Democrats Earn Larger Majority in Congress

Democrats pick up at least five Senate seats and at least 15 spots in the House.

ByEmily Friedman
November 04, 2008, 6:00 PM

Nov. 5, 2008 — -- With the Democrats now celebrating a Barack Obama presidency, as well as an increase in their majority control of Congress, the attention now turns to the hard part: legislating.

Democrats gained at least five Senate seats with three races still undecided, securing their grip on the chamber, but falling short of the supermajority needed to block GOP filibusters.

In the House, Democrats secured at least 18 new seats, but could pick up as many as 20 depending on the outcome of still undecided races.

Some say the increased majorities, coupled with Obama's White House win, will give the Democrats the ability to sweep party-friendly legislation through Congress, and without the threat of a veto. But political experts aren't so sure about the power of one-party rule.

"United government simply has not been a recipe of doing anything you want in Washington," said Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer.

"Obviously, for the party in power, having a united government is better than having it divided," Zelizer said. "They have the room to maneuver and set the agenda and generally a better chance of passing legislation."

Before Election Day, the Democrats held majorities of 51-49 in the Senate and 235-199 in the House.Public confidence in one-party rule has ebbed and flowed over the last three decades, and holding the White House and both houses of Congress doesn't always make things easier.

Anne Mathias, the director of policy research at the Stanford Group in Washington, D.C., said one-party rule often only leads to division within the majority party.

"The Senate fights with the House as much as Republicans fight with Democrats," Mathias said. "The Democrats in the Senate are not a unified block and neither are the Democrats in the House."

Blue Dog Democrats, said Mathias, who often support more conservative legislation, will still be a factor in the newly elected Congress.

"You're not going to see the floodgates open and see every piece of populist tax-raising, business-unfriendly legislation just roll through."

Doug Kriner, a congressional expert and professor of political science at Boston University, said even with increased numbers in both houses, Democrats still won't always get their way.

"They will not get everything they want," he said, adding that in addition to the Blue Dog Democrats, some moderate Democratic senators from states such as Montana and North Dakota will still stand up to the majority.

"For Democrats to always prevail in Congress would demand a lot of party loyalty, which isn't always the rule of the Senate," said Kriner.

Democrats One-Party Change

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