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
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
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.