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Government Affairs

The 2006 elections have dramatically changed the power structure in Congress and the overall mood in Washington, D.C. On Nov. 7, nationwide dissatisfaction with the current administration and disgust with the scandal-plagued Republican-controlled Congress thrust the Democratic Party back in to power. This marks the party's biggest gains since the '70s and, for the first time in 12 years, the Democrats will control both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

On Election Day, voters across the country dispatched Republican lawmakers in favor of Democrats, ending four years of GOP control in Congress and giving voice to a party that has challenged President Bush's leadership on everything from the war in Iraq to tax cuts. When voters turned out to the polls, they changed the course of Congress, charted a different path for the country, and made history all in one day. If, as expected, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is elected Speaker of the House in January, for the first time in history a woman will hold one of the most powerful positions in American government — third in line to the presidency.

What changes can we expect? When the 110th Congress convenes in January 2007, the Democratic-controlled House will change priorities and pursue a different agenda. Pelosi stated that in the first 100 hours of the new Congress, she will seek to implement all 9/11 Commission recommendations on national security, raise the minimum wage to $7.25, eliminate corporate subsidies for oil companies, allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices, impose new restrictions on lobbyists, cut interest rates on college loans, and support embryonic stem-cell research.

Over the next two years, Congress and the White House will debate a host of issues critical to businesses, municipalities and non-profit organizations. In addition, they will consider business left unfinished by the previous Congress, issues triggered by national and international events, and matters arising from the requirements of the legislative process itself. However, on issues relating to education, immigration, health care and homeland security, there will be opportunities for compromise between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Bush.

During a post-election speech, Pelosi told a cheering crowd in Washington, "Democrats promise to work together in a bipartisan way for all Americans." Further adding, "Democrats intend to lead the most open, most honest and the most ethical Congress in history." In a sign of what is to come, both parties have agreed to move forward with tax cuts during the lame duck session of Congress.

On the Senate side, Democrats will be more influential in the 110th Congress because of their control in that chamber. The Senate will become an increasingly important battleground for Republicans as the two parties prepare for the 2008 presidential contest.

Many observers, however, actually expect the Senate to run more smoothly when current Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky replaces retiring U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who critics say has had one eye on the presidency during his tenure as majority leader.

McConnell will be pitted against Majority Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, with whom he has long worked with on the Appropriations Committee. The two senior lawmakers, who share a penchant for the seemingly contradictory arts of backroom deal making and partisan gun slinging, are widely expected to run the Senate in a more predictable fashion.

One thing is certain: There are big changes on the horizon for Capitol Hill. It is more important now than ever that mason contractors make their voices heard. MCAA will be working in the months to come to ensure that the new members of Congress and the incoming majority are well educated and made aware of the issues concerning our industry.



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