Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Thanks to Sen. James Jeffords’ defection from the Republican Party, the Democrats will soon control the U.S. Senate. Now they will have to figure out how to use their new power. And for a party that has spent the last few months bitterly decrying the GOP agenda, the pressure will be on to deliver results. The following are several areas where the Democrats’ new leadership role will likely be felt immediately. Agency Oversight: With Democratic control of the Senate, President George W. Bush’s agency heads may now find themselves dragged up to Capitol Hill as often as former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno was under a GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats — traditionally more willing to rely on government involvement to solve social, economic, or political problems — are sure to question the Bush administration’s attempted rollbacks of government regulation. The subject of Senate oversight hearings, the witness lists, even the tenor will change with Democrats running the show. “They will be in charge of the hearings,” says Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that promotes limited government. “The Democrats know how to work with groups off the Hill and the media to get scare stories and damaging items from famous witnesses into the public’s eye.” Two of the key committee shifts will be at the Environment and Public Works Committee, which Jeffords is expected to chair; and at the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is expected to head up. Change will also be felt on the Appropriations Committee, which Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will take over from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development will also take a drastically different tack under the likely new chairman, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, who would supplant Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. Domenici “never met a nuclear project he didn’t like,” says Anna Aurilio, a legislative director who works on energy and environment issues for the liberal U.S. Public Interest Research Group. From Aurilio’s perspective, the switch “is going to be very beneficial” since the pro-environment, liberal Reid has opposed such proposals as nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain. Reid is also unlikely to favor funding for more nuclear power projects, as is called for under President Bush’s energy proposal. With Kennedy at Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao will find her job much more difficult. Kennedy is sure to summon her to the Hill to explain the agency’s action — or lack of action — on such matters as enforcement of labor laws. But some observers say that an angry senator breathing down a secretary’s neck doesn’t always translate into a change of direction at the agency. “Oversight is oversight,” says Lawrence Lorber, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Proskauer Rose and a former Labor official in the Ford administration. “If you don’t want to take two hours of heat, you change your policy. But if you say, ‘This is going to be an awful two hours. This is going to be like going to the dentist,’ you go back and you still do your policy.” Tobacco: Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina is up for the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary. Hollings is a big supporter of the Justice Department’s tobacco litigation, and authored Section 109 of the Justice-Commerce-State appropriations bill that has allowed the Justice Department to recoup funds for the tobacco litigation from other federal agencies. Anti-tobacco advocates are hopeful that Hollings’ chairmanship will translate into more dollars for the DOJ’s fight. “It will be very useful in terms of keeping the lawsuit going,” says John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, a D.C.-based group involved in anti-smoking litigation. Anti-smoking advocates are also hoping for strong hearings on tobacco from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, even if those hearings don’t immediately lead to legislation. Expectations are that the Democrats will also put more pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco and nicotine products. Banzhaf says he hopes the Democrats will prod the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release rules on workplace smoking. American Lung Association lobbyist Paul Billings says that he thinks an increase on the excise tax on cigarettes will be brought up under a Democratic Senate, as will proposals that Medicare and Medicaid cover programs to help people quit smoking. “At least there is an opportunity to have some discussions on issues we care about,” says Billings. Financial Regulation: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be breathing easier today. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., is taking over the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee from Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Sarbanes is expected to go after predatory lending and consumer privacy issues much more heavily than did Gramm, who was not a big fan of government regulation in these areas. But one area where observers expect less, not more, federal regulation from Sarbanes is over the Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), such as Fannie Mae, the national underwriter of housing loans. Fannie and Freddie Mac, its smaller sibling, have been heavily criticized recently and accused of failing to adequately help low-income citizens get loans. They have also come under fire for allegedly receiving too many financial benefits from the federal government. “Paul Sarbanes is a supporter of the GSEs,” says Kevin Hassett, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The Democratic Party is much more supportive of Fannie and Freddie than the Republicans are.” Wage and Hour Issues: Two of the Senate’s strongest liberals are getting much bigger roles in labor policy thanks to the political power shift. Kennedy will presumably take over the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, while Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Labor Subcommittee on Employment, Safety, and Training. That means the OSHA rules on ergonomics are back — if not as a bill, at least as a topic of discussion. Wage and hour regulations and enforcement will also be center stage. “The Democrats will be asking the agency how many violations have you found, how many penalties have you levied,” says Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “That does put some implicit pressure on the agency to get its numbers up just to keep the Democrats off its back.” Business groups are also concerned about potential labor bills. Among their worries are an expansion of the scope of the Family and Medical Leave Act, amending the Equal Pay Act to allow workers who have been underpaid to receive compensatory and punitive damages, as well as back pay. Business is also bracing for possible revisions to the National Labor Relations Act, including increasing union access to the workplace. With Kennedy and incoming Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in control, many are expecting a different minimum wage bill. Republicans were hoping the proposed legislation would be a vehicle for more corporate tax cuts. That opportunity may be significantly reduced. Energy and Environment: The Bush energy plan is going to run into problems with the Democrats over clean-air issues. Jeffords is one of the eight co-authors of a “four pollutant” bill, which would limit power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury. Carbon dioxide is not now regulated by the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration had originally backed a limit on the gas, then changed its mind in March. Others say that the Democrats will push harder for efficiency than production increases, perhaps by addressing automobile fuel efficiency. The Democrats also are going to be emboldened to flex their muscles on some of the Bush appointees in this policy area. Already the Democrats have put a hold on Jeffrey Holmstead, nominated to be the assistant administrator for air and radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency. “I think we are certainly going to see an agenda which is more pro-environment, more conservation-orientated, and focuses more on energy efficiency,” says Robert Sussman, a partner at Latham & Watkins’ D.C. office and a former Clinton EPA official. “I think we are going to see more aggressive oversight of Bush administration programs in those areas.” Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who is expected to take the chairmanship of Energy and Natural Resources from Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, has sponsored his own energy plan, which puts much more emphasis on conservation and alternative energy sources. The Democrats are expected to take an approach to any energy solution that is much more piecemeal, rather than passing a sweeping plan. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is seen as dead. But lobbyists and industry sources say there could be much more compromise and overlap between the Democrats and Republicans in the energy arena. “Both sides’ approaches to addressing the energy needs of the country may be different in some ways, but the shifting — a lot of it is going to be around the edges,” says W. Timothy Locke, a lobbyist with Smith-Free Group who represents business. Locke gives as an example an issue he is lobbying on — tax credits for more efficient washers and dryers. Republicans and Democrats have already agreed on Locke’s proposal. The two sides only differ on who should receive the credit — manufacturers or consumers. Another area in which Locke predicts agreement is opening federal lands to exploration. While the Arctic Refuge proposal looks “pretty tough to pull off,” Locke says, Democrats will probably back oil and gas exploration in the Rocky Mountains and in the Southwest United States.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.