The Dems' Agenda
Democrats may take over the House of Representatives. So what's their plan?
They are among the warhorses of the House of Representatives. John Dingell of Michigan has been in Congress for half a century and chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee for 14 years. Henry Waxman of California has been in the House for 32 years and ran a key subcommittee for 16 years. Charles Rangel has been Harlem's congressman since 1970; John Conyers has represented Detroit since 1965.
For a dozen years, these once powerful Democrats have been in virtual exile, pushed to the back bench while Republicans ruled. But now that may change. Experts say Democrats could pick up as many as 25 seats in November and take control of the House of Representatives.
If Democrats do take over, these veterans will most likely be back to shake things up by chairing powerful committees. Their ability to push through major legislation will be limited because their majority will probably be slim, and President Bush could wield the veto pen. But many Democrats intend to push an aggressive oversight agenda that would investigate the Bush administration's conduct on everything from the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and homeland security. There would be no shortage of fireworks on Capitol Hill.
Republicans have been trying to rally their base by warning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who would most likely become speaker of the House, is too liberal. They issue the same warning about possible Democratic committee chairs like Rangel, Conyers, and Barney Frank. Some doubt the tactic will work; Democratic lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., for one, wonders if "anybody outside of Washington knows who Rangel and Conyers are." But Republicans are pressing ahead. If Democrats take the House, they say, expect a leftist agenda of more spending, higher taxes, and maybe even an attempt at impeaching President Bush. "It's just plain scary," insists House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.
Fissures. While Democrats have lofty ambitions-some are calling for sweeping healthcare initiatives or withdrawal from Iraq-their actual legislative plans are more modest, because a slim majority will probably force them to work across the aisle. Otherwise, "we won't be able to get anything done," says Rangel. The Democrats also have fissures of their own to worry about-like what to do about Iraq. In addition, a bloc of some 37 fiscally conservative Democrats-known as the Blue Dog Coalition-could see its membership increase after the elections as a counterweight to more-liberal Democrats' efforts on spending and trade.
But Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid are already trying to promote a vision of party unity. They say they will launch their consensus-based, six-part "New Direction for America" or "Six for '06" plan within days if they take control of the House in early January. The highlights include legislation initiatives that would increase the minimum wage, negotiate lower prices for Medicare prescription drugs, implement all the 9/11 commission recommendations, end tax breaks for oil companies, and increase federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. "The hardest part, frankly, is limiting the priorities," says Pelosi, who would be the first female speaker.