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Democratic-Led Congress Could Help Swiftly Implement Obama Agenda


Expanded Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as a result of Tuesday's election could help President-elect Barack Obama implement an ambitious agenda next year. But analysts say no one should expect Democrats to automatically walk in lock-step with a president of their own party. VOA's Deborah Tate has a look at what kind of relationship to expect from a Democratic congress and president.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged Democrats' cooperation with President-elect Barack Obama.

"Our increased numbers in the House better enable us to work closely with our new president for a vision for America and a plan to succeed," said Nancy Pelosi.

American University political science professor Alan Lichtman says there is evidence that when one party controls the congress and White House, much can get done.

"History shows if you are a programmatic president with a big agenda, the best possible thing is to have unified control of government," said Alan Lichtman. "Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected in 1932 as a Democrat, also came in the midst of a big economic crisis, and he got a Democratic congress to pass 15 major bills in his first 100 days."

But with that said, Lichtman adds that congressional Democrats will not automatically 'rubber stamp' everything that Mr. Obama proposes.

Other analysts agree, noting that Democrats can be liberal or conservative-leaning or moderate, and divided by cultural or regional differences.

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says it will be a challenge for Democratic leaders to constantly deliver enough Democratic votes to pass Mr. Obama's initiatives, and may at times have to look to the opposition for support. He says this is especially true in the House, where Democrats will hold more than 250 of the 435 seats.

"For democrats to do it all on their own will require for Speaker Pelosi a very delicate and difficult juggling," said Norman Ornstein. "That is going to be a tricky process, and I think it will make it imperative to find some allies on the Republican side."

The situation is much the same with the expanded Democratic majority in the Senate, says Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat:

"The assumption that if you get a certain number [of Democrats] you can do things automatically, then you don't know this institution very well," said Senator Dodd. "Even though we have increased numbers, if you neglect to deal with the other party, you will not achieve much."

Alan Lichtman of American University says the key for Mr. Obama is to act immediately, at the start of his administration when he will enjoy a so-called honeymoon period of political goodwill.

"I think it will go six months, and you can get a lot accomplished in six months," he said. "But the lesson is you've got to strike quickly."

Lichtman says Mr. Obama's experience as a U.S. senator - albeit for two years - gives him a crucial understanding of the legislative process.

It is a comment echoed by Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Mr. Obama has been a member and where Vice President-elect Joe Biden has been chairman.

"I think with both the president and vice presidents moving from chairs in our body that these are people from the beginning who really have a head start on important issues when it comes to legislation," said Senator Lugar. "

Mr. Obama has an ambitious agenda that includes efforts to improve the economy, find alternative sources of energy, tax reform, health care reform, and the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

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