President-Elect Obama Faces Dramatically Changed Congress

Democrats to hold a more dominant majority in more than a generation.

Nov. 5, 2008 — -- President-elect Barack Obama will have a dramatically different Congress to work with, after Democrats gained a more dominant majority in both chambers than they have had in more than a generation.

Divided government has been a fact of American political life for most of the last 30 years. Just as President Bush has had to deal with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, President Clinton tangled with Republican Newt Gingrich and President Reagan sparred with Democrat Tip O'Neil.

Even when Bush and Clinton enjoyed congressional majorities, those majorities were narrow and, for the most part, they had to work with leaders of the other party to get anything passed.

The expanded Democratic majority on Capitol Hill will make it easier for Obama -- in the beginning at least -- to enact a sweeping Democratic agenda.

Consider the early priorities:

Health care -- Obama has made it clear that expanding health-care coverage to the uninsured would be at the top of his domestic agenda. It's a longtime Democratic priority. Clinton, with the help of then-first lady Hillary Clinton, pushed it hard in 1993. An emboldened Republican minority called the plan too costly and too heavy-handed and defeated it. This time around -- with a more modest plan and a bigger Democratic majority -- Democrats believe they can get it done.

Taxes -- Most of the tax cuts that Bush signed into law expire in the next two years. For now, the era of across-the-board tax cuts is over. Obama will seek to replace them with a mix of tax cuts for the middle class and tax hikes on businesses and individuals with incomes of more than $200,000 a year.

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  • The Iraq War -- Democrats have been stymied in repeated efforts to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Now they will have the votes to force the issue and a president who has promised to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months. If Obama backs away from that promise, anti-war Democrats may have the votes to force the issue.

    Judges -- With an expanded Senate majority, Obama should have an easier time getting judges of his choosing appointed to the federal courts. And depending on who retires, he could get a chance to appoint as many as three new Supreme Court justices. Bush got two conservatives -- John Roberts and Samuel Alito -- confirmed by the Senate and put on the Supreme Court, but he was often stymied in his efforts to get conservative judges placed on the lower federal courts.

    Climate Change -- Obama has outlined an ambitious agenda to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In a Democratic Congress, this will likely be a top priority.