Senate Could Give New President Early Legislative Victories
Monday, December 1, 2008
As Senate Democrats prepare for next year's agenda, they are likely to have a working filibuster-proof majority on a variety of legislative issues that could provide early victories for President-elect Barack Obama.
Though they are two votes short of their quest for 60 votes -- with two races still undecided -- Democrats say that regular support from a few Republican moderates will allow them to pass bills that were halted in the current Congress by GOP parliamentary roadblocks. These include health-care programs, immigration revisions and presidential nominations.
"The truth is . . . we will be fine on most major issues. We will almost always have some moderate Republican support," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.
Come January, seven Republicans who voted against the compromise plan to allow Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to become a full-fledged member of the House will be replaced by Democrats. Aides said they are not clear when the legislation will be reconsidered, but some District voting-rights activists are so confident of passage that they are advocating a push for two District seats in the Senate. Norton, however, favors seeking just the House seats.
Democrats said much of their disappointment about falling short of 60 Senate seats dissipated when Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) was declared the winner of the Senate race in Alaska, giving Democrats 56 seats, plus independents Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernard Sanders (Vt.), who caucus with them. Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia have not been decided.
Democrats are counting on moderate Republicans such as Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who have tilted leftward on issues such as Medicare spending and the Iraq war, to provide the votes to block a filibuster.
"You're just one state away -- you're just Maine away -- in terms of who you need to work with," Klobuchar said.
Other potential swing votes are Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), whose socially liberal views make him a prospective Democratic recruit on spending matters and Obama's judicial nominations, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain has supported some Democratic initiatives that are likely to see early legislative action next year, including federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
Senate Democrats, however, must watch their right flank as they craft more sweeping initiatives. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has supported the Bush White House on many tax and budget issues this decade, and a quartet of Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 -- Begich, Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Mark R. Warner (Va.) -- all ran as centrists.
Republicans also expect that Democratic gains in the House and the Senate will showcase divisions among the party's wings, which largely put aside their differences in the past year in their pursuit of the White House.
Many of the Democratic pick-ups in the last two years have come in Midwestern and Southern districts considered Republican-leaning territory, and the House's Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats -- at 49 members and growing -- may clash on major issues with a largely liberal leadership.