Donald Lambro

Just about everything that can be said about the 2006 midterm elections has been said and, in a few days, the voters will get the last word.

Most of the prognosticators, pollsters and armchair soothsayers have predicted the Democrats will take control of the House, and a review of the polls in 20 to 30 Republican toss-up races shows the GOP running behind in enough seats to end its 12-year reign over that chamber.

The Senate teeters on the brink of a turnover, too, but there are enough neck-and-neck races in a half dozen or so battleground states to keep the outcome in doubt.

Either way, we can draw some early conclusions about what this could lead to: gridlock.

Even if the Democrats have a net gain of 15 to 20-odd House seats (they need 15 to win a majority), that will still leave them with a relatively small margin to run the House with any authority -- making many, if not most, of the major votes iffy at best.

Democrats being Democrats, there will no doubt be division in their ranks -- as there is now over who their leaders might be next year -- and it is hard to see them passing major legislation by any convincing margin, or by the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.

The Senate, however the election turns out, will be even more narrowly divided than it is now. A 50-50 split appears quite possible, which would mean it would remain in GOP hands as a result of the tie-breaking vote by Vice President Dick Cheney.

But even if Democrats were to win the six seats they need to recapture the Senate, it would be extremely difficult to get much done in a chamber held together by such a bare majority. President Bush often managed to get some Democrats on his side on some big votes, such as tax cuts, and that isn't likely to change because those swing Democrats will still be there, perhaps cutting deals with the administration.

It goes without saying, of course, that Bush's remaining agenda will at best be on life support if the Democrats take control of Congress or either chamber because they would control the legislative machinery and hold the committee chairmanships. Since chairmen are the legislative gatekeepers, nothing would go to the floor unless it got out of committee.

What all this means is that for anything to get done in this scenario, both sides have to compromise -- something that seems out of the question in today's polarized political atmosphere.

Meantime, we are in the final, frantic days of an election that, even with all of its negative TV ads and personal attacks, isn't really as bad as the "clean politics" people want us to believe.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.