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The New Look of the U.S. Congress

What would this Congress look like? In some ways the environment would be similar 1992. Former President Bill Clinton had majorities in the Congress and 57 Democratic senators. The major difference would be the mandate. Clinton won a race where third-party candidate Ross Perot garnered 19% of the vote, effectively muting the effect of a strong mandate.

Furthermore, Clinton had a rocky start in his first term. He decided to take up the cause of passing NAFTA, which had been agreed upon by President George H.W. Bush but not ratified in the Senate. The battle cost Clinton the support of many progressive Democrats and labor unions, making it much more difficult for him to work on other agenda items. He and his wife Hillary soon after faced defeat in their attempts at reforming health care.

Obama can learn from this history. He has a stronger mandate than Clinton, though he faces a much more challenging environment. His first initiatives have to address the economy. He needs to focus on the appointment of a Treasury Secretary and his plan to pass a stimulus package.

Obama's stimulus package would likely be distinct from the tax cuts passed last year by President Bush and the Congress. Obama and the Democrats in Congress have been pushing for aid to go directly to Americans in need, including an extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps. Democrats point to research that has shown Americans often save the money given to them in the form of tax cuts and spend money received from programs like unemployment and food stamps.

Hurdles Remain

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