THINKPIECE: Jeffords' departure from the GOP is not just a win forDemocrats, but for DC PR execs too

Sen. James Jeffords' decision to switch from Republican to

Independent, giving Democrats control of the US Senate, will do more

than shuffle the political line-up in Congress.

It will likely prove a financial bonanza for public affairs execs all

over Washington.

No longer will the GOP, which had controlled the Presidency and both

chambers of Congress, be able to enact bills simply by holding their own

members in line. Now, a Republican President and House of

Representatives will have to work with a Democratic Senate, crafting

legislation that members of both parties can support.

The challenge is far more serious than the raw numbers indicate. After

all, Senate Republicans merely dropped from 50 seats to 49, Democrats

still have 50, and Jeffords is now an Independent. Nothing has changed

in the House, where Republicans have a slim majority.

The new trick, however, will be to get bills through Senate committees -

which used to have Republican chairmen and equal numbers of GOP and

Democratic members, and which will now have Democratic chairmen and

probably one more Democrat than Republican. Chairmen wield great power:

they decide which bills to bring to their committee and which, if passed

by the committee, to bring to the Senate floor. President Bush, who has

counted on conservative chairmen such as Phil Gramm, Frank Murkowski,

and Orrin Hatch to move his legislation, must now contend with Ted

Kennedy, Chris Dodd, and Paul Sarbanes.

For those who want something from Congress, the challenge will be to

develop initiatives that, for instance, both Bush and Kennedy can


Business and labor, manufacturing and hi-tech, Wall Street and small

business - all will need to craft messages that strike chords among

enough Republicans and Democrats to pass their bills. They will need to

build the coalitions of businesses, interest groups, and trade

associations that can gin up the grassroots pressure that makes elected

officials take notice. That is, they will need public affairs


Not only that, but the array of private interests that can expect to win

in this environment has grown. No longer does organized labor, for

instance, face a united GOP wall of White House and congressional


Now, Senate Democrats could make GOP support of labor-backed legislation

a condition of their support for business-backed items that Republicans

want. More players will translate into more opportunities for public

affairs professionals.

Don't believe the talk of gridlock. The White House and Congress,

responding to the real needs of Americans, will get things done. Now,

though, the process will reflect more points of view.

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