Power shift in Congress would tip economic agenda

first_imgWASHINGTON – Policy debates affecting every corner of the economy are likely to shift in major ways if Tuesday’s election, as expected, gives Democrats more power in Congress. Hearings focused on boosting domestic petroleum supplies could morph into talks about raising energy efficiency. Republican efforts to partially privatize Social Security and shield industry from liability lawsuits should lose steam as Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage and reduce drug prices gain momentum. And ambitious Pentagon requests for military hardware could be whittled down as Iraq war funding priorities shift. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESurfer attacked by shark near Channel Islands calls rescue a ‘Christmas miracle’Whether Democrat-led initiatives radically transform corporate America, or even make it past President George W. Bush, is another matter. Neither party is anticipated to walk away with anything more than a slim majority in either the House or Senate, and that augurs the kind of legislative gridlock that Wall Street favors. Consider: even as Democrats’ election hopes soared following a sex-scandal cover-up embroiling Florida Rep. Mark Foley and some Republican leaders, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed to a new record. That suggests one of two things, according to Prudential Equity Group LLC: “either investors don’t believe a shift is afoot, or more likely that they don’t think it matters.” “Control of one house of Congress when the president is of another party is not particularly helpful,” said James Glassman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “That is even true if the Democrats take control of both houses.” Glassman said there are two key areas where Democrats might assert themselves most effectively: trade and taxes. Democrats could play a critical role in helping Bush revive global trade talks that collapsed over the summer, he said, though they will be tempted for political reasons to withhold support. On taxes, many Democrats strongly oppose the cuts Bush enacted in 2001 and 2003, but Glassman said the party might use its newfound power to force a “grand compromise” with Republicans that extends the cuts, which are set to expire in 2010, but with major revisions aimed at helping working families. “The easy criticism of the Democrats of an earlier era is not so easy to make anymore,” said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities. “The Democrats are splintered politically.” Still, traditionally left-leaning interest groups ranging from trial lawyers to environmentalists to labor unions are optimistic about the consequences of Democrats gaining more influence in Congress, while industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals and defense are girding for a less friendly atmosphere in Washington. Even if Democrats gain control of just one house of Congress, protecting the environment will “no doubt” gain status in Washington, said Tiernan Sittenfeld, legislative director of the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters. In an unlikely twist, a bill that would give energy producers greater access to the Gulf of Mexico stands a better chance of becoming law if Democrats oust Republican opponents in the House who are pressing for more far-reaching legislation that would lift coastal drilling moratoriums altogether, according to Prudential. Devon is a big player in the Gulf of Mexico. After energy, the pharmaceutical industry tops the list of industries that would surely be in Democrats’ sights. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is in line to become speaker of the House, has vowed to hold a vote within the first 100 hours of a Democrat-controlled House to allow the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to purchase medicines for the Medicare program. And in the eyes of drug industry executives, that is tantamount to price controls.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more