NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Don't Expect a Big Lame Duck Session

November 11, 2002

As a practical matter, the Republican Senate win may not be worth much in a lame duck session. For the rest of the yea r-- and perhaps into the next -- Democrats will still chair all Senate committees and Tom Daschle will remain the majority leader. Power will not change in a meaningful sense until Republicans and Democrats hammer out a new resolution organizing the Senate. That will take time -- more time than there will be before the Senate reconvenes in January. Therefore:

  • It is unrealistic to expect a sudden flurry of judicial nominations to come to a vote or any significant legislative activity on a Republican agenda.
  • Most likely, all the Senate will have time to do after it reconvenes tomorrow (Nov. 12) is to finish the budget and possibly the homeland security bill.
  • Any movement on Republican initiatives that have been bottled up in the Senate by Democrats will wait until after the State of the Union Address.
  • But after that, Democrats, stung by their losses, are likely to be a bit more docile than usual -- and for now, their strategy of opposing everything President Bush proposes, without offering any positive alternative of their own, seems to be dead.

As to why they find themselves in this new situation, in the end it was the performance of each party's base that made the difference in the election's outcome. Republicans were energized, Democrats were not.

Voter intensity is one of the biggest unknowns in politics. That is the main reason why pollsters make mistakes. In general, however, voter intensity is stronger among Republicans. Their voter turnout has fallen less than for Democrats over time, and Republican turnout has been edging up since 1974, while Democrat turnout has fallen continuously since 1982. [See the Figure.]

It appears that better turnout by Republicans made the difference last Tuesday. As long as Democrats continue to play slash-and-burn, win-at-all-cost politics, Republican turnout will remain strong.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 11, 2002


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