Magazine article Insight on the News

Daschle Still in the Driver's Seat. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Daschle Still in the Driver's Seat. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

So Republicans will control the Senate (and the House of Representatives) in the 108th Congress. The Democrats controlled the lame-duck session because the interim senator from Minnesota, Dean Barkley, decided not to join either party's caucus. However, control should shift to the GOP when senator-elect Jim Talent of Missouri is seated.

To his credit, President George W. Bush managed to get his homeland-security bill passed in the lame-duck session.

Well and good. But the White House needs to help the Senate GOP leadership lower expectations for the new Congress. Soon-to-be Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told NBC News that Democrats in the Senate are not going away and that they intend to do in the 108th Congress exactly what they did in the 107th Congress. That means one thing: obstruct.

While a few Democratic senators such as Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and, perhaps from time to time, John Breaux of Louisiana may want to cooperate with the Republicans, there is little doubt that Daschle will be able to muster the 41 votes needed to filibuster key parts of the Bush agenda. For all practical purposes, it takes 60 votes to pass contested matters through the Senate, and that is true no matter who controls. Then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas frustrated a number of the plans of newly elected Bill Clinton by a selected use of the 41 votes Republicans were able to put together in 1993.

It is much harder for an administration to explain why it can't produce when its party controls both houses of Congress. Clinton could not explain why he and his Congress couldn't do better when they had to defend themselves before the electorate in 1994. They did manage to push through the largest tax increase in U.S. history by a one-vote margin in both the House and the Senate. But beyond that, Clinton didn't have much to show. The electorate punished the Democrats as never before.

So, now that Bush has pushed his homeland-security bill through the Congress, the president should tell the public over and over again that 60 votes are needed to pass most anything in the Senate.

Since the election, I have read at least eight columns suggesting that Bush now will be able to get his judicial nominations through the Senate. Not necessarily. …

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