Dems Face Pressure if They Regain Senate

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 26, 2006; 4:14 AM

WASHINGTON -- It's been only four years since Senate Democrats last savored the taste of majority rule, an 18-month fling with power that bears little resemblance to what Democrats will confront if they win control of the Senate on Nov. 7.

"There would be a lot of pressure on the Democrats in the Senate to produce, as there should be pressure," said Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat seeking re-election.

No one would feel that pressure more than Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and the dozen new Democratic chairmen who would take over the key oversight, legislative and spending committees of the Senate.

Producing legislation has not been a recent Democratic priority. Instead, Democrats mostly have worked to block President Bush and his Republican allies in Congress, even during their short-lived Senate majority in 2001-2002.

Back then, there was no war in Iraq, the House was in Republican hands and Bush was at the height of his popularity. What's more, they didn't win their majority in the voting booth. They seized it when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont decided to leave the GOP and become an independent.

Today, Iraq death tolls are mounting, public approval ratings for Congress and the president are plunging, and voters are telling pollsters they want Democrats in charge.

In that environment, Democrats say they're ready to trade in their opposition tactics for compromise. As a starting point, Democrats are touting a "Six for '06" agenda of domestic initiatives that is designed to attract some Republican support _ from increasing the minimum wage to revamping the Medicare prescription drug benefit to expanding federally backed stem cell research.

Late last month, Reid called assistant Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky with a proposal to work in a more bipartisan fashion. The conversation was brief, and both agreed to meet again after the elections, aides to the leaders said. But it was significant because McConnell, in line to become Republican leader of the Senate next year, and Reid are both skilled infighters, well-schooled in the obstructionist tricks of the Senate.

For Democrats, the offer recognizes that no matter the outcome of the election, Bush would be in the final two years of his presidency and Republicans might be more amenable to cutting legislative deals with Democrats.

"The president is a lame duck, that is a fact," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "One question is how Republicans on the Hill are going to deal with that."

Bush on Wednesday said he still intends to achieve his presidential goals of overhauling immigration laws, Social Security and the tax code and was optimistic that Republicans would retain control of both chambers of Congress.

"They're dancing in the end zone," Bush said of Democrats. "They just hadn't scored the touchdown."

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