Frogs' House? Dole's Senate?

November 05, 1994

Democrats who eye Tuesday's election with dread, fearing the loss of the House for the first time in 42 years, were given a bit of comfort this week. Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said his party "is unlikely to win control of the House" unless some Democrats switch parties. He later backed away from that prediction, but those Democratic leaners still will be pivotal next year.

Some Republican representatives say they know of six to 10 Democrats who would switch if that would change control of the House. But mass switching is unprecedented, and conservative Southern Democrats, those most likely to switch, say it won't happen. If Republicans want control, they'll have to win it in on Election Day, they say.

That's nominal control. But it is pretty certain the next House's actions will be controlled, in effect, by Republicans and conservative Democrats, whatever such liberals as Speaker Tom Foley (if he returns) and Majority Leader Dick Gephardt say. "We are going to flex our muscles in the coming Congress," says Rep. Mike Parker, a Mississippi Democrat. "What we want, we will get passed."

Democrats like Mr. Parker used to be called "Boll Weevils." The new nickname for conservative Democrats -- who are not all from the South anymore -- is "Frogs." That stands for the House's Fair Rules and Openness Group, led by ex-Boll Weevil Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas. FROG is expected to have considerable clout next year, especially if the House remains Democratic. That is true even though the Democratic ranks are probably going to be more liberal overall in 1995 (because of Republican victories). Democratic leaders will have to cater to conservative and moderate members; negotiations are under way now to add Frogs and their ilk to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee among other leadership groups.

What this means, of course, is that in 1996 President Clinton and his party will not be able to blame gridlock and legislative failure on a "do-nothing Republican Congress," a la Harry Truman in 1948. It would be the worst of both worlds -- a House Mr. Clinton can neither control nor blame.

BTC President Clinton may still get an opposition Senate. Bob Dole may well become majority leader. Three days before Election Day, nearly every Republican incumbent appears safe. Only two open seats now held by retiring Republicans are even rated possibles for the Democrats. Meanwhile, all six open seats held by Democrats are good Republican pick-up bets, and three Democratic incumbents are in serious trouble. Republicans need net gain of only seven to take over. And in the Senate, as in the House, if the Republicans only come close, conservative Democrats are going to be more influential than ever.

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