Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Difficult year is predicted for Congress

Political Scientists are predicting the same thing about the new Congress; not too much will get done.


Simple. The Democrats have too small of a margin in their lead to be able to pass any meaningful legislation in the next two years. Think about it. In the Senate, Democrats and Joe Liberman (Independent) have 51 members which means they have to get at least 10 Republicans on their side before they can get anything passed (minimum wage increase anyone?)

The House lead is a little bit better, but given the number of seats, it is still a fairly small margin so for those of you waiting for a miracle from this year's Congress, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Difficult year is predicted for Congress

Forecasts of deadlock cloud Democrats' goals

By Jill Zuckman

Chicago Tribune
Washington Bureau
Published January 2, 2007

WASHINGTON -- When the 110th Congress convenes Thursday, it will be a historic moment as the Republican Party turns the gavel over to Democrats in both the House and the Senate and the first woman takes her place as House speaker.

That moment will mark a shift in the balance of power in Washington as President Bush's authority diminishes and Democrats attempt to hold him accountable for his administration's actions. Bush won't be able to control the legislative branch, telling Republican leaders what to do while generally getting his way.

But after the pageantry and the pomp of swearing in newly elected members, Democrats may find it's uphill from there as they struggle to enact laws, not just pass bills.

"I don't think the 110th Congress is going to be very productive," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. "If you thought the 109th was down the drain, wait till you see this."Boston University historian Julian Zelizer said the midterm election results are unlikely to change the dynamics in Congress.

"I don't think the conditions in Washington have changed that dramatically that you're going to have this bipartisan love festival where bills are passing," Zelizer said. "Between a slim majority, a hostile opposition and a president who doesn't seem willing to compromise on many issues, it's going to be a tough time to be the majority."

Nevertheless, Democrats take charge of the legislative branch with high expectations and high hopes to accomplish a litany of proposals from raising the minimum wage to negotiating lower prescription drug costs to relaxing Bush's restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

Narrow majoritiesThe problem, however, is that Democrats hold narrow majorities in the House and Senate. In the House, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will become speaker, taking over from Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), there are 233 Democrats and 202 Republicans, requiring a degree of cooperation to pass legislation.

In the Senate, where Harry Reid of Nevada will become the majority leader, with Dick Durbin of Illinois taking over as assistant majority leader, Democrats and their independent ally number 51. But Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is still hospitalized following brain surgery.

In addition, Senate rules allow a single senator to hold up legislation unless 60 senators vote to cut off debate. That means Democrats will have to stick together, as well as gather the support of at least 10 Republicans for any bills they hope to pass."It will require some bipartisan effort to pass many of these measures," Durbin acknowledged. "We face that challenge and I'm hoping we can find support from the other side of the aisle."

Many Democrats say they believe that some of their priorities, such as increasing the minimum wage, will prove too important to voters for Republicans to oppose.

"I think it's going to be difficult for Republicans not to look obstructionist on issues of vital importance to the American people if they are mounting filibusters against things that are clearly popular," said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

In the House, Republicans say they will wait to decide whether to cooperate with Democrats--depending on how Democrats treat them.So far, said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), the signs are good. He said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the incoming chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has asked him to help set up meetings with moderate Republicans to hear their ideas.

"Obviously, when the legislation is crafted and the words are put into the legislation the so-called rubber meets the road," said LaHood. "That's going to be the true test of whether all this bipartisanship is a lot of talk."

And many Republicans say they are eager to return to the conservative principles of fiscal discipline and smaller government that were lost in the final years of their majority. That could conflict with some lawmakers' desire to cooperate with Democrats."Our job is not to make their job easier when we have a real philosophical disagreement," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "Where we can agree, we ought to agree, like immigration."

Differences of principle

On raising the minimum wage, for example, Flake said he would vote against it because he doesn't believe the government should be setting wages. On the other hand, he said, "it's tough for a lot of our members to oppose it.

"When the House convenes, lawmakers will immediately vote on a package of rules to ban gifts and travel from lobbyists, end privately funded flights on corporate jets and promise a fair and transparent process for offering amendments to legislation. The rules also call for the end of the two-day workweek, something that became routine last year under Republican leadership.

Over in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats will kick off the start of the new Congress with a private meeting in the old Senate chamber to discuss how to improve bipartisanship.Legislative business won't begin until the following week. The Senate will take up its lobbying and ethics reform measure, which includes limitations on earmarks for special projects. After that, the upper chamber is expected to turn to a debate on the minimum wage increase, followed by legislation to implement recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

Even if both chambers are able to pass legislation, the president still wields veto power. So far, Bush has indicated a willingness to increase the minimum wage. But he seems unlikely to change his mind about relaxing restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, and Congress does not have the votes to override a veto.

But Democrats say that if the president wants to get anything done in his last two years in office, he's going to have to compromise."For years the president refused to consult with Republicans, let alone Democrats," said Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, "and that's going to have to change.


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