Washington Insider
What happened to Congress in the 2000 elections?

One week after the 2000 elections, the republican's majority over the democrats in Congress continues, but by an even narrower margin. In the Senate, Republicans lost and Democrats gained three seats; the GOP now has 50 senators and the Democrats 49 senators. One Senate race in Washington state, between Maria Cantwell, the Democrat, and incumbent Slade Gorton, the Republican, remained undecided at press time. Whether or not Maria Cantwell wins that final Senate seat, however, dividing the Senate in a 50-50 split, it is likely that the Republicans will continue to control the senate, but only by a thread.

Two scenarios make this probable. The first relies on the vice president's second role as president of the Senate. The president of the Senate gets to cast tie breaking votes when the Senate is deadlocked on any vote 50-50. If Governor George W. Bush is declared president, then Dick Cheney will be vice president and, therefore, president of the Senate. That means that if the Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, Cheney will cast any tie-breaking votes that allow republicans to maintain control of the Senate.

On the other hand, if Vice President Gore wins the election, then Senator Joe Lieberman will be the vice president and will be forced to resign his Senate seat. At that time, the Governor of Connecticut, republican John G. Rowland, will undoubtably appoint a Republican to fill the Lieberman seat, giving the Republicans a 51-49 edge. Therefore under either outcome of the presidential race, the GOP will hold slim control of the Senate.

So far the election has given neither political party a mandate to push through its own issues

On the House side, with a total of 435 seats at stake, the margin between the two parties is even slimmer, with the Republicans, again, retaining control. With two House races undecided (one Democratic and one Republican incumbent seat remained too close to call at press time), the Republicans have 220 seats (losing three), the democrats have 211 seats (gaining one), and independents occupy two seats in Congress.

With neither party taking firm control of Congress, and another election season gone by, it is still unclear what the tone of the next Congress will be. Both parties were waiting to see whether the election will add more seats to their side and give them more power to push their issues. So far the election has given neither political party a mandate to push through its own issues. Will legislative gridlock continue? Or will the legislators from both parties conclude that neither party has achieved a political advantage during gridlock and decide to act in a more bipartisan manner?

In terms of transportation issues, bipartisanship has been the hallmark of the House Transportation and Infrastructure ("T&I") Committee. Despite the reelection of its principle members, there are some changes in store for this committee. Rules put in place when the GOP took over the House in 1994 put a six-year term limit on the chairmen of all House committees. This year the six-year term of House T&I Committee Chair Rep. Bud Shuster expired, and next in line to be the committee chairman is Alaska Rep. Don Young. The level of bipartisanship on the T&I Committee has been largely based on the long friendship between Rep. Shuster and the Democratic ranking member Jim Oberstar. Although both sides have the desire for continuing the bipartisan spirit of the committee, the relationship between Rep. Young as a committee chairman and Rep. Oberstar is as of yet untested.

Just because Congress passes this law, localities do not automatically have the authority to enforce FCC law

CB Legislation likely to pass Congress

A revised and rewritten bill to allow localities to enforce Federal Communication Commission (FCC) laws governing the use of citizens band (CB) radios passed the Senate on Oct. 31 and was expected to pass the House after the election. In a previous version of the legislation that passed the House of Representatives, states and localities would be allowed to immediately enforce FCC laws. In the new version, states and localities who wish to enforce FCC law will first have to affirmatively pass a statute or ordinance that prohibits the violation of the specific FCC rules in that locality. In other words, just because Congress passes this law, localities do not automatically have the authority to enforce FCC law. Local citizens will have the opportunity to lobby their local officials to pass or not pass such a law.

The CB bill continues to contain the provision that OOIDA proposed requiring local officials to have probable cause before enforcing the law against commercial motor vehicles. With this provision, localities do not have the authority to pull over trucks at random, or on a whim, under the pretext of searching for CB violations. In order for a locality to enforce FCC laws against trucks, it must have specific evidence that a particular truck is in violation of the law before they pull that truck over to investigate such a violation.

The new law also provides that anyone who has been the subject of local enforcement of FCC laws may appeal any local decision to the FCC The appeal must be made within 30 days of the final decision of the locality, and the FCC must review the appeal within 180 days.

This law would go into effect upon the president's signature.