Legislative Highlights Dec/Jan 1998
Small Gains Give Democrats Boost in New Congress
Defying the historical pattern of midterm elections, Democrats in Congress won a net of five seats and broke even in the Senate. Republicans still maintain control of both houses of Congress and thus control all committees. The margin is 223-211 (with one independent) in the House and 55-45 in the Senate.
The chief sponsors of bankruptcy reform both sailed to re-election. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) won election to a fourth term with 69 percent of the vote and Rep. George W. Gekas (R-PA) was unopposed and returns for a ninth term. All members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are returning, and there are no changes expected in the makeup of the committee. Sen. Grassley will again chair the subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, which has jurisdiction over bankruptcy.
In an important development, the Senate Banking Committee will now be chaired by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), replacing Sen. Al D'Amato (R-NY). Sen. Gramm may become more involved in bankruptcy matters, especially on matters within the jurisdiction of his committee (e.g., consumer lender practice reforms contained in S. 1301 as passed by the Senate last year). Republican hopes for a filibuster-proof margin fell well short.
In the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Gekas will retain his chairmanship of the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, where the ratio of Republicans to Democrats may be reduced slightly. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is expected to continue as ranking minority member. The bankruptcy bill is expected to be the top priority of the subcommittee again in the 106th Congress. The Committee remains one of the most sharply divided along the ideological spectrum. The former House leadership had made bankruptcy reform a high priority; the new leadership's views are not yet known.