Democrats' fate hinges on end to gridlock

WITH THE divine prescience that singles them out, America's legions of pundits have long identified the economic package that Bill Clinton was presenting last night as the make-or-break deed of his presidency. But its fate will be scarcely less vital for the 57 men and women who constitute his party's majority in the Senate.

For the first time in 12 years, Democrats had one of their own to applaud as Mr Clinton made his way last night into the House chamber, to deliver what in all but name was his first State of the Union address to the assembled ranks of the US Congress. But that simple fact implies a monumental change of behaviour.

For the best part of a decade the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill has lived by opposition - for the later stages of the Reagan presidency and the entire single term of George Bush systematically scuttling almost every legislative initiative and proposal emanating from the White House.

Nothing did more to elect Mr Clinton than the promise that with the same party installed at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, 'gridlock' would be be banished, and US government could work again. But for that to happen, the Democrats must first re-acquire some long-forgotten habits, including patience, discipline and obedience.

If the President's deficit therapy of tax increases and spending cuts is to have a prayer, the Democrats will have to assume the mantle of government majorities in classic European parliamentary systems, where whips are whips and party lines are toed. In the Senate, where it matters most, the early signs are not encouraging.

During the Republican years, great Democratic fiefdoms developed on Capitol Hill, the mightiest of them in the most powerful Senate committees. Hugely influential figures in their own right, their chairmen owed nothing to Mr Reagan and Mr Bush. Thus far, to Mr Clinton's discomfort, they are acting as if they owe him nothing either.

Already Senator Daniel Moynihan, chairman of the Finance Committee, has publicly deplored 'the clatter of campaign promises being thrown out of the window'. The homosexuals in the military kerfuffle brought Mr Clinton into collision with Sam Nunn of the Armed Services Committee. 'Never,' Mr Nunn was quoted as saying, 'have I regarded the President as boss'.

Even the Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, tacitly admits he may not be able to deliver the goods: 'Certainly Democrats in the Senate should, and I think will, be willing to change the ways they have operated in the past.'

But it will be tough. The President himself may have courted Congress assiduously, but less sensitive aides have already bruised some egos on Capitol Hill.

Not only do the Democrats have special interest groups to worry about. As politicians facing re-election, they must look to their home constituencies too. The proposed energy tax, in particular, could cause uproar to overwhelm the most disciplined intentions. 'By the time the sausage goes through the grinder, it's going to look substantially different,' Senator Bob Kerrey, who ran against Mr Clinton in the early Democratic primaries, warned this week.

But fractious cussedness could cost the Democrats, and their President, dearly. In the 1994 Congressional elections, 34 Senate seats are at stake - 22 of them Democrat controlled, many precariously. A net loss of only eight would hand the Republicans a Senate majority. Mr Clinton might then find himself as impotent as Mr Bush.

Leading article, page 24

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea