Divided Government (Cont'd)

November 08, 1990

Results from the 1990 mid-term elections, in which Democrats gained nine seats in the House and one in the Senate, virtually assure that party's control of Congress until the end of the century. For President Bush, this portends more of the harshly partisan opposition on domestic issues he encountered in the bruising budget struggle that brought the 101st Congress to a close.

If war breaks out in the Persian Gulf before the 102nd Congress convenes in January, the dynamics of the executive-legislative relationship will alter drastically in ways reflecting the tide of battle. Otherwise, the onset of economic recession and the approach of presidential elections are likely to lead to protracted conflict over taxes and spending, issues in which the Democrats believe they have gained an advantage as self-appointed champions of "fairness."

Whether Republicans retaliate by exploiting racially tinged conflicts over "job quotas" is something that will largely be determined by the president. He ought to stop it quickly, now that his position in dealing with the GOP right-wing is enhanced by minority whip Newt Gingrich's near-loss. Vigorous moderation on the part of the president might repair his drooping popularity ratings and his tarnished reputation for competence.

In comparison with most past mid-term elections, the Democratic gains were modest -- indeed a shade more modest than the party anticipated. But because the Republicans started with such a small base -- this despite Mr. Bush's solid victory in 1988 -- GOP representation is at its lowest mark since 1982 in the House and since 1980 in the Senate. The president's ability to continue his unbroken streak of sustained vetoes may be weakened, though not decisively.

Obvious voter disenchantment with the way the divided government is operating ought to force Republicans and Democrats alike to be more results-oriented in combating national indebtedness and revising national priorities.

If Mr. Bush wishes to revitalize his presidency he will have to provide more compelling explanations for his course of action in dealing with the debt and the Iraqi crisis than has been the case so far. Otherwise, the initiative will fall to a Congress that not only is in unfriendly hands but is hobbled by a committee system and a budget process that eviscerate its leadership.

We hear no clarion calls from the 1990 elections, only muted disharmony.

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