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Debate over size of government to fuel new Congress

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A major national debate on the scope and scale of government, and how much government Americans really want will shape the new 112th Congress, says Emory political science professor Randall Strahan, a specialist in congressional politics.

“We will see the Republican majority in the House of Representatives pushing public policy in the direction of smaller government.  But while Republicans will set the terms of the debate, at the moment they probably don’t have the votes in Congress to make major changes in policy,” Strahan says.

Strahan does see some opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in the areas of international trade and foreign policy. An upcoming vote on a trade agreement with South Korea, which can be framed as good for the economy in promoting American exports, will likely draw support from most Republicans and some Democrats.  

The target date this summer for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan will be extended, which means President Obama will also need – and probably get – Republican votes to maintain the military presence there.

Like other experts have observed, Strahan says the Republican-controlled House will seek to modify or eliminate some of the legislation passed by the previous Congress, especially health care reform, although  such moves are unlikely to pass the Senate or override a presidential veto. 

“There will be a pretty intense debate over these issues, but ultimately no big changes in public policy until we see the outcome of the 2012 elections.”

Strahan is the author of "Leading Representatives: The Agency of Leaders in the Politics of the U.S. House" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). He currently is working on a book about partisanship in Congress.

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