Friday, May 25, 2001

Left-wing Democratic activists were jubilant yesterday over the prospect of their party taking control of the Senate and breathing new life into their long-dormant liberal agenda.

“I´m ecstatic. I´m truly ecstatic. The liberals are now in charge,” said Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, the party´s oldest liberal advocacy group which was founded by Hubert Humphrey and Eleanor Roosevelt.

When Democratic Leader Tom Daschle officially takes over the reins of the Senate “things will change dramatically,” Mrs. Isaacs said.

She ticked off the long list of liberal reform bills that will now be brought to the Senate floor for votes in the weeks and months to come: The Kennedy-McCain patients´ bill of rights that will further regulate the health care industry; a higher minimum wage bill; a tougher campaign finance reform bill; and more restrictive gun controls.

She also promised that President Bush´s federal judicial nominations “are going to be handled quite a bit differently than they would be by the Republicans.”

“We´re happy to see our Democratic friends will be chairing the committees. We´re glad to see that the Bush momentum will be stalled by this,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America´s Future, a liberal lobbying organization that is working to push the party´s policy-making further to the left.

“What will change is the rules of the road and the possibility that the Democrats can stop some bad things from being passed,” Mr. Hickey said. “It will also mean that the Democrats can advance a set of proposals, whether they win or not, and force the Democrats in the Senate to do more than just oppose what they don´t like.”

Liberal initiatives that the Republicans have blocked in committee will now be given the green light, he said, “everything from financing family planning programs in foreign aid to whether the United States pays its dues to the United Nations.”

“I also can imagine that once the Bush-Kennedy education bill is passed that you´ll see Sen. [Edward M.] Kennedy propose additional education funding which may or may not pass but it will put a hot potato in the president´s lap,” he said.

Liberal Senate Democrats were also eagerly anticipating that they will now get a chance to vote on bills that the Republicans refused to let out of committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California predicted yesterday that her electricity price control bill would be reported to the Senate.

The president´s energy development plan, with its emphasis on producing more nuclear, oil and coal-driven energy, would likely be ditched by the Democrats who will write legislation focused more on conservation and fuel efficiency.

Mr. Daschle´s elevation to majority leader will mean that he will control what the Senate takes up and what it chooses to put on the shelf.

“President Bush wants to bring back nuclear power and drill in the wildlife refuges. … Guess what, he can´t do it unless we put that on the agenda,” Sen. Barbara Boxer of California told reporters.

Mr. Daschle has already made it clear what he opposes and the list contains some of Mr. Bush´s biggest reform proposals: Social Security retirement investment accounts; an expansive missile defense system; and funding social welfare programs through faith-based organizations.

What has the party´s liberal wing especially exuberant is the lineup of veteran liberal Democrats who will be taking over the most important committees where most of the business of the Senate is done.

“Yes, we are delighted. The [liberal] committee lineup is absolutely stunning,” Mrs. Isaacs said.

Indeed, the list of new committee chairmen reads like a who´s who of the party´s most prominent liberals. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont on Judiciary; Sen. Kennedy of Massachusetts on Health, Education and Labor; Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia on Appropriations; Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan on Armed Services; and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware on Foreign Relations.

“The change from [Republican] Sen. Frank [H.] Murkowski to [Democratic] Sen. Jeff Bingaman on Energy and Natural Resources will have a great impact on the Bush-Cheney drill to a fare thee well. It has huge implications,” Mrs. Isaacs said.

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