- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

As this is written, we do not know the outcome of yesterday’s elections — and may not for some days due to recounts and court challenges. Nevertheless, we can safely predict certain things will occur.

(1) If Democrats don’t at least retake the House, many pundits will say the whole party might as well close up shop. With such an incredibly favorable political environment, they will say, Democrats will never be in a stronger position to regain control. Therefore, failure to do so must mean the Republican advantage is so strong in terms of money, organization and gerrymandering that Democrats could be locked out of control for decades to come.

(2) Anything less than a blowout victory of, say, 40 seats in the House and six in the Senate for the Democrats will be viewed as a de facto victory by Republicans. If Democrats only get the 15 seats they need for control of the House and don’t get the Senate, Republicans will portray this as a massive defeat since they should have done so much better given their advantages.

(3) The “Blue Dog” Democrats, moderates and conservatives from red states, will suddenly find themselves the most popular guys in town. There were 37 of them in the last Congress, and there probably will be more in the new one. Therefore, the Blue Dogs will hold the balance of power. They can all expect many invitations to the White House over the next two years.

(4) There will be much talk about Republicans raiding the Democratic side for votes from red state members and assembling a conservative coalition that could effectively run the House despite Democratic control, as in the 1950s. Expect Republicans to shine publicity on Nancy Pelosi and make her a foil the same way Democrats used Newt Gingrich. As representative of possibly America’s most left-leaning district, she inevitably will say and do things that will make every red state Democrat cringe.

(5) Republicans will repeatedly proclaim they still control the White House and therefore the national agenda. The experience of Republican control of Congress during the last six years of the Clinton administration shows it is a poor substitute for having the presidency. And Republicans have had lots of experience controlling the White House while Democrats had Congress. Presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had little difficulty pursuing their agendas despite Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress during their administrations.

(6) Expect President Bush to remind Congress he has veto power. Republicans undoubtedly will retain enough seats in both the House and Senate to sustain all such vetoes. Or they may simply kill Democratic bills in the Senate with filibusters, just as Democrats have been killing Republicans measures for years, though Republicans today have a bigger margin than the Democrats will have next year.

And when Democrats fail to act on Republican initiatives, expect Mr. Bush to denounce the do-nothing Congress as Harry Truman did in 1948. Moreover, Mr. Bush can create showdowns with Congress on issues where he has the stronger hand, as Bill Clinton often did, putting Democrats into no-win situations that will quickly erode their support.

Thus we see that even if Democrats retake control of the House and maybe the Senate, many challenges await them. The Republicans will still have a lot of leverage against Democratic initiatives. And let us not forget that everything that goes on in Congress the next two years will be against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election. A Democratic victory in Congress this year may quite possibly forestall what otherwise would have been a White House victory in 2008.

Many political observers believe voters basically like gridlock, with different parties controlling the White House and Congress. Thus, ironically, Democratic control of Congress for the next two years may give Republicans just the edge they need in 2008 — especially given the president’s overwhelming role in foreign policy and the importance of that issue in today’s world.

Remember: Democrats thought their Senate victory in 1986 marked the beginning of the end for Republicans. They quickly moved to investigate Iran-Contra and pass liberal legislation. But the hearings went nowhere and the bills were vetoed. Two years later, Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, was elected to the White House. I believe voters did that in part to put a check on the Democratic Congress, as they did so often in the postwar era. Indeed, I think Democratic control of Congress could rejuvenate Mr. Bush’s presidency just as Republican control gave new life to Mr. Clinton’s.

Bruce Bartlett is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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