With yesterday's victory, Democrats now control both houses of Congress (pending a recount in Virginia, which will almost certainly not overturn Webb's 8000 vote margin of victory.) Nancy Pelosi will become Speaker of the House, one of the three people who ultimately have to sit down and come together (the other being Senate majority leader Harry Reid and the President.) This is the first time a woman has become one of our national leaders in the purest sense of the word, 'leader'. She won't be the last, but it is no longer true that three guys get together in a room to work these things out if there is an absolute deadlock.
Republicans tried to claim that Democrats have no agenda, except maybe to 'cut and run' in Iraq.
We will see that that isn't true. You will see a new course in Iraq which includes a gradual withdrawal, but one which is designed to extricate us and still leave an Iraq which is not ruled by anarchy. I and a lot of other people have been talking for over a year about the inevitability of partitioning the country (which is itself an unnatural creation drawn on a map by British and French colonialists after World War I) into its three natural components. That is not yet part of the agenda but I suspect you will see more discussion of it as the path that is the most rational to take in order to lead to regional stability. Despite the hystrionics, Democrats won't cut off funding for the war, but they may launch an investigation into how we were led into it and how we got it wrong (absolutely necessary to do this-- especially with the various calls we've heard about the so-called 'need' to do something military about Iran.)
It is no secret about what the first thing on the agenda in Nancy Pelosi's house will be: Real ethics reform. Corruption in Congress was a major theme in yesterday's election with Democrats filling the seats previously held by Tom DeLay, Mark Foley and Bob Ney. Curt Weldon and Bob Sherwood lost in Pennsylvania as did (Senator) Conrad Burns in Montana. We are likely to see an end to free travel on private jets and other forms of legalized bribery given to members of Congress by lobbyists.
Harry Reid had an idea of tying Congressional pay raises to increases in the minimum wage (indexing them both to the same cost of living numbers), and you may see that brought back up-- though it may be less of a priority since every minimum wage hike that has recently been on the ballot in any state has passed convincingly so there is something to be said in favor of taking it to the voters-- who lately seem to know a lot better than Congress.
Once Congress itself is in order, the Speaker will likely put health care back on the table (where it hasn't been for years, despite double digit increases in costs.) Eventually Democrats realize that the lack of a national health care plan is hurting the United States and costing our employers lots of money, but it will take some time to get there. But expect it to start pretty soon.
Another campaign issue was how we'd gone from the biggest surplus in history to an enormous deficit. And the reason is no mystery-- GOP tax cuts. Hey, I got enough to buy a tank or two of gas. And frankly I'd rather have a balanced budget which would mean a stronger country. Letting the deficit busting Bush tax cuts expire naturally, which they will if Congress does nothing to extend them would go a long way towards returning us to the black again.
We are likely to see money restored to the budget in terms of social programs-- everything from the National Parks to student loans, that the GOP has cut back on over the years.
And I'd love to point out that the reason why Speaker Pelosi and whoever becomes Majority Leader will be much more powerful that previous Democrats in that position (and the minority less powerful) is because she will inherit the rules that Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay put in over the years to ensure that they could rule with a small majority. So now they are Pelosi's rules. So if you ever hear a Republican complaining about 1000 page bills being delivered at 2 A.M. for a 6 A.M. vote or voting on the House floor being held open until the magical moment when a proposition is passed and then voting suddenly being closed, just remember that is a tool that Tom DeLay invented, Dennis Hastert used, and Nancy Pelosi now has-- and don't forget to remind the gopster of that fact.
On the Senate side, the biggest issue is an end to hard right judges being put by Bush into the courts. Maybe some moderates, but no more of the Roberts or the Alitos (or the other hard right judges we've seen nominated). And Republicans can rest assured--- Democrats won't filibuster any nominations. That is because they can just bottle them up in committee, the same tactic that the GOP used to bottle up many of Clinton's nominations. And just in the nick of time, with Justice Stevens' 86-year old heart having trouble.
The other issue that is key in the Senate is the ratification of treaties. In the past, free trade agreements have been ratified without bothering to tie them to environmental, labor or human rights standards. Likely you will see more of that now.
It is true that Harry Reid has less power than Nancy Pelosi. Partly this is because he only has a one seat majority (and new Senators like Webb, Tester and Casey are likely to join old Senators like Baucus, Lieberman and Ben Nelson in forming a bloc of centrist Democrats), but it is also because of Senate rules. However the rules mandate a two seat majority on every committee, and with spending bills originating in the house it seems likely that both the Senate and the House will be able to produce a unified budget to send to the President. He could veto it, but with all the President's chips in Iraq right now it seems unlikely that he will as long as full funding for the war is included in the budget.