- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

Not since the elections of 1954, nearly five decades ago, has Congress been so evenly divided. With less than six months to go before this year's midterm election, the only certainty is that party control of the House on election night will depend upon a relative handful of votes in 40 or fewer House districts, while control of the Senate will be determined by the electoral outcomes in fewer than a dozen competitive states. And, as definitive as voters' judgments have seemed to be in the past, even those electoral decisions and, hence, party control of a body of Congress may be later overturned by the whim of a single politician. Vermont Sen. James Jeffords demonstrated as much last year when his defection from the Republican Party delivered control of the Senate to the Democrats.
Today, Republicans hold a narrow advantage of 222-211(with two independents) in the House. After Republicans seized control of the House in the 1994 election for the first time since the 1952 contest, during the next three elections Democrats successively chiseled what was once a 28-vote GOP advantage to fewer than a dozen. The Senate is even more narrowly divided. Democrats, who also lost control in the 1994 election, now hold a 50-49 advantage, with Mr. Jeffords serving as an "independent."
Since the governing stakes in November are high, even a tiny shift arguably in a single district or one county in an entire state can, quite literally, mean all the difference in the world. No matter how small a majority a party maintains in either body of Congress, it controls 100 percent of the powerful chairmanships of committees and subcommittees in that body (Mr. Jeffords' holding the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as an independent being the obvious exception.) The majority party also enjoys majority status on each committee and subcommittee, a condition that greatly facilitates the crafting of legislation. And the majority party exerts tremendous control over the legislative agenda, no matter how minute its majority may be.
To appreciate the difference between majority and minority status, consider the overnight effect of Mr. Jeffords' defection. Reaganite conservative Jesse Helms of North Carolina was replaced as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by liberal, multilateralist Joe Biden of Delaware. At the same time, Utah's Orrin Hatch was replaced by Patrick Leahylike Mr. Jeffords, a Vermont liberalas chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and his Democratic majority has blocked numerous federal court appointments simply by refusing to even hold hearings. Carl Levin of Michigan, a longtime opponent of a robust national missile defense system, replaced Virginia's John Warner, a former secretary of the Navy, as chairman of Armed Services. Meanwhile, at the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Democratic control would hand the chairmanship to New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, who received his customary "F" from the National Taxpayers Union last year. California Democrat George Miller, whose perennial left-wing agenda has repeatedly earned him 100 percent ratings from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and the AFL-CIO, would capture the chairmanship of the Education and Workforce Committee, replacing conservative John Boehner of Ohio. On and on it goes.
Of course, President George W. Bush is not on the mid-term ballots. But his agenda and its prospects for legislative enactment certainly are.


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