The Democrats and Republicans will convene after the election to choose their leaders for the next Congress. If Republicans maintain their majority in the House, reactionary Texan Tom “The Hammer” DeLay will become their designated choice for majority leader, with election to follow in January. If Democrats win the majority, liberal Californian Nancy Pelosi, now Democratic whip, will be the top candidate for majority leader and in line to become Speaker should Dick Gephardt run for President. The contrast between DeLay–the rabid anti-choice water carrier for business who considers the Environmental Protection Agency the “new Gestapo”–and Pelosi, the feminist, pro-worker reformer, is a stark reminder that elections have consequences.
If the Democrats should capture the House and hold the Senate–two big ifs, but by no means impossible–look for a raise in the minimum wage, pension reform that genuinely protects workers and more money for schools. In the House, Democratic committee heads will drive a different agenda: Henry Waxman will expose Administration efforts to impede corporate accountability reforms, John Conyers will challenge the Ashcroft assault on civil liberties and Sherrod Brown will hold hearings across the country to make the case for national health insurance. Democrats will have difficulty agreeing on a true economic stimulus package, and on repealing the most outrageous of the Bush tax cuts. But they will use hearings and legislation to change the national debate.
The prospects for moving any progressive agenda will effectively be dashed if Congress remains divided. Even more alarming is the possibility that the Republicans–now only one seat away from taking control of the Senate–will end up in control of both houses and the White House. According to Heritage Foundation official Michael Franc, business lobbyists are frothing with “guarded optimism, bordering on giddiness” at the thought. Already, the Washington Post reports, they are drawing up wish lists, with White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey meeting secretly with business executives to solicit ideas. GOP control will end any hope of corporate reform (the Bush Administration is already undermining reforms that have been passed, seeking to slash budget increases for the SEC, the cop on the corporate beat). Pension reform will be shelved. The drug companies’ prescription drug placebo bill will move forward in the Senate. The Bush tax cuts for the rich will be accelerated and made permanent, and corporate taxes will be reduced if not eliminated. “Tort reform”–putting limits on corporate liability–will be a top priority. The homeland security bill will be passed, with 170,000 workers stripped of union and civil service protections. Stem cell research will fall victim to right-wing ideology, while initiatives will be launched to undermine a woman’s right to choose, affirmative action and basic civil liberties. Imagine John Ashcroft with a free hand, plus a judiciary transformed as reactionary nominations move to the Senate floor.
Elections do indeed have consequences. That is one reason the White House rolled out the Iraq war scare: In a close, low-turnout election, simply dividing the Democrats can determine a number of races. In response, liberals should emulate Floridians who have taken the “Arrive With Five” pledge to bring five other voters with them to the polls. As 2000 showed in a half-dozen states, not just Florida, a handful of voters can make all the difference.