GOP-Controlled Congress: The Powers That Could Be
WASHINGTON — ALONG K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, in lobbyists' offices around town, polls showing Republican strength in House and Senate races have caused some pencil-sharpening over what the next Congress will look like and what it is likely to do.
Lobbyists for causes from the environment to small business are studying who will sit where among the powers that may soon be - especially in the Senate, where speculation is putting about even odds that Republicans will take control of the chamber.
Voters will punch their ballots simply for their own representative, and a senator in most states, but the impact of their choices will reach much further.
Consider, for example, Jesse Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The conservative North Carolina Republican, a thorn in the side of many administrations of both parties, is ranking Republican on the committee and often a vocal opponent of US participation in international organizations.
On the other hand, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) - a set of proposed rules for world trade - might be law now if Senate Commerce chairman Ernest Hollings (D) of South Carolina had not been in a position to single-handedly block it. Senator Hollings' move has forced the Senate into a post-election session to vote on GATT.
Whether or not Republicans gain the seven seats they need in the Senate or the 40 seats they need in the House to become committee and subcommittee chairs, some characteristics of the next Congress are clear.
Congress will almost certainly be more conservative and more divided between Republicans and Demo-crats. Republicans will have more lever-age over legislation, even if they fail to win control. It will be a harder place, many lobbyists agree, to get things done.
``I think you'll see a lot less passing,'' says Tom Korologos, a lobbyist with Republican roots.
The huge number of new faces in Congress will continue to run against Washington, says Mr. Korologos, which he sees leading to even more deadlock.
``We won't get much done,'' says another lobbyist with a senior citizens' organization. But if Republicans have listened to voter frustrations in this campaign, they will want to get something done. ``If you have close to a majority, can you afford to stand out there for two years and buck everything?'' he wonders.
The answer has huge implications for the Clinton presidency. His reelection in 1996 will be won or lost in the next two years while Mr. Clinton attempts to govern with a Congress controlled by Republicans, effectively at least.
Democratic proposals such as his health-care reform plan will be out of the question, but a moderate to conservative welfare-reform proposal could have Republican support. Republicans will also have to weigh passage of a popular bill against the prospect of helping Bill Clinton in his reelection by letting him succeed on a conservative issue.
``I don't think the Republicans want to be obstructionist just to be obstructionist,'' or to avoid anything that could make Clinton look good, says Lonnie Taylor, director of congressional affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.
Korologos is not so sure that presidential politics will not be part of the calculation.
Some conservative lobbyists suspect that Clinton, blocked by the next Congress, will use regulatory agencies to bring about change in policy by executive order. ``We find that extremely alarming,'' says Mr. Taylor.
The tone of cooperation or partisanship will be established by several factors.
Some observers, such as retiring moderate Democrat Tim Penny of Minnesota, see a Congress where many moderates are retiring or face defeat. This leaves a more liberal mix of Democrats and more conservative Republicans - since new Republicans tend to be more conservative than are the veterans of Capitol Hill.
On the Senate Finance Committee, which passes all tax and entitlement bills, moderate Republicans Dave Durenburger of Minnesota and John Danforth of Missouri, as well as conservative Democrat David Boren of Oklahoma are retiring.
The new finance committee chairman would probably be Bob Packwood of Oregon, who lacks a sharp ideological profile. But his House counterpart heading the Ways and Means Committee would probably be Bill Archer of Texas, one of Congress's most conservative members.
In a Republican Senate, a key to the political atmosphere will be whether Bob Dole, the ranking Republican, runs for president in 1996. He would presumably veer to the right to win his party's nomination, meaning ``deadlock again,'' says the seniors' lobbyist.
But if Mr. Dole does not run, ``I think you could actually see some constructive things happen.''
If Dole does run, conservatives have discussed whether to run a challenge against Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming as party whip, says Dave Mason, a Congress analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Mr. Simpson is not deemed conservative or iron-fisted enough by some, he says, to fill in as leader for Dole.
Some of the lobbyists most concerned about the new Congress are the environmentalists. They would have no complaint if ranking Republican John Chafee of Rhode Island took over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But Republican leaders may punish the moderate Mr. Chafee for his support of the crime bill in August and make Mr. Simpson chairmanship.
On the critical House Natural Resources Committee, notes Betsy Loyless, political director of the League of Conservation Voters, twice as many pro-environment members as anti-environmentalists are at risk.