- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords expected decision to leave the Republican Party would put the Democrats fully in charge of the Senates legislative machinery and in a position to block or delay much of President Bushs future agenda and many of his judicial nominees.
If Mr. Jeffords decides, as he is reportedly considering, to become an independent and to join with the 50 Senate Democrats to make Minority Leader Tom Daschle the majority leader, the Senate would automatically become hostile territory for the young administration and force the White House to revise its legislative strategy.
"The reality is that the tax bill passed today may be the last piece of conservative legislation to pass Congress until the 2002 midterm elections," said Marshall Wittmann, chief political analyst at the Hudson Institute, yesterday. "And conceivably, we could be heading toward a fall showdown between the White House and Congress over spending bills."
"Now we shift to traditionally Democratic territory with a transformed political dynamic in the Senate. The Democrats will be in the majority and that will ultimately have a significant effect for the next two years," Mr. Wittmann said.
Building lasting alliances with key Democrats, which has been pivotal to Mr. Bushs success thus far, will become even more critical to getting what he wants in Congress. Republican unity, which has held firm in the House and cracked in the Senate, will be even more important now.
Mr. Bush can no longer expect the swift action that the Republican-run Senate has given his budget and tax-cut proposals under Majority Leader Trent Lott. Instead, Mr. Daschle, a partisan liberal, would control the reins of power. He would decide which bills would be brought up and which would be delayed.
Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a highly partisan liberal opponent of Mr. Bushs conservative court appointments, would become Judiciary Committee chairman, with the power to block the presidents nominees or to submit them to lengthy investigations.
"Bushs judicial nominees will get much closer scrutiny and the process will certainly be lengthened, and very likely some nominees wont get out of committee," said Frank Donatelli, a former White House political director under President Reagan.
"Most importantly, the Republican-Democrat ratios will change on the committees. It will go from 10-10 to maybe 10-8 in favor of the Democrats. So it will make the passage of legislation through the Senate much more difficult," Mr. Donatelli said.
But the Senates 51-49 Democratic majority would not necessarily mean that Mr. Daschle would have his way on every legislative fight. The White House and the Republican minority would still have a number of weapons at their disposal that could give them a working majority on some key issues.
Mr. Daschle would still have to contend with the dozen or so conservative Democrats led by Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana who helped Mr. Bush broker a deal on his budget and tax-cut plans that gave him the Democratic support he needed to overcome Mr. Daschles opposition.
Mr. Bush will still have his veto to keep any Democratic legislation from becoming law and Mr. Daschle would have a difficult — maybe impossible — task of coming up with the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto in a divided Senate.
And it will also be difficult if not impossible for the Democrats to move their agenda past the Republican-controlled House and even harder to get their bills out of a House-Senate conference used to reconcile legislative differences.
"You would have the House conferees led by conservative Republicans and the Senate conferees led by liberal Democrats. How do they resolve their differences?" Mr. Wittmann said.
Moreover, even with Mr. Jeffords putting the Democrats back in the majority, the political division in the Senate and in the committees would still remain very close.
"The reality is that the votes are still going to be pretty close and one or two Democrats or Republicans will have the ability to exert a great deal of influence on legislation," said a senior aide to a Senate Republican leader.
"The danger for the Democrats is that they are perceived as obstructionists and Bush would be given the opportunity to run against a liberal Democratic Senate in the midterm elections. If there is a silver lining, its that," Mr. Wittmann said.
"If they are seen as obstructionist and saying 'no to all of the presidents requests, that could backfire on them and Bush could run against the 'do-nothing Senate, as Bill Clinton ran against the Republican Congress in 1996," Mr. Donatelli said.


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