Decision 2006 - America Votes: The New Majority
The 2006 elections dramatically changed the power structure in Congress. Nationwide dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and local disgust with the scandal-plagued Republican-controlled Congress propelled House Democrats on Nov. 7 to their biggest gains since the Seventies and for the first time in 12 years, the Democratic Party will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The election results currently give the Democrats a 227 - 195 majority in the House with 13 races still undecided. Should every outstanding House race break in favor of the party that is currently leading — and if the parties split a pair of December runoff elections in Louisiana and Texas, as is expected — the 110th Congress will feature 232 Democrats and 203 Republicans, a precise partisan mirror image of the Congress that convened two years ago. Barring any partisan turnovers in the 110th Congress, the GOP will need to match the net gain of 15 seats in 2008 that was required of the Democrats this year. The Democrats also won a narrow 51 - 49 majority in the Senate.
Last week voters turned out to the polls and in the process changed the course of Congress, charted a different path for the country and made history all in one day. Voters across the country dispatched Republican lawmakers in favor of Democrats ending four years of total GOP control in Congress and giving voice to a party that has challenged President Bush's leadership on everything from the war in Iraq to tax cuts.
MCAA played a significant role in several campaigns during this election. Our support helped to elect new Members of Congress such as Congressman Elect Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois and Senator Elect Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana.
For the first time in history a woman will hold on the most powerful positions in American government California Rep. Nancy Pelosi if, as expected, she is elected Speaker of the House in January. The Speaker of the House serves as third in line to the President and would step into that capacity should anything ever happen to the President and/or Vice President. She is poised to lead Democrats as they move to check Bush's authority and convince voters that they deserve to keep control of the chamber — and take back the Oval Office — in 2008.
For the first time in 12 years the Democrats prepare to take control of and the House of Representatives and for the first time since 2002 they prepare to wield the gavel in the U.S. Senate. Democrats immediate agenda includes increasing the minimum wage, allowing the government to negotiate for lower prices under the 2003 Medicare drug law, lowering college tuition costs, expanding embryonic stem cell research and implementing the remaining recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. All of which are concern to Mason Contractors and their employees across the country.
The Democrats also plan to pass an overhaul of ethics guidelines and implement pay-as-you-go budgeting through changes to House rules.
Last week presumed House Speaker Pelosi told a cheering crown in Washington, "Democrats promise to work together in a bipartisan way for all Americans." Further adding, "Democrats intend to lead the most open, most honest and the most ethical Congress in history. In sign of what is to come both parties have agreed to move forward with tax cuts during the lame duck session of Congress, however, no plan has been put forth yet.
Democrats electoral success may be viewed by some as less of an endorsement of their domestic agenda than as a rebuke of the president, who has lost public confidence because of the war, the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and his stalled efforts to overhaul the nation's Social Security and immigration laws.
During a post election press conference last week, Bush acknowleged the strong Democratic showing and pledged to work with Democratic leaders to find common ground on issues important to the American people.
"Look, this is a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping." Bush said. "Nevertheless, the people expect us to work together.
Congresswoman Pelosi has pledged to operate a more open House that includes the minority in the legislative process to a far greater degree than Speaker Hastert has during his eight years as Speaker — the longest run for a GOP Speaker in history.
Close allies say Pelosi is determined to bring a new air of bipartisanship to the House and to build a centrist legislative coalition.
"She'll be the Speaker of the House of Representatives, not the Speaker of the Democratic Party," said Martin A. Russo, a lobbyist and former Democratic congressman from Illinois (1975-93) who is a member of Pelosi's inner circle.
But Pelosi's desire for a more bipartisan House may not play well with the new GOP minority, which is expected to carry a more conservative flavor after the loss on November 7th of moderate senior Republicans such as Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, Charles Bass of New Hampshire, and E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida.
"This is bomb-throwing time. Don't expect to see a whole lot of bipartisanship in the House," said John J. Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.
Pitney said Pelosi may quickly discover that controlling the House could require implementing tougher restrictions on the Republican minority.
"It's not because of bad faith on her part or that she has bad intentions, it's just the reality of leading a narrow House majority at a time of partisan polarization," he said. "She's going to have to be very tough."
But Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said Pelosi has little incentive to jam partisan bills through the House without help from Republican Members and Bush. "If she goes back on those promises, she'll take a severe beating — and for nothing," Mann said.
On the Senate side, Democrats will be more influential in the 110th Congress because their control in that Chamber. With Democrats in control of the House, the Senate will become an increasingly important battleground for Republicans as the two parties prepare for the 2008 presidential contest.
Many observers, however, actually expect the Senate to run more smoothly if, as expected, current Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky replaces retiring Republican Majority leader Frist, who critics say had one eye on the presidency during his tenure as majority leader.
McConnell will be pitted against presumptive Majority Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, with whom he has long worked on the Appropriations Committee. The two senior lawmakers, who share a penchant for the seemingly contradictory arts of backroom deal-making and partisan gunslinging, are widely expected to run the Senate in a more predictable fashion.
Sen. Rick Santorum's defeat at the hands of Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania leaves Republicans without an obvious heir to the whip job McConnell will be giving up.
In addition to Santorum, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee had been campaigning for the job, but he could face opposition.
One thing is certain there are big changes on the horizon for Capitol Hill when January roles around. It is more important now than ever that Mason Contractors make their voices heard. MCAA will be working in the months to come to insure that new Members of Congress and the new incoming majority are well educated and made aware of issues concerning our industry.
About the Author
Jessica Johnson Bennett was the Director of Government Affairs for MCAA. She has an extensive background in public affairs and government relations. Her expertise in strategic planning, PAC management and operations help on key policy issues.