INSIDE THE BELTWAY: A Senate split 50-50 - unbreachable. But is it not what public affairs has been waiting for?

By actuarial standards (not to put too fine a point on it), the Senate may well have a narrow majority of Democrats during much of the next two years, instead of today's 50-50 split, while the House will be Republican by an equally thin four- or five-seat margin. (The Supreme Court tips 5 to 4 Republican whenever a presidential election is to be awarded.)

By actuarial standards (not to put too fine a point on it), the Senate may well have a narrow majority of Democrats during much of the next two years, instead of today's 50-50 split, while the House will be Republican by an equally thin four- or five-seat margin. (The Supreme Court tips 5 to 4 Republican whenever a presidential election is to be awarded.)

By actuarial standards (not to put too fine a point on it), the Senate may well have a narrow majority of Democrats during much of the next two years, instead of today's 50-50 split, while the House will be Republican by an equally thin four- or five-seat margin. (The Supreme Court tips 5 to 4 Republican whenever a presidential election is to be awarded.)

Given this, plus a new president still cautiously feeling his way, an economy no longer bursting at the seams with buoyancy and vitality, and an attorney general-designate who seems to view antitrust enforcement as a crime roughly equal to child molestation, the Washington, DC PR/public affairs scene seems ready to return to normal.

That is to say that companies, trade associations, law firms, unions and interest groups of all kinds will be vitally interested in promoting or opposing a particular point of view or economic issue in a new, untested and relatively equal arena, and each believes it can succeed.

Here is what, for the GOP, will seem an opportunity not dreamed of in years - a Republican president and a Congress ripe for the passage of a sweepingly conservative agenda, without the need to compromise.

For Democrats, including the liberal leadership, their eyes firmly on 2002 and 2004 as the years for revenge and revival, the picture is equally optimistic. Mindful of the new filibuster-proof Senate majority of sixty (out of the reach of both parties) and the ever-present possibility of a few Republican moderates in the House leading a small rebellion on matters like a minimum wage increase or some expanded rights for HMO members, the Democrats think they, too, have some victories in sight.

All the issues will be in play. Health insurance, tort reform, antitrust law, capital gains and inheritance taxation - not to mention the old standbys of abortion, gun control, campaign finance and gay rights - each has a strong constituency anxious to start influencing public opinion and, eventually, winning votes.

This will play out as well against a background of truly large, mostly ideological concepts whose partisans know success may be distant and who want only to begin to line up support. Federal regulation of insurance, deregulation of electrical utilities, tax revision, Star Wars, reform of Social Security and Medicare - a feast for lobbyists and PR practitioners with, at last, the level playing field they've been asking for all these years



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