Fractured Down the Middle: The U.S. Senate Splits in Two

When voters went to the polls on Nov. 7, 2000 to decide the future leadership of this country, they expected the outcome of the election to be very close. Nobody could have imagined how close the results were.

In the end, America witnessed something that had never occurred. Yes, the presidential protests and contests went on for 35 long, arduous days, and George W. Bush was finally declared the winner of the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the 43rd president of this great land.

The historical importance of the election does not, however, lie in the election of the chief executive, but in the U.S. Senate. For the first time in this nation’s history, the Senate will have a split of 50 Democratic senators and 50 Republican senators.

On election day, voters from across the country sent to the Senate freshman Democratic senators hailing from Delaware, New York, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Missouri and New Jersey, and two freshman Republican senators from Virginia and Nevada.

The freshman senatorial class of 2000 includes Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a former Goldman Sachs chief executive who spent $60 million of his own money to win a position in government that pays a paltry $141,300 a year. There is Jean Carnahan, who will be replacing the first-ever deceased person elected to the Senate, her husband Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan. Not to be outdone, there is of course Hillary Clinton, who is the first first lady to be elected to the Senate. A final “”first”” of notable mention is that there will be 13 women serving as senators in the 107th Congress. To be sure, 2001 can be titled “”The Year of the Woman in the Senate.””

All in all, Republicans who used to enjoy a 54-to-46, four-vote margin over their Democratic counterparts have now lost that margin and now must count on Vice President-elect Dick1 Cheney to cast the constitutionally mandated tie-breaking vote if it ever becomes necessary. In the two election cycles since the Republican Revolution of 1994, the Republicans have been cut down each time. Democrats hope that they will become the majority party.

Observers note that the 107th Congress will be run with the campaigns of 2002 and 2004 constantly in view. The quickest way to guarantee a Democratically controlled 108th Congress is to portray the Republican-controlled 107th Congress as a do-nothing Congress and run a campaign purporting that nothing was achieved. The argument will be that, by returning the Democrats to power, the voters will be able to get rid of gridlock and have the representatives of the people return to doing the work of the people.

Though it is easy to say that nothing will be achieved in the nearly evenly split Congress, there is one strong force that can guarantee that work will be done. That force is the desire for power, namely presidential power. It will be impossible for any senator to run on the record of having accomplished nothing. It is hard to run a campaign — let alone a winning one — in which the candidate cannot name any major legislation that he fostered or co-sponsored for passage.

For Democrats and Republicans alike, the issues of job security and the achievement of higher office will require that work in the Senate be accomplished.

The first order of business the Senate will tackle will be the confirmation of Bush’s cabinet nominations. It is generally agreed that the majority of the nominees will be quickly confirmed with very little opposition, as is the tradition of letting a newly elected president assemble his team as he wishes.

The nominees for the Bush cabinet have been widely praised. To begin with, the cabinet nominations “”look like America,”” to borrow a phrase from the Clinton years. Bush has, by most accounts, chosen highly qualified people who are capable of doing the jobs for which they have been nominated. In the process, the president has sent a clear message from Washington that the American dream is still alive.

However, there have been some rumblings from the left and far left on a few of the nominations. Many of the special interest groups that were in no way nonpartisan and in no way favorable to Bush’s campaign seem to imply that they have veto power over his nominations. There are questions about whether Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft played the race card in defeating the appointment of a black judge, Ronnie White, to a lifetime position on the appeals court. By and large, this question will be answered and most, if not all, of the nominees will be confirmed.

Though the groups that are raising the questions, including Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the Rainbow/Push Coalition and the AFL-CIO, are in a losing battle to deter Senate confirmations of the cabinet secretaries, it is increasingly clear that they are seeking to tee up for any upcoming Supreme Court nominations. What these groups are seeking to do is show the nation and their senators that they do have some power and are capable and willing to exert their political muscle when the time comes.

The message they are sending is that when Bush does nominate a justice to the Supreme Court, the groups will oppose that nominee because of disagreements over policy and the issues very near and dear to them. Due to the fact that these liberal groups and organizations were not able to get either of their men in the White House, they are exerting their political muscle now and warming up for the bigger battles to come.

Once the Senate has finished confirmation of the cabinet, it will move on. There will be two things that the Senate will act upon very early during its session. The first issue will be the contentious matter of abortion. The Senate, even with newly elected Democratic senators, will pass a partial-birth abortion ban.

This ban has a good deal of support from Republicans and Democrats alike, including California’s own left-leaning Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The Senate ratified a ban in the past, only to have it vetoed by Clinton. The Senate once will again pass a ban on this medical procedure, and this time it will be signed into law by Bush.

The second order of business that the Senate will deal with is the slowing economy and a tax cut.

There is only a slim chance that Bush will be able to receive his $1.3 trillion tax cut in its entirety, yet a reduction in taxes will be dealt with. Once again, the greatest indicator of what will occur is what has occurred. The Senate ended the death tax and the marriage penalty. Those bills, however, were once again vetoed by Clinton. The Senate will be able pass a hefty tax cut on to the American people with the signature of the new president.

Following a tax cut, there are many issues that the Senate can and will deal with. There is the reform of the public education system, campaign finance reform, the strengthening of America’s military, and the restructuring of Social Security. These important issue have strong bipartisan support from our elected officials and the voters who have put them in their positions.

Though the naysayers claim that gridlock will rule Washington, the evenly divided Senate will cordially and, in a bipartisan manner, get the work of the people done. They will pass legislation that common sense requires.

Through the combined efforts of the 100 senators and Bush, the lives of Americans will be improved. Those in office, whether Republican or Democrat, will be able go to their home states and say that they deserve to be re-elected. Others will be able to take their legislative records to the nation and give primary voters reasons to vote for them.

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