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Blue Skies?

Increased Power Carries Increased Burdens

by Sam Kornell

A week after Democrats swept both houses of Congress, Santa
Barbara Representative Lois Capps expressed cautious delight at the
dramatic reversal of fortune for her party. “You’ve seen the
jubilation,” she said, “but at the same time, we know full well
that this is a huge burden that’s been placed on us.” Pointing to
Iraq, immigration, healthcare, and social security, Capps warned
that in the next two years Democrats will face difficult, lasting
problems unlikely to invite politically popular remedies. “We’re
going to have to work through a complex series of hearings and
arrive at compromises with as little partisan overlay as possible,”
she said.

Capps conceded that her call for bipartisan cooperation is
unlikely to resonate with many of her constituents, for whom the
last six years of Republican leadership have represented a
remarkably partisan period in American politics. But she argued
that working with her colleagues across the aisle to forge
negotiated legislation is not only in the best interest of the
American public, but will prove politically expedient for the
Democratic Party. “We’re a closely divided country,” Capps said.
“If we railroad through our own agenda, we risk alienating half of
the country, and we risk having exactly what just happened to the
Republicans happen to us two years from now.”

Asked whether Congressional Republicans — not to mention
President Bush — were ready to meet in the middle, Capps was
circumspect. “That remains to be seen,” she said. “It’s part of the
dance.” Capps, who on Sunday embarked on a nine-day trip to
Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Macedonia as a member of a democracy
assistance commission, said she would be prepared to talk about
specific policy issues as soon as the new Congress goes into
session in January.

Capps’s delight at moving out of the minority party also
extended to her status as a California Democrat. Of the many states
that stood to experience shifts in political influence as a result
of the elections, she pointed out that California had been near the
top of the list. Long marginalized in state battles for federal
funding, California is generally considered irrelevant to
presidential contests (it has voted Democratic for decades) and
tends to invite scorn from Republican politicians who view it as a
bastion of the liberal fringe. In the last election cycle,
conservative political strategists argued that California, as the
seat of the corrupting and corrosive politics of liberal Hollywood
and the even more liberal San Francisco, did not represent the
general values of the American public and did not deserve special
attention and assistance from the federal government.

But with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and a likely gain
in influence and stature for Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara
Boxer, California Democrats’ agenda is poised to go much farther
than it did under Republican leadership. Buttressing their
leadership gains will be the size of the House delegation:
Comprising 34 Democrats, it will represent 15 percent of the
Democratic membership as a whole, as compared to 20 Republicans
representing 10 percent of Republican membership. The net effect of
these developments, Capps said, will be to pave the way for
California to get access to federal dollars earmarked for repairs
in the state’s levee system, savings on the Medicare drug program,
and more sway on such issues as immigration and the
environment.

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