Congress and the nation were closely divided between our two parties before Nov. 7. They remain so now, and for good reason. Neither party is offering an agenda that is fully in sync with the wishes of the majority of voters.
The Republicans generally offer what the people want on taxes, crime, national security and reigning in big government. The Democrats generally offer what the people want on global trade and reigning in big business. The leadership of neither party offers an immigration reform policy supported by the majority.
I'm a Republican. I'm of course not happy with the results of the elections, but the new numbers in the House and Senate offer some tantalizing new legislative opportunities for many issues that have strong bipartisan support among the voters.
Prior to the election, Republicans held the House by a narrow 53-47 percent margin. Next year, Democrats will hold the House by the same narrow 53-47 percent margin. The Senate has in fact become more closely divided, moving from a 55-45 percent Republican edge to just a bare 51-49 percent Democrat majority.
These numbers set the basic ground rules for the next two years. The new Democrat majority will not be able to pass any bill into law that is vigorously opposed by Republicans.
They can and probably will pass a multitude of Democratic wish-list bills in the House in the first six months where they only need a simple majority of 218 votes, and while their party discipline is still strong from their election wins.
But hotly contested bills must then pass the Senate by 60 votes or more, and the Democrats only have 51 votes at best without GOP support.
Next, the President can veto any bill that does make it to his desk. That would require the Democrats to come up with 287 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate.
So the new Democratic leadership must first decide on strategy. Do they make a show of passing a smorgasbord of liberal agenda bills in the House that will never become law to satisfy their left-wing base, or do they look to issues in which substantial numbers of Republicans will vote with them? I think they will probably do some of both.
If they do, there are some key issues they can address that will win massive public approval and support from a substantial number of Republican members.
The original Patient's Bill of Rights from the 107th Congress, HR 2723, would be a good start, restoring Americans' historic right to hold health insurers responsible for damages from breach of contract in state court.
That bill, which I authored and sponsored along with U.S. Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, in 1998, passed the House in 1999 by an overwhelming 275-151 bipartisan margin, only to be stonewalled by a Republican Senate. It passed a Democratic Senate in 2001 by a substantial 59-41 bipartisan margin, only to die after my attempt to amend the bill to avoid a presidential veto failed.
Now we have a new mix, and Democratic leadership in the House and Senate that has publicly supported the bill in the past. There is no reason we can't pass the original, un-compromised bill with a veto-proof majority. Among the incoming members of the new House this January, 176 voted for that bill in 1999, and only 75 voted against it.
At the last poll, the Patient's Bill of Rights had an 82 percent public approval rating. If the Democrats can pull that off, they will and should score big with the public.
Democrats also now have the numbers to go after the horrible CAFTA bill that passed this year by a hair in both the House and Senate. In the House, 33 members who approved that bill are gone, along with seven senators. Were the vote held today, it would fail.
Then to immigration, and that's where the danger begins to surface. New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports the McCain-Kennedy Amnesty plan, as unfortunately does President Bush. This is a prime example of both political parties simply telling the voters to take a hike.
But many of the incoming House Democrats were forced to take a strong public stance against amnesty during the campaign, and if enough of these join with Republicans, we stand an outside chance of defeating this monstrosity in the House. If not, we still have a chance of stopping it in the Senate with a filibuster.
Taxes could also provide the final voter judgment.
The final act of the Republican majority this year was to extend the current tax breaks another year. But that means that unless the 110th Congress acts, the majority of the tax cuts Republicans passed over the last 12 years are all slated to expire, many starting with the April 15, 2008 tax deadline.
And since no action is necessary for these tax hikes to occur, there's nothing the Senate or the president can do to stop them.
The next two years will provide the key to which party will prevail in 2008.
I remain eternally hopeful that the embarrassing GOP showing at the polls will provide the catalyst for Republicans to become that party.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, D-Georgia, an Augusta resident, represents the 10th District in Congress.
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