Saturday, October 07, 2006

Democratic Power and Congressional Government

What will government and politics look like in 2007 with a Democratic congressional majority? This New York Times piece looks at current Washington speculation on the potential political changes resulting from Democratic victories next month:

IN the final weeks of this bruising campaign, the debate, in many ways, comes down to this: What would happen if the Democrats win?

Republicans warn, ever more urgently, that a Democratic takeover of Congress would mean wrenching ideological change: higher taxes; big new spending; maybe even impeachment.

Democrats insist they have no intention of an abrupt lurch to the left, offering instead a relatively modest agenda and the less-than-revolutionary rallying cry of “more oversight!”

In fact, a Democratic majority in the House or the Senate — or both — would immediately change Washington in fundamental ways after four years of one-party Republican rule. That majority seemed less theoretical last week as Republican woes, most recently the scandal over Mark Foley and Congressional pages, added up. Even so, it would operate under some formidable constraints, political and institutional.

A Democratic Congress would have sweeping new powers to set the agenda and focus the political debate — through the hearings it calls, the witnesses it summons and the kind of legislation it brings to the floor. “More oversight” could be more revolutionary than it sounds, with the rise of lawmakers like Representative Henry A. Waxman, the hard-charging California Democrat who would take over the House Government Reform Committee; in an interview, he promised a review into “waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ money” related to Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and homeland security.

A Democratic majority in the Senate could also stymie, or at least slow, the conservative reconstruction of the Supreme Court, assuming another vacancy occurs in the next two years, and force President Bush to seek more bipartisanship on all judicial nominees.

“You’re not going to have a polarizing figure,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who would take over the Judiciary Committee. “It would require more of an effort at consensus for lifetime appointments.”

Moreover, a Democratic Congress could force Mr. Bush and a Republican minority to take a stand — again and again, if it chooses — on popular Democratic causes like raising the minimum wage or encouraging embryonic stem cell research. “If you have true openness in the debate, you have the chance to make some of these issues too hot for the president and too hard for many Republicans to vote against,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader who would most likely be speaker if the Democrats prevail.

But even if Democrats wanted a true liberal restoration, with two years of major legislation — and some, in their heart of hearts, yearn for just that — they almost certainly won’t have the numbers to achieve it. Even if they win control of both houses next month, their majorities will most likely be narrow: in the Senate, fewer than the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster and force a vote; in both House and Senate, fewer than the two-thirds necessary to override a presidential veto.

Democrats are also unlikely to have the extraordinary unity that the Republican majority had in its early days, given their divisions on issues like Iraq strategy.

Read the whole thing. Apparently, the Democrats won't seek to resurrect a Great Society-like legislative agenda, but rather are simply looking for a new direction.

I'm starting to feel the likeliness of a Democratic sweep of Congress, or at least the House, where more and more seats are looking vulnerable amid the wave of uncertainty surrounding the Foley congressional page scandal.

What I don't see, however, is any big type of policy vision or reform agenda -- nothing, for example, reminiscent of the Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," which provided an ideological foundation for the GOP's accession to power in 1994.

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