When Barack Obama swept the 2008 elections, his long coattails helped flip eight Republican Senate seats to the Democrats, giving the Obama-Biden presidency the Senate’s most progressive supermajority since FDR. With all 60 Senate Democrats voting in unison for President Obama’s vision, they passed ObamaCare without a single Republican vote. The new Democratic senators also made possible the adoption of the $787 billion stimulus bill in 2009 and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which vastly expanded government control of American finance and gave the president the nearly unfettered ability to promulgate regulation across the entire economy.
In building their progressive world without compromise or restraint, Senate Democrats delivered the weakest postwar recovery, as employment and income growth stagnated nationally, especially in their own home states. So when those Democratic senators came up for re-election in 2014, voters neither forgot nor forgave. Five incumbent Democrats lost and Republicans won four open seats held by Democrats. With the House controlled by Republicans after 2010, flipping the Senate in 2014 further weakened the capacity of President Obama to push his legislative agenda and in 2017 provided the Republican support to pass the Trump growth agenda.
While the Biden campaign insists that Americans simply don’t understand how great the Obama-Biden economy was and why we should welcome its return, government data say otherwise. Seven years after the 2007-09 recession began, real per capita income was up by only 3.1% while job growth stalled, up only 0.8%. By comparison under President Clinton, income was up 13.3% and job growth was up 8.9% seven years after the 1990-91 recession began. Seven years after the 1981-82 recession started, income was up 27.5% and job growth was up 14.1% under President Reagan. The Obama-Biden recovery was arguably the weakest recovery in American history outside the Depression era. And voters knew it. When the Senate vanguard of Mr. Obama’s economic transformation stood for re-election in 2014, the 117 polls measuring the president’s economic approval rating averaged minus-13.9%.
In the only polls that counted, voter opinion became action. When the Democratic Senate class of 2008 stood before voters in 2014, the latest census data showed that Colorado’s real median household income had fallen by $2,829 over the previous six years, and the number of Coloradans living in poverty had risen by 114,883. Sen. Mark Udall lost.
In North Carolina median household income had fallen by $5,698 and 406,055 more North Carolinians officially became poor, costing the late and much-loved Sen. Kay Hagan her seat. Arkansas households had endured a $3,181 drop in income as 84,348 fell into poverty. Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost. A typical Louisiana family lost $3,475 and 139,609 more people were poor, dooming Sen. Mary Landrieu. In Alaska household incomes fell by $8,802 and the poverty rolls swelled by 11,887, costing Sen. Mark Begich his job.
What does the GOP class of 2014 have to show for its six years in office? Consider Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner. In the six years the Democrats controlled the Senate, employment in Colorado fell by 138,000 jobs, but from his election through 2019 Colorado added 400,000 jobs. Median household income rose by $8,332. Electing Mr. Gardner and a Republican Senate meant more jobs, more income and less poverty in Colorado.
Maine won big when Sen. Susan Collins was re-elected in 2014 to help flip the Senate to Republican control. Household income, which had fallen by $828 while the Democrats held the Senate majority, has risen by $3,761 since 2014. Instead of 25,200 more Mainers falling into poverty, 31,300 escaped it. After falling by 4%, homeownership rose by 4%. And Maine enjoyed the lowest annual unemployment rate ever recorded in 2019.
Every GOP senator up for re-election in 2020 can make a similar case. During the term of Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s median household income rose $3,697 while the state’s poverty population fell by 250,900. In taking a Democratic seat in 2014, Sen. Joni Ernst helped deliver 3.9 times as much median household income growth for Iowans as during the previous six years. The number of Iowans living in poverty fell and homeownership rose.
For Arizonans, where Sen. Martha McSally was appointed in 2019 to fill the vacancy originally created by John McCain’s death, job growth surged seven times as fast as under the Democratic Senate. The Republican Senate helped 215,500 Arizonans escape poverty, increased homeownership, and pushed median household income up by $9,989. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler can tell Georgians that a Republican Senate meant nearly six times as many new jobs, almost twice the growth in median family income, 329,100 fewer Georgians living in poverty, a rise in homeownership, and a record low unemployment rate. The Republican Senate delivered the lowest annual unemployment rates on record in 26 states including Alaska, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
No senator has meant more to his home state than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Homeownership fell by 5% in Kentucky when Democrats controlled the Senate, but rose by 2.8% since 2014. The poverty level has fallen by 87,000 after rising by 40,000 while Democrats held the Senate. After falling by $5,077, median Kentucky income has risen by $9,128. Not since Henry Clay has a Senate leader from Kentucky done so much for his state and the nation.
Fortunately in America we get to choose, and the choice has never been clearer.
Mr. Gramm is a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Mr. Solon is a partner of U.S. Policy Metrics.