Although Republican fortunes seem to have picked up a bit from their mid-August lows, Democrats are still in a strong position to take control of the House of Representatives in the November elections.
Both Republicans and Democrats are using this possibility to motivate their bases and raise money. Democrats say they will use the power of the purse to force the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and the investigative power of House committees to issue subpoenas and compel testimony in order to get to the bottom of alleged administration wrongdoings.
Republicans point out that many of Congress' most left-wing members would likely become committee chairmen because they are now the ranking minority members by virtue of seniority. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial pointed especially to black Democrats John Conyers of Michigan, who would likely take over the House Judiciary Committee, and Charles Rangel of New York, who would become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Republicans are trying to frighten the business community, which has been shifting some of its contributions to the Democrats. They are forecasting new waves of government regulation and anti-business tax policies if the Democrats get control. At the same time, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, has promised fiscal restraint in the event that she becomes speaker of the House in January.
The way I see it, neither the Republican nor the Democratic scenario is likely to emerge in the event of a Democratic victory. There are many reasons why.
First, everyone has to remember that we don't live in a parliamentary democracy. Control of one or even both houses of Congress does not confer much power in our system of government. President Bush is still going to be president for another two years and can veto anything sent to him by Democrats in Congress that would do any real harm to the economy.
Republicans deluded themselves that they could simply ram their agenda into law after they took control of Congress in 1994. But Bill Clinton's veto pen effectively neutered them. So unless Democrats get a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate, there is little reason to think there will be much of a change in policy except at the margin.
Of course, Democrats could be confrontational -- holding up appropriations for, say, the Defense Department to get their way. But we all know what happened when Newt Gingrich tried something like that on Medicare in 1995: Clinton won, hands down.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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