We Won! Now What The Heck Do We Do?
A rousing congressional victory fraught with traps
Drug safety. Sounds good, but that lineup is certain to keep at least some moderate Democrats awake at night. Dingell, for one, has already talked about investigating drug-safety methods at the Food and Drug Administration, and Waxman has mentioned oversight of prescription drugs, the reconstruction of Iraq, homeland security, and government contracts let after Hurricane Katrina. Rep. Ike Skelton, who is likely to head the House Armed Services Committee, wasn't shy about his first objective: He's going to re-establish a subcommittee on oversight and investigations that was abolished after Republicans took control in 1994.
Pelosi and the Democratic leadership vow to pass their Six for '06 plan within the first 100 hours. It's an ambitious agenda that includes increasing the minimum wage by $2.10, to $7.25, negotiating lower prices for Medicare prescription drugs, implementing all the 9/11 commission's recommendations, making college tuition affordable, ending tax breaks for oil companies, and increasing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The agenda "is going to be strategic and pragmatic," Rep. George Miller tells U.S. News. "It is a far more unified [Democratic] caucus than in any time in recent memory." A likely first would be the minimum wage bill. Sen. Edward Kennedy reiterated his determination to get it to $7.25. His plan had bipartisan support in the House and Senate but was scuttled by the Republican leadership. The president has signaled that he could work with Democrats on the issue.
As for Republicans in the House and Senate, they've got their own problems. House Speaker Dennis Hastert will not seek to continue in a leadership position, and Majority Leader John Boehner is running for the top position in the minority against Rep. Joe Barton and Rep. Mike Pence, the conservative head of the 100-member Republican Study Committee, who has pushed for a return to core fiscal conservative principles and against earmarks that sneak pet spending projects into appropriation bills. "It's going to be difficult for the current leadership or a semblance of the leadership to credibly say we're going to change," Rep. Jeff Flake, a prominent fiscal conservative, tells U.S. News. "Frankly, we've had our chances in the past, and we've squandered them."
Many Republican moderates, like New Hampshire's Charles Bass, lost last week, which could strengthen the party's conservative ranks. In the Senate, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell is set to become minority leader, but a race has opened up for the No. 2 position between a resurgent Trent Lott of Mississippi, the former majority leader, and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, the incoming majority leader, says, "McConnell is a fierce partisan, and he's a strong conservative, but Senator Reid believes he is someone he can do business with."
For Democrats, the test is clear. "We have to remind the American people we can govern," says Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a leading centrist. "Our majority has to be ensured so we can win in 2008." Just days after claiming their historic victory, Democrats already are worrying about the next round.
With Danielle Knight and Kevin Whitelaw