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Despite all the talk about some of the oddities of this year's election — from the unexpectedly competitive race in South Dakota to the tough fight facing Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas — the political fundamentals still point to a GOP takeover of the Senate. Polls show the Democratic push in most of the competitive Senate races has stalled, and the chances are growing that the midterm election will yield predictable results — the political party out of the White House will make gains, and in this case that could translate to a modest Senate majority, perhaps 51 or 52 votes.

The question of the hour is what will a Republican Senate actually be able to accomplish? It doesn't take a political scientist to observe that 52 falls well short of the 60-vote majority needed to overcome a filibuster or the threat of one. And in recent years, that lack of a super-majority has reduced the chamber to a minimalist agenda. Die-hard tea party enthusiasts may soon be disappointed to discover that a Republican-run Congress will find itself just as politically gridlocked as the current incarnation. And then there's the matter of Barack Obama and his veto pen. If the Senate didn't require 60 votes the first time around, it certainly will the second to overcome a presidential veto.

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That said, it would be a mistake to assume that a Republican-held Senate would not be able to assert its will on public policy in a meaningful way. It might not be able to pass game-changing legislation high on the GOP wish list — a complete dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, for instance — but it might be able to nibble at the edges or put vulnerable Democrats on the spot. In the case of Obamacare, the targets are clear — go after the tax on medical devices, the employer mandate or other unpopular elements in the program. The strategy would be to weaken Obamacare, put it deeply in the red or make it so dysfunctional that eventually a repeal would seem like an act of euthanasia.

And it doesn't stop there. There are a number of controversial policies that have been bottled up in the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid that would suddenly come to the fore. Expect a lot of attacks on the regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and its Clean Air Act-related rules that seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and on Dodd-Frank restrictions that the Wall Street crowd really despises like executive pay disclosures and the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from certain speculative investments. Close to home, attacks on the EPA might spell trouble for regional efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its use of federal authority to hold all states in the watershed accountable for water pollution.

Think House investigations into the Obama administration have been endless? A GOP Senate would almost certainly join the fray and likely put 2016 Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton in its sights. Political confrontations don't require 60 votes, just a hearing room and a lot of network cameras. Benghazi and "Fast and Furious" will only be an appetizer; it won't be long until the administration's response to the Ebola threat gets treated as a criminal act as well. Meanwhile, you can be assured that President Obama can forget about meaningful appointments, particularly on the federal bench. Even as a political minority and despite changes in Senate rules, the GOP had succeeded in stalling judicial appointments; now, the wait will be endless — or at least for the remainder of the term.

Republicans will also be able to make inroads in the budget — or at least in the spending bills that take the place of an actual budget — to shape government policy, de-funding Obama initiatives they don't like much. Legislation will also be offered to score political points (a practice both parties embrace) with an eye toward 2016. But instead of green energy initiatives or immigration reform, as the Democrats pushed, it will now be approval of the Keystone Pipeline or the rejection of curbs on NSA spying or refusing to shut down Guantanamo Bay.

Of course, maybe the pollsters have it wrong. Perhaps a big Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign will turn the tide in states like Georgia, Kentucky or North Carolina. But that doesn't seem likely given past elections. Chances are, the next Congress will be entirely controlled by Republicans, and while they'll face significant limits in their authority, a real shake-up is coming and not for the better.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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