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Democrats win majority in US Senate

A clean sweep

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Analysis It was only by a whisker, but Democrats managed to pull off a clean sweep of Congress in the midterm election. Two exceptionally tight Senate races, in Montana and in Virginia, ended yesterday with the Republican candidates conceding.

Democrats now enjoy a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and a substantial one in the House. From a legislative perspective, the Senate victory is the less significant one: some Democrats vote with Republicans, and vice versa, all the time. With a margin of one, the Senate's legislative output will be unlikely to change dramatically.

However, with a solid Democratic majority in the House, the Senate's slight legislative shift will be much amplified in the products of Conference Committees. In other words, the House will ultimately have its way, or near it.

But we mustn't forget that there is still a Republican in the White House, and a very stubborn one at that. Bush will be using his veto and his famous "signing statements" with great eagerness; and because the numbers in both chambers don't look good for veto overrides, we can expect either gridlock, or considerable compromise and backroom horse trading.

More important - even from a legislative perspective - is the coming change of Senate Committee chairs. Democrats will now be setting the agenda for committee hearings and investigations in both chambers, and there is much dirt associated with the Iraq war, so-called "security" initiatives, intelligence blunders, warrantless wiretaps, prisoners held in foreign rat holes, and the like, that the Bush administration will wish desperately to keep from public view.

So, the President will have his veto threat, and the Democrats will have their committee hearing threat. It's not difficult to guess which will prove the more intimidating. Indeed, we might soon be amazed by the amount of legislation the Democrats can push through. ®

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