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Congressional Democrats See Bright Prospects for Legislative Elections

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Congressional Democrats predict they will pick up additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate this November, increasing their majority in both chambers.  VOA's Deborah Tate, reporting from the site of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, looks at the Democrats' prospects in legislative elections, and what implications a Republican or a Democratic victory in the presidential contest could have on a Democratic-led Congress.

Congressional Democrats believe their ranks will swell after November's legislative elections, thanks in large part to the unpopularity of President George Bush.

They hope to win enough seats in the Senate to overcome Republican attempts to block legislation.  Currently, Democrats have a 51-seat majority in the 100-member Senate.  They would need 60 seats to end debate on legislation and send it to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. 

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says there are a number of states where the Democrats' prospects look good enough to give the party a so-called "filibuster-proof" majority.

"Many are states where, for decades, Democrats have struggled.  But now we have a chance to win.  This is, ladies and gentlemen, a once in a generation opportunity," he said.

The Democratic National Convention has featured many of the Party's candidates whose prospects look bright in competitive races against incumbent Republicans.   They included former Governors Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Congressmen Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tom Allen of Maine, and Jeff Merkley, the state House Speaker in Oregon.

In a speech at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Schumer criticized Republicans in the current Congress for blocking many of the Democratic majority's initiatives.  He said electing more Senate Democrats would be key to facilitating the agenda of a potential Barack Obama administration.

"We can and we must elect a stronger Democratic majority to the Senate to overcome obstructionism that threatens Barack's agenda, and with your support, we will," he added.

But political scientist Susan McManus of the University of South Florida says the same party in control of Congress and the White House does not always mean that lawmakers will automatically approve initiatives put forward by the president.  In many cases, their constituents' concerns take priority, even if they diverge from the president's agenda.

"When a president has strong majority in both the House and Senate, it makes it much easier for him to push his agenda through the Congress," she explained.  "But on the other hand, the expectations are that he can do that, and sometimes Congress likes to wield their own power and show that they are more powerful than the president.  So it is not an absolute given that just because you have a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress that it is going to be smooth sailing and that Obama would get everything through because, when all is said and done, many of these Congress members have to vote on the issue as their constituents back home would like them to vote.  And that is not always lock step with the president."

If Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain is elected, having a Democratic-led Congress would complicate his efforts to promote his agenda.

If that is the case, Republicans could always criticize Democrats as obstructionists.

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg expects Republicans to caution voters against consolidating too much power in the hands of Democrats, putting that party in charge of both the executive and legislative branches of government.  Ironically, he says, it is the same warning Democrats offered before they took control of Congress in 2006.

"Two years ago, the Democrats were saying before the 2006 elections how terrible it is when one party controls all the branches of government - that is just an invitation to abuse and to extremism," he noted.  "Now that the worm has turned here, you don't hear that from the Democrats.  But I'm sure you'll hear it from the Republicans, saying, 'Hey, don't turn over everything in Washington, D.C. to the Democrats.  The last time somebody did that it did not work well.'  They won't mention that it was them."

All 435 House seats and 35 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for election in November.

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