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Battles or Bipartisanship?

Democrats must handle new power in Senate with care and caution, says a doctoral student at Tufts' Fletcher School.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.07.01] Yesterday, for the first time in history, control of the United States Senate changed without a vote by the American people. While Jim Jeffords' defection from the Republican Party handed Democrats control of the legislative body, a doctoral student from Tufts' Fletcher School said Democrats should proceed with caution.

According to Tufts' Jon Rossenwasser, the Democrats lack a mandate from voters, leaving them, with very little to back up their new-found majority.

"While Democrats will have greatly enhanced power to set the Senate's agenda and determine the all important procedures by which legislation is considered, their biggest risk is in over playing their hand," Rossenwasser wrote in an opinion piece in today's Newsday.

If Democrats push their agenda too hard, it could have long-term negative effects.

"Newt Gingrich and the House Republicans badly overreached their mandate in 1995, even after their success in the 1994 midterm elections, and handed Bill Clinton a second term in 1996," the Fletcher student wrote.

The key, wrote Rosenwasser, is for Democrats to identify issues with bipartisan support, to fill out the Senate's legislative agenda.

"A patients' bill of rights, Medicare prescription drug coverage, campaign finance reform, and reasonable gun control measures are among them," he wrote.

But there may be two sticking points on the horizon: federal judgeships and Bush's proposal for a missile defense system. In both cases, Rosenwaser called on Democrats to avoid an all-out battle.

"If either [Democrats or Republicans] chooses confrontation rather than principled cooperation, bitter partisan gridlock will follow -- at their mutual peril," he wrote in the newspaper.

While Democrats shouldn't abandon their objections to Bush's missile defense proposal, the Fletcher doctoral student stressed that they should adopt a cautioned approach.

"Senate Democrats have a key role to play in slowing the Bush administration down, and unpacking the strategic, political, technological and budgetary logic of this nuclear missile defense proposal," he wrote. "But the Democrats must not become the 'No' party."

After all, the Democrat's choices over the coming weeks and months will help shape a new chapter in American politics.

"Whether it advances the interests of the American people will depend on the maturity of both parties to recognize issues on which they share common views," Rosenwasser wrote.

"During the campaign, Bush touted his ability to change the tone inside the Beltway. With help from Senate Democrats, now is his chance."

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