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GOP Strengthens Control of Capitol Hill

GOP Strengthens Control of Capitol Hill
Congressional Black Caucus gains three new members; Senate gets first Black member since 1999By Charles Dervarics

The 2004 congressional elections will bring major changes in the House and Senate next year, with larger Republican majorities but also more African Americans on Capitol Hill.

The GOP stands to gain four seats in the Senate and another four in the House of Representatives when the 109th Congress convenes in January. In the Senate, Republicans strengthened their hand by claiming several seats previously held by Democrats and defeating the Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Instead of a razor-thin 51-48 majority, with one independent, that they held this year, Republicans will have 55 members in the Senate beginning next year.

But the Senate will have its first African American member since 1999 after Democrat Barack Obama handily defeated Republican Alan Keyes for an open seat in Illinois. Obama will become only the third African American senator elected since Reconstruction.

On the House side, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will see its numbers increased by three with the victories of Reps.-elect the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri; Al Green of Texas; and Gwendolynne Moore of Wisconsin. Moore will be the first African American from Wisconsin to win a seat in Congress.

Also returning to Congress and the CBC is Rep.-elect Cynthia McKinney, who won a race for her old congressional seat in Georgia.

“While November 2nd was generally not a good day for Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus did achieve a few significant victories,” said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md. “We are very encouraged by the mobilization and record turnout of African Americans, our youth, and other first-time voters in many districts and states around the country.”

Wynn also said the CBC’s Political Education and Leadership Institute trained many young political operatives who worked on campaigns nationwide.

“This new generation of trained African American campaign organizers will play a major role in future elections,” Wynn said.

Republican gains in the Senate may give the GOP more ammunition to push conservative causes, some analysts say. This year, with only 51 votes, Republican leaders needed the support of several GOP moderates to govern effectively.

“It’s going to depend on how much Democrats stick together,” said Dr. David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonprofit that studies the political participation of African Americans.

He said Democrats still can be an effective minority party in the Senate. “It only takes 41 votes for a filibuster,” he noted, though the party may have to rely on GOP moderates to advance their agenda. “If they (Democrats) have them on board for key issues, they’ll have close to a majority.”

Still, he noted that the GOP likely will hold the upper hand on some potentially divisive issues, including new nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. “On some issues, it’s going to be nerve-wracking,” he said.

Major Senate committees important to education also are likely to undergo major changes in 2005, due to retirements as well as committee term limits. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., likely will step down as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee because he has the seniority to take over the powerful Senate Budget Committee. Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the current Budget chair, is retiring.

That leaves Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in line to take over the education panel. Yet Coy Knobel, an Enzi spokesman, said no decisions are yet made.

The Appropriations Committee, which sets spending for hundreds of education programs, also is likely to get a new leader next year. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has chaired the panel for three terms, the maximum allowed by Senate rules. Next in line is Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., according to congressional aides.

For Democrats, the most significant change is in the Senate leadership following the defeat of Daschle. His replacement is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who had served as Daschle’s deputy.

Reid is viewed as more conservative than Daschle, but Bositis, among others, predicted relatively few changes in tone given the Nevada senator’s long tenure as second-in-command among Senate Democrats.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., will take over Reid’s old post of Senate minority whip, the second most senior leadership job. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to remain Senate majority leader.

use side, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, easily won re-election and should return as chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. But a change is likely on the powerful Appropriations Committee, where Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., should step down due to term limits. Possible successors include Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, who has led that panel’s education subcommittee for much of the past decade.

The current Congress was expected to return in mid-November to consider spending bills, though unfinished business will carry over to the new Congress that convenes in January.

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