Impact of GOP Election Sweep
The President's re-election with expanded Republican majorities in the Senate and House may have implications for a host of legislative items stalled in the 108th Congress. Bankruptcy legislation, asbestos claim reform, class action legislation and more may be on the agenda when the new Congress convenes in January. It is possible these issues will be pursued more aggressively early in the first session of the 109th Congress.
The defeat of Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is particularly significant, as Daschle blocked a host of bills favored by the business and financial community. Senate Democrats will have to choose a new leader from a range of options, including a continuation of a strategy to block any initiative that cannot muster a 60-vote supermajority. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has voted for the bankruptcy bill in the past, will be the new minority leader. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), just re-elected, will continue as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. He has been an opponent of the bankruptcy bill.
On the other side of the Senate aisle, Republicans will have a new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is term-limited by GOP caucus rules. Hatch has been a strong supporter of the bankruptcy bill. The leading contender due to seniority is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Specter is one of the GOP's most liberal members, however, and may face a challenge within his caucus for the chairman's gavel. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a non-lawyer, could assert his seniority right to chair the committee, but is unlikely to give up his role as chair of the powerful Finance Committee.
In any event, Senate Democrats may lose a seat on the Judiciary Committee. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) gave up his seat to run on the national ticket, and this seat was won by a Republican. This was one of several Republican pickups in the Senate. The resulting 55-44-1 split may make for a 10-8 Republican majority on the committee, changed from 10-9 in the last Congress. This is a big difference in a sharply divided committee such as Judiciary.