By MARC SANDALOW
San Francisco Chronicle
November 08, 2006
The politically turbulent period that followed produced a balanced budget, a welfare reform bill, two government shutdowns, an impeached president and ultimately the election of George W. Bush.
The gavel will now be handed back to a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who will become the first woman and first Californian to serve as speaker, following a coast to coast repudiation of Republican leadership.
The anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-Congress sentiments that gave Democrats their biggest gains in a quarter-century would seem to set up a titanic clash between the liberal speaker from San Francisco and the conservative president from Texas.
No matter what the final outcome in the Senate, Democrats now hold the power to put their priorities up for debate, to thwart presidential initiatives and to investigate with subpoena power any policy or impropriety they choose.
But divided government, as Gingrich and President Bill Clinton demonstrated a decade ago, does not necessarily produce predictable outcomes.
Bush and Pelosi, despite their policy differences and mutual disdain, have powerful incentives to forge a constructive relationship.
A balanced budget, a comprehensive immigration plan, perhaps an expansion of health insurance to the poor may now be easier to achieve, even as both parties have perches of power from which to throw rhetorical darts.
"There's a heap of history of divided government producing good outcomes and good legislation," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at George Washington University.
"But this is a very evenly divided country, and these folks (in Washington) don't like each other."
Nevertheless, it would be professional suicide for elected officials of either party to ignore an electoral wave that tossed aside longtime incumbents like Clay Shaw of Florida, Charles Taylor of North Carolina, Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, John Hostettler of Indiana, Charles Bass of New Hampshire and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, who among them have 110 years of seniority.
"Change is what this election is about," Illinois Sen. Barack Obama told CNN even before the polls closed in California. Obama is one of many Democrats who may try to ride the wave to the White House in 2008.
For Democrats, many giddy at returning to power after 12 years in the minority and others resentful of the way they were treated, the ability to prove they are capable of advancing a positive agenda will be critical to winning the White House and holding their majority.
Pelosi sought to set the tone in a victory speech before exuberant supporters on Capitol Hill early Wednesday morning, telling them, "The campaign is over - Democrats are ready to lead.
"And we will do so working with the administration and the Republicans in Congress; working in partnership, not in partisanship," she said.
In a conference call Monday with more than 100 of her House colleagues, Pelosi said: "We will show that this is not about getting even - this is about getting ahead," according to one Democrat who listened to the call.
Pelosi has outlined a series of steps she plans to take during her first 100 legislative hours. Some - such as a minimum wage increase, adoption of the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations and cutting interest rates for college loans - will provide an early test of whether the election has shaken Republican opposition to such popular proposals.
However, Pelosi has waved off suggestions that Democrats use their new power to impeach the president, block funds from being sent to Iraq, or other bold steps that would please many of her San Francisco constituents.
Such efforts stand little chance of gaining broad approval and could prove politically disastrous to the new cadre of more conservative Democrats who are a critical component of the new majority.
Bush, who claimed a mandate after winning 51 percent of the vote in 2004 and behaved as if he had a mandate after losing the popular vote in 2000, has displayed little skill at fashioning bipartisan coalitions in Washington.
In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos that aired Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside the suggestion that a Democratic victory would prompt the administration to rethink its strategy in Iraq.
"The president has made clear what his objective is - it's victory in Iraq. And full speed ahead on that basis, and that's exactly what we're going to do."
But Bush worked closely with Texas Democrats as governor during the 1990s, and with roughly 800 days remaining as president, he may use his final years trying to seek common ground.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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