Democratic Agenda: Expect Changes Ahead

At a post-election press conference Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid pledged a new spirit of bipartisanship in Congress, saying, "Democrats are going to treat Republicans differently than Republicans have treated Democrats."

But now that Democrats have a majority in the Senate as well as the House -- with Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen having conceded today -- there's little question that big changes are in store.

Control of both chambers gives Democrats a greater chance to pass legislation (as opposed to bringing items up in the House largely to score political points).

Assuming Democrats can get past filibusters in the Senate, they will put President Bush in the position of having to decide what to sign and what to veto.

During the campaign, Democrats outlined an agenda for the new session. Many of the items seem likely to win over support from moderate Republicans -- and, therefore, are likely to pass -- such as raising the minimum wage, reducing interest rates on student loans, and passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

Bush's agenda -- on everything from taxes to education to judges -- will also face significantly larger hurdles than it did before. Democratic leaders have offered assurances they will not raise taxes on the middle class, but some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans may be rolled back.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for renewal next year, may be significantly revamped. Although the new chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the bill, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was an original supporter of the legislation, he has since become a critic.

A Democratic Senate will have a significant impact on Bush's ability to confirm conservative judges. The next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., voted against both of the president's Supreme Court picks, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

On the most pressing issue of the day -- Iraq -- change may come more slowly. Reid plans to hold an Iraq summit to look at policy options. Democrats are also likely to wait until the Iraq Study Group releases its recommendations. But the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, D-Mich., voted against the war and has argued that the United States should begin to draw down troops in the next year.

Before the Democrats take over, Congress reconvenes, beginning next week, for a lame duck session. The president has already indicated he has a number of agenda items he hopes to pass during that time. He may try to get some judges confirmed. Today he also resent John Bolton's nomination for ambassador to the United Nations to the Senate. But for that nomination to make it through the Foreign Relations Committee, even with Republicans in control, outgoing Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., would need to lift his previous objections.