Monday, October 23, 2006

If Democrats win control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections, national priorities will be reshaped as liberals take the reins of congressional committees.

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, would be in line to replace House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. The two lawmakers rarely agree on issues such as the war in Iraq, illegal immigration and congressional oversight.

“She would present a great number of problems for the Bush administration,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, a government watchdog. “There would be a big change in the way things are done on Capitol Hill.”

The 2006 Almanac of American Politics says Mrs. Pelosi voted with the liberal position on economic issues 93 percent of the time during the 2003-04 Congress. She voted with the left 88 percent of the time on social issues and had a 81 percent liberal rating on foreign policy votes. Mrs. Pelosi voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, against the Bush tax cuts and against a ban on human cloning.

Although a leadership change would be significant, the real shift may occur in the committees.

“The Democratic leadership looks more like a left-wing activist club than a group representative of the American people,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jonathan Collegio. “A San Francisco liberal would head the House; an outspoken tax hiker would head Ways and Means; [and] a rabid impeachment seeker would head Judiciary.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, is in line to head the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan is in the Democrats’ top spot for the Judiciary panel, which has control over impeachments. Other Democrats looking for committee chairmanships are Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan for Energy and Commerce, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California for Government Reform, and Rep. Tom Lantos of California for International Relations.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not return repeated requests for comment.

Mr. Holman said a Democrat-led Congress, or even a slimmed Republican majority, would be a positive change for reformers and those who favor greater congressional oversight. Mrs. Pelosi has announced that, as speaker, she would order investigations of the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

“One of Pelosi’s first actions as speaker would be to bring up lobbying and ethics reform legislation,” Mr. Holman said. “Even if the Republicans hold on, we’re going to see serious ethics reform and a tremendously positive improvement in congressional oversight.”

Democrats also are optimistic about winning control of the Senate, though most analysts say that is less likely. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to win the House and six seats to win control of the Senate.

Speculation has risen that Democrats will try to keep Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, from heading the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee if he wins re-election. Mr. Lieberman is running as an independent, and some liberals fear he would not be forceful enough in countering White House policy on Iraq.

“By mid-November, they will have ironed out a lot of the details,” said Betty Koed, an assistant historian with the Senate Historical Office.

If Democrats take a one-seat edge, Republicans could demand near-equal representation on Senate committees, Ms. Koed said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has a more moderate voting record than Mrs. Pelosi. During the past cycle, Mr. Reid voted with the liberal side on economic issues 64 percent of the time. He is more conservative on social issues, voting liberal 58 percent of the time. On foreign policy votes, however, Mr. Reid sided with liberals 86 percent of the time.

On the Senate side, the high-profile Appropriations, Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees under Democrats likely would be led by Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Joseph R. Biden of Delaware.

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