Donald Lambro

The power shift in Congress brings one-party rule to an end in Washington, at least for the next two years, but it would be a bit premature to read much else into last week's elections.

The Democrats will control the House by about a 30-something-seat margin and the Senate by 51 to 49, and that puts them in charge of the legislative agenda, if they can produce one.

But that is not necessarily the same thing as being able to enact their proposals into law. President Bush will still have his veto and will likely exercise it before his term is up in January 2009. It will also be difficult to cobble together a majority in a more narrowly divided Senate in which one member can require 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote.

This is why the stock market was cheering the election results, believing that the numbers spell gridlock, which will make it impossible to pass bills that would further regulate the financial industry or raise corporate taxes. "Gridlock is good," was the phrase most heard on Wall Street last week.

This is not to say that here and there, now and then, there won't be times when Democrats, Republicans and the White House may be able to come together on common ground. Perhaps over immigration reform.

Bush's proposal to create a well-regulated guest-worker system at the Mexican-United States border was killed in the Republican House, which refused to budge on its enforcement-only, fence-building bill that Bush eventually signed. Now that the Democrats are in charge, it's much more likely that a modified bill will make it to the president's desk.

Conservative immigration opponents who fiercely opposed his guest-worker plan will no doubt fight it tooth and nail, but the combined support of most House Democrats and enough Republicans will put it over the top.

At his post-election news conference last week, Bush mentioned the possibility of a compromise to reauthorize his 2001 "No Child Left Behind" education testing bill. However, that could run into stiff opposition in the Senate from spending critics who would fight increases in its very costly funding.

The battle of the budget is likely to become much more incendiary, too. Senate Republicans, stung by sharp criticism from their political base in the elections that they were "spending like drunken sailors," will be much more hawkish on appropriations and budget reform.

Getting a budget bill passed in a 51-vote Democratic Senate is going to be problematic at best. Democrats have big plans to boost a broad range of social-welfare programs to satisfy their political base, and that will give Republicans plenty of targets to demonstrate a renewed commitment to spending restraint. Expect a lot of fireworks in that arena.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.