place their left hand on a Bible, and promise to uphold the Constitution as long as he or she serves as the 45th President of the United States. We obviously still have a long way to go before that moment happens, but potential players from both major parties are already starting to lay down foundations for possible runs to the White House. This series will profile some of those possible candidates and attempt to sift through the facts, fiction, and bias to show where each candidate really stands on the issues that matter to you- the citizen and voter- the most.

The first installment will discuss the person widely assumed (remember what happens when you assume?) to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination- Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Biography: Born Oct. 26, 1947 in Chicago, Ill.; Oldest of three children; married William Jefferson Clinton in 1975; Gave birth to the couple’s only daughter, Chelsea, in 1980; Became a grandmother in 2014

Education: Graduated in 1969 from Wellesley College; Graduate of Yale Law School, Class of 1973

Political Resume: Worked on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign; Served on the team that advised the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings in 1974; Worked for Jimmy Carter’s successful presidential bid in 1976; First Lady of Arkansas (1979-81, 1983-1992); First Lady of the United States (1993-2001); Led the 1993 Task Force on National Health Reform for President Clinton; Served as U.S. Senator from New York from 2000-2009; Selected by President Obama to be U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013)

Where She Stands On: 

  • The economy/free trade
    • December 2007 debate (on if she would prioritize passing a balances federal budget each year): “Well, fiscal responsibility is a very high priority for me. We don’t have to go back very far in our history, in fact just to the 1990s, to see what happens when we do have a fiscally responsible budget that does use rules of discipline to make sure that we’re not cutting taxes or spending more than we can afford. I will institute those very same approaches. You can’t do it in a year. It’ll take time. But the economy will grow again when we start acting fiscally responsible. And then we can save money in the government by cutting out private contractors, closing loopholes, getting the health care system to be more efficient. We’ll do all of this at the same time, but the results will take awhile for us to actually see. “
    • January 2008 debate: “I regretted voting for the bankruptcy bill and I was happy that it didn’t get into law. By 2005, there was another run at a bankruptcy reform, motivated by the credit card companies and the other big lenders. I opposed that bill. There was a particular amendment that is very telling. It was an amendment to prohibit credit card companies from charging more than 30% interest. It was one of the biggest lobbyist victories on that very bad bill that the bankruptcy bill represented.”
  • Environment/energy
    • December 2007 debate: “I advocate a cap and trade system. What the auction of pollution permits is taking that money and invest in new technologies, new ways of getting to our objectives that I’ve outline inside my energy plan. I want to use some of it to cushion the costs tha will come on to the US consumer. It’s not just enough to tackle global warming, we’ve got to enlist the help of the next generation. My fifth grade teacher said it was to study math and science, but it gave me an idea of contributing to my country.”
  • Foreign policy
    • 2013 New York Magazine interview: “I thought it was essential that as we restore America’s standing in the world and strengthen our global leadership again, we needed what I took to calling ‘smart power’ to elevate American diplomacy and development and reposition them for the 21st century. That meant that we had to take a hard look at how both State and A.I.D. operated. I did work to increase their funding after a very difficult period when they were political footballs to some extent and they didn’t have the resources to do what was demanded of them.”
  • Immigration
    • From her 2014 book Hard Choices: “In 2009, more than 55 million Americans were immigrants or the children of immigrants. These first- or second-generation Americans were valuable links back tot heir home countries and also significant contributors to our own country’s economic, cultural, and political life. Immigration helped keep the US population young and dynamic at a time when many of our partners and competitors were aging. Russia, in particular, faced what President Putin himself has called a ‘demographic crisis.’ Even China, because of its ‘One Child Policy,’ was headed toward a demographic cliff. I only wish that the bipartisan bill passed the Senate in 2013 reforming our immigration laws could pass the House.”
    • According to OnTheIssues.org, then-Senator Clinton voted in 2006 to allow illegal immigrants to participate in Social Security and other social services, as well as to build a fence alongside the Mexican border.
  • Gun control
    • Wall Street Journal, May 2014: “”We’ve got to rein in what has become an almost article of faith that anybody can have a gun anywhere, anytime,” she said. “And I don’t believe that is in the best interest of the vast majority of people.”
    • April 2008 debate: “I respect the Second Amendment. I respect the rights of lawful gun owners to own guns, to use their guns, but I also believe that most lawful gun owners whom I have spoken with for many years across our country also want to be sure that we keep those guns out of the wrong hands.”

What Supporters Say: People who have supported Clinton in the past say her resiliency would make her a strong president, often pointing to the way she publicly handled the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s. Other supporters say she has a leg up in reaching middle-income families when talking about the economy. The fact that she is a woman also seems to play a big factor in reasons why at least some people support her. Take a look at this March 2014 Gallup poll, which asked people what would be the best thing about Hillary Clinton occupying the Oval Office:

(Image from Gallup.com)
(Image from Gallup.com)

What Opponents Say: The area Clinton will likely be hit the hardest on (if she chooses to run) will be on foreign policy. She was the head of the state department during the deadly attack on the American embassy in Benghazi in 2012, and conservatives have routinely hit her hard on that security failure whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself. No matter what the actual facts are with Benghazi, Clinton and her team will surely spend much of their time addressing attacks and questions from the right relating to the matter. Her comments on her personal finances also seem like a sure bet to be brought up by Republicans as a way to portray her as out-of-touch with the needs and wants of average Americans.

Fundraising Ability: Democratic donors are apparently already lining up to give millions of dollars to a Clinton campaign. On the amount of money reportedly set to be given once the operation is a go, one donor was quoted as saying “it’s going to be like nothing you’ve seen.” If the past is any indication, Clinton would appear to have the support to back up such a lofty prediction. According to OpenSecrets.com (which tracks things such as political spending, re-election rates, voting numbers, etc.), then-Senator Clinton raised nearly $230 million by the end of May 2008 in her effort to secure the Democratic nomination for president. In spite of the lofty total, Clinton was left with over $20 million in debts after she left the race in June. Check out the table below, which shows how her fundraising efforts couldn’t keep up with what the campaign was spending over the last four quarters of the campaign (again, the table and stats are from OpenSecrets.org):

hillary funds

Likeliness of becoming party nominee: 75%*. This is assuming she runs (thus the asterisk). These odds are based more on a gut feeling rather than any complicated formula. Obviously a lot of unforeseen issues or scenarios can arise between now and primary season. It seemed everyone thought she would be the nominee in 2008, but then Barack Obama popped up from seemingly nowhere to claim the nomination. She seems to be the favorite for the Democrats right now, but that could change based on her performance and if she corrects her mistakes from 2008, as well as if other seemingly strong challengers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Biden, and others enter the fight.

(Writer’s Note: I have to say a big thank you to OnTheIssues.org, which tracks the positions and stances of American politicians. The site was a great help to me in writing this, especially with the quotes on various topics. I strongly recommend visiting the site to get a more in-depth look at the voting records and positions of politicians across a large variety of topics.)

Analysis, News, Spending/Taxes

Obama sends 2016 budget to Congress

(Photo by Saul Loeb of AFP Photos)
(Photo by Saul Loeb of AFP Photos)

President Obama officially sent his version of the 2016 federal budget to Congress on Monday and, despite being barely a day old, it is already being torn apart by the Republican-controlled Congress.

The Obama Administration says the $4 trillion budget (which can be viewed on the White House website by clicking here; beware of large download times and large words) will give many middle-income families the opportunity to save money through various tax cuts, while also closing tax loopholes for wealthier individuals and corporations.

According to The Hill, the administration has included tax credits for child care ($3,000), college ($2,500), and an expansion of the earned income tax credit for those workers who do not have children.

The president’s budget is also proposing to spend $478 billion to update the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure, an idea he had pushed extensively in the days and weeks before the State of the Union address. The proposed budget includes further funding for the Build America Investment Initiative (BAII) and the Highway Trust Fund, with both programs intended to help repair and rebuild the country’s roads, highways, and water networks. $14 billion is included to boost cybersecurity.

To help pay for the various investments included in the budget, the administration has also proposed numerous cuts to certain areas government spending, as well as some tax increases. Here is what the White House says on the proposed spending cuts (click here to see the table of proposed cuts and agencies affected):

Many of these proposals have now been implemented, and the Budget builds on this success by including 101 cuts, consolidations, and savings proposals projected to save over $14 billion in 2016. While the Budget proposes increases in discretionary budget caps to make room for a range of domestic and security investments, it still includes discretionary cuts, consolidations, and savings proposals totaling $3.6 billion to further make room for investments to help move the Nation forward. Savings from mandatory and program integrity proposals total $10.6 billion in 2016 and $609 billion over 10 years; about 70 percent of these savings are from health reform proposals.

Under tax increases, the administration is proposing a new, one-time tax on American companies that are incorporated overseas, which would reportedly raise over $230 billion. An increase of the tax of capital gains is also included in the budget.

Republicans have predictably slammed the president’s budget, with many citing the increases in taxes, the long-term deficit, and in spending that will exceed the limits agreed to in the 2011 budget deal as reasons for their opposition.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) bashed the budget, saying it does nothing but give Democrats a blueprint for the 2016 elections.

“This budget blueprint shamelessly panders to the Democratic base and does nothing to put our nation back on a sound fiscal footing,” said Hatch, who is the head of the Senate Finance Committee (quote from Yahoo! News).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also severely criticized the budget, calling it “more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families.” Speaker Boehner also hinted that a Republican counter-budget, which figures to include heavy cuts to many government programs and agencies, could be introduced soon.

 

Analysis, House News, Senate News

A Look at the 114th Congress

(Photo by Karen Bleier of AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Bleier of AFP/Getty Images)

The 114th U.S. Congress is officially meeting for the first time today and, for the first time in eight years, Republicans will control both the House and the Senate. This will also be the final Congress President Obama will work with (or at least try to work with). With the White House and Capitol Hill presumably set to butt heads for the next two years, let’s take a look at the issues that the sides will try to get a handle on, as well as the demographics that make up this version of Congress.

Issues

Keystone XL Pipeline: Just this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters President Obama will most likely veto Keystone Pipeline legislation if it ever made it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. Both chambers tried to pass a Keystone bill in November in an attempt to give an edge to the candidates running in the runoff election for one of Louisiana’s senate seats (Bill Cassidy, a Republican, defeated incumbent Mary Landrieu, a Democrat). The Republican controlled Congress could still try to pass the Keystone legislation, along with bills that directly contradict President Obama’s larger energy policies.

Immigration: Republicans in Congress pressed President Obama to hold off on taking executive action on immigration back in November. While the president went ahead with his plan to allow up to five million illegal immigrants stay in the country, his action still needs to be funded, which means another battle with Congress appears likely.

Affordable Care Act: While in the minority through the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans in both chambers of Congress proposed votes to repeal “Obamacare” many times. None of those votes had any real chance of passing and were primarily done to get members of Congress to go on official record as voting for or against the measure (how else were PACs and congressional members supposed to make those campaign ads everybody adores?) Now that Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, the effort to repeal the act will most likely ramp up. Take this quote from newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner (which first appeared in Al-Jazeera America shortly after the elections last year):

“The House, I am sure, will move next year to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ because it should be repealed and it should be replaced with common-sense reforms,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Thus far, over seven million previously uninsured people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Demographics

Ever hear the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who? One of my favorite songs. Why do I bring this up? Well, near the end of the over eight minute song, there sits a lyric that is not altogether inappropriate for this story:

Meet the new boss/same as the old boss

Those lyrics could very well be the slogan for the 114th Congress. According to PolitiFact.com, roughly 95% of lawmakers up for re-election in 2014 were in fact sent back to Congress despite the fact that Congress as a whole had an approval rating in the teens heading into the mid-term elections. However, according to a September 2014 poll conducted by Gallup, 54% of respondents approved of their own representative’s performance in Congress, providing at least some level of explanation as to why the majority of such an unpopular Congress was sent back to work there.

Though many of the members who will serve in the 114th Congress are the same as the previous Congress, there are some interesting trends in this new version. According to Yahoo! News, a record 104 women between the two chambers will hold seats (out of 535 total seats), one more than the previous Congress. So despite a new record number of women, men still dominate Congress (remember that same as the old boss line?)

In terms of race, the New York Times reports nearly 87% of the new Congress is white  (79.8% for the House, 94% in the Senate). While that overall number of whites in Congress is still very high, there have been slow gains amongst African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics in recent years.

We all know of the dismal approval ratings Congress has posted over the past several years (see above). Most people who give Congress a low rating would probably say the fact that the members in the chambers cannot seem to agree to do or work on anything constructive is the reason why they would give the legislative body low marks. Well, I would advise such tough graders to stay away from cable news and political websites today.

Of all the days the Congress is in session and its members inside the Capitol Building, today is one of the busiest days that accomplishes nothing on the legislative calendar. I know what you must be thinking- isn’t that pretty much everyday? Well, take a look at this article from Yahoo! News, which lists what procedural issues a new Congress has to settle and how the members go about doing so. It is a pretty interesting look inside the seemingly random rules and traditions Congress uses that many Americans have not a clue about.

Analysis, House News, Senate News

Lame Duck Congress Returns to Work Wednesday

(allenhardwick.com)
(allenhardwick.com)

Before the newly-elected 114th Congress takes office in January, the current Congress still has a few weeks of work left (and I use the word “work” loosely). Wednesday marks the first day Congress will be in session since mid-September, and before the new Congress is sworn in, the 113th Congress has much on its legislative plate. Let’s take a look now at four of the most pressing issues this lame duck Congress could address within the next couple weeks.

The War on ISIS

Last week, President Obama asked Congress to approve funding to send roughly 1,500 more troops to Iraq to “train and advise” Iraqi military forces in the fight against ISIS. While on the campaign trail, many prominent Republican lawmakers have called for President Obama to put boots on the ground in Iraq to fight ISIS, rather than increasing the amount of airstrikes or military advisers. Even if the current Congress approves the president’s request of simply sending advisers, the next Congress still could force the issue in 2015 and vote to put American forces in Iraq.

Government Funding Bill

That’s right, another one of these battles. On Dec. 11, funding for the federal government runs out and Congress will need to pass a spending bill before then to keep the government running. Congress last passed a spending bill in a continuing resolution just before it adjourned on Sept. 17. According to Time, future majority leader Mitch McConnell has expressed his desire to pass a clean spending bill and avoid a shutdown.

The question here (as well as with most of these issues) is whether those on the far right of the G.O.P. in both chambers will fall into line with the thinking of leaders such as McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Tea Party lawmakers may feel emboldened by the results of this month’s election and may feel that any spending bill should be handled by the new Congress in January.

Loretta Lynch’s Nomination as AG

Lynch, a federal prosecutor in New York, was nominated Saturday to replace Eric Holder as attorney general. Since Holder announced his resignation in late September, it had widely been assumed that the Senate would confirm whoever President Obama nominated to replace Holder since Democrats would still have control of the upper chamber during the lame duck session. However, Senate Democrats have said there isn’t enough time to adequately gather information on Lynch and have her appear before the Senate before confirming her.

Immigration

Congressional Republicans have made it increasingly clear that they feel President Obama should wait until the 114th Congress is sworn in to tackle the immigration bill. The president has said repeatedly that he does not want to wait until then and could issue an executive order. It is an issue that has been pushed back over and over again, as if both sides are afraid of the consequences of passing any kind of immigration legislation. Or both sides could be taking hard lines in public in order to increase negotiating leverage behind-the-scenes. In other words, there is no way of telling if the lame duck Congress and the president will come together on a deal in the next few weeks.

Analysis, Elections, Senate News

Election 2014 Wrap Up- The Winners

Sen. McConnell (Photo by John Summers II of Reuters)
Sen. McConnell (Photo by John Summers II of Reuters)

Rejoice! The political ads are over! (Except in Louisiana. Our prayers are with the citizens of that state who have to deal with more ads as the Senate election there heads to a December runoff). Just as quickly as it came, Election 2014 is now history. And in many ways, this election year made quite a bit of history.

So who were the winners? The losers? How will the new Congress work with President Obama over his last two years, if at all? And how does this all affect the 2016 presidential race? We’ll attempt to answer all of these questions over the next few days with a series of “Election 2014 Wrap Up” posts.

First up in the series- the winners from Nov. 4. Drum roll please.

Winner #1) Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)

No, Gov. Christie didn’t actually win an election for himself in 2014. But as chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the two-term New Jersey governor definitely had a successful night. In states where Christie campaigned significantly for Republican incumbent governors or challengers, the only significant losses Christie suffered were in New Hampshire (Maggie Hassan held onto the governorship there) and Connecticut (where Gov. Malloy is the apparent winner after a long night of vote counting). Republicans were able to flip three states previously held by Democrats (Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas, Bruce Rauner in Illinois, and Charles Baker in Massachusetts). And out of the 19  Republican governors up for re-election across the country, 17  held onto their seats. The only losses were in Pennsylvania (where Tom Wolf (D) upset incumbent Tom Corbett) and Alaska (incumbent Sean Parnell lost to Bill Walker, an independent).

So not only did Christie help other Republicans get elected, he also has set himself up to be a strong contender in the 2016 presidential race should he decide to run. He won a second-term in a typically blue state in 2013, has shown he can raise funds and votes in various locations across the country, and has made several important alliances with Republicans across the country. He had a lot of support from outside conservative organizations, political action committee (PAC) heads, and politicians across the country in 2012 when he ultimately decided he was not ready to run for president. That could be a different story in 2016.

Winner #2) Senate Republicans

This is an obvious one. Republicans running for the U.S. Senate in were able to officially flip seven seats, giving the GOP 52-45 edge as of this writing. Republicans could actually end up gaining at least three more seats, as the Alaska Senate race has yet to be officially called (the NY Times has incumbent Democrat Mark Begich trailing Republican Dan Sullivan by 4%) and Louisiana’s Senate race will be decided in a runoff next month between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Bill Cassidy (R). A third seat could be gained if Maine’s independent senator, Angus King, decided to caucus with the Republicans now that the party is in the majority. King had previously caucused with the Democrats. So by the time the new Congress takes office in late January, Republicans could hold a ten-seat majority in the Senate to go along with a majority of at least 65 in the House (some 14 races have still yet to officially be decided in the House, according to the NY Times).

Winner #3) Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Sen. McConnell came out on top after a often negative race for his Kentucky Senate seat against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. As long as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) doesn’t throw a wrench a into those plans, expect McConnell to become the Senate majority leader for the first time after spending eight years as the minority leader. After spending that time complaining of inaction on the part of Democrats in the White House and Senate (specifically now-former majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada), McConnell will get to dictate what issues make it to the Senate floor and now has more leverage in negotiations with President Obama on a wide array of those issues (i.e. immigration reform, tax reform, etc.)

Tomorrow, we will look at the losers of Election 2014, followed soon after by what issues the new Congress could take up in 2015.

Analysis, Elections, Senate News

Latest polls show GOP with slight edge in Senate races

According to the latest analysis from RealClearPolitics.com, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate remains up in the air. If voting were held today, it appears Republicans would hold the slimmest of majorities in Congress’ upper chamber.

Most of the 35 Senate races across the country are likely already decided. However, RealClearPolitics.com’s polls indicate as many as ten Senate races could be classified as toss-ups. Of the ten toss-ups, seats from eight states are currently held by Democrats (New Hampshire, North Carolina, Michigan, Louisiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado, and Alaska). While the polls are very tight in all ten races, Republicans are currently projected to win six of those races.

The proceeding paragraphs will break down each of the ten toss-up races. Poll numbers and the leaders of each race is provided by RealClearPolitics.com (RCP), unless specified. Races will be listed in order of competitiveness (virtual deadlock to slight leads).

Colorado: Cory Gardner (R) leads Sen. Mark Udall (D) by 0.8%

Cory Gardner, who has represented Colorado in the U.S. House since 2010, just recently took the lead for the first time in his race against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, although a very slim, virtually nonexistent lead at that. Most polls have had Udall in the lead throughout the race, but usually by no more than 3%, according to RCP.

Kansas: Greg Orman (I) leads Sen. Pat Roberts (R) by 1.2%

The Washington Post recently described the Kansas Senate race as the following: “Long seen as a safe Republican hold, Kansas has suddenly become competitive in recent weeks…” Three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) was thought to face a fairly easy re-election to a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. That was until the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democratic challenger Chad Taylor (who had requested that the state remove him from ballots after he dropped out of the race in early September) had properly followed “the statutory requirements for withdrawal.” The state’s Republican secretary of state had argued that Taylor’s name should remain on the ballot. With Taylor’s official removal from ballots, that Roberts and Independent challenger Greg Orman as the only candidates for the seat. National Republicans fear that the reported 11% of voters who backed Taylor will now back Orman simply because he is not Sen. Roberts (the Post reported that even before Taylor dropped out, Orman and Roberts were in a virtual tie). The Post also reports that Orman has not yet said who he would caucus with if elected.

Iowa: Joni Ernst (R) leads Bruce Braley (D) by 2.2%

Democrat Tom Harkin is retiring after serving four terms in the Senate, making his seat officially up for grabs. RCP’s polls show Ernst and Baley have been flip-flopping slim leads since June, so it appears that this race will go right down to the wire.

Georgia: David Purdue (R) leads Michelle Nunn (D) by 3.4%

Since a RCP poll showing a tie at 42% in late July, Purdue (a former CEO of Reebok) has never trailed in the race for the seat left open by the retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Nunn, who is the daughter of former longtime U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), has closed the gap somewhat after trailing by as much as 5% in mid-August.

North Carolina: Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leads Thom Tillis (R) by 3.5%

North Carolina’s Senate race seems to have seen more lead changes than a Kentucky Derby race. RCP’s polls showed Sen. Hagan with a fairly constant three-point lead from the end of June until the first few days of August. Then her challenger Thom Tillis jumped out to a couple point lead throughout the rest of August (with a high of 45%), only to drop back down into the low 40s as Hagan rebounded.

Arkansas: Tom Cotton (R) leads Sen. Mark Pryor (D) by 3.6%

Yet another Democratic incumbent who is in some trouble. Sen. Mark Pryor has not led, according to RCP’s polls, since the very end of June/early July. Cotton, who currently represents Arkansas in the U.S. House, has seen his lean fluctuate between 1.4 and 4%, but has not yet fallen behind in a while.

New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) leads Scott Brown (R) by 4.5%

Sen. Shaheen has never trailed since the first polls were released in January, but Brown, who took over the late-Sen. Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in a special election in 2010 and eventually lost it to now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2012, has closed the once sizable lead over the past month. Shaheen’s lead was once as large as eleven points. It is now down to about 4.5%. So while he has tightened the deficit, Brown still has some catching up to do over the next month.

Alaska: Dan Sullivan (R) leads Sen. Mark Begich (D) by 4.7%

RealClearPolitic’s polls suggest Sullivan has come on very strong over the past month, overtaking the incumbent senator’s once six-point lead in late August to take an almost five-point lead as of the end of September. RCP does warn, however, that polling in Alaska is “notoriously inaccurate”, so what the polls say now and what actually happens on Nov. 4 could be two very different things.

Michigan: Gary Peters (D) leads Terri Lynn Land (R) by 4.7%

This seat is open after longtime senator Carl Levin announced last year he would not seek re-election. Levin had served as Michigan’s senator since 1979. Gary Peters has represented Michigan’s 14th district in the U.S. House for the past five years, while Terri Lynn Rand is a former Michigan Secretary of State. Peters had lead this race by as much as six points.

Now, you may be counting along in your head and wondering what happened to the tenth toss-up. This is where we come to the Senate race in Louisiana. The race in the Bayou State is one of the most fascinating and unusual races in the country, which is why it is getting its own, longer paragraph. According to CNN, Louisiana has nine (!) names on the ballot to become the state’s next senator. Nine.

How do nine names appear on voter’s ballots? The answer: something called the “jungle primary“. Essentially, this uncommon type of primary system allows for candidates of any party to run for an office within the same primary. That means there are no sole Democratic or sole Republican primaries, which also means multiple members of the same party could be running for the same office. This can cause problems for incumbents if a strong candidate within the incumbent’s own party emerges in a race. In Louisiana for example, candidates must receive over 50% of the vote to win the election. If no one candidate hits that benchmark, a runoff between the top two candidates in terms of votes received would take place in December. A runoff could theoretically have two candidates of the same party face off with each other.

Louisiana’s incumbent senator is Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. According to CNN, Landrieu is likely to fall short of the aforementioned 50% needed to avoid a runoff and retain her seat in the Senate (CNN’s latest poll has the three-term senator receiving 43% of the vote, +/- 4%). If her numbers remain at that level, she would enter in a runoff against Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, who currently represents Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Heading into the Nov. 4 elections, Cassidy stands to draw around 40% of the vote (also +/- 4%.

If those two candidates do indeed enter into a runoff, that could be bad news for Landrieu and Senate Democrats. With a strong Republican base in the state, RealClearPolitics.com’s polls show Cassidy with a 5% lead over Landrieu. If those numbers, and the numbers of the previously mentioned toss-up states, hold true, that would give Republicans the six seats necessary for them to regain control of the Senate.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and the Nov. 4 elections. Opinions can change, scandals can arise. What remains to be seen is whether new or returning senators can break the deadlock that has plagued Washington over the past several years.