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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Party switch tests US president
The US Capitol
The senator's switch will slow President Bush's agenda
By BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds

Republican Senator Jim Jeffords holds a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.

He is not a man to tangle with, as George Bush and the Republicans learned when the mild mannered moderate from the Green Mountain State of Vermont announced that he was becoming an independent.
Senator Jim Jeffords
Jim Jeffords says he did not desert the GOP but that the party deserted him

He was not deserting his party, he maintained, his party was deserting him.

The Republicans had held the balance of power in the Senate. Even though the seats were divided 50-50, they were in control because Vice President Dick Cheney has a casting vote.

Now, no more. The Democrats will be in charge.

Why?

By his unilateral declaration of independence, Mr Jeffords has in effect overturned the wishes of the electorate.

Yet he has the right to do so. Senators are not delegates.

They are representatives, and, as Edmund Burke laid down two centuries ago, they owe their constituents their judgment above all. Jim Jeffords has exercised his judgment.

Why? The Senator said that his party had become more conservative than him; its leaders were finding it difficult to work with him and he with them.

He feels they have not spent enough on social problems like education and have given too much to the well off in tax cuts.

Blocking delay

What happens now? The Democrats will take charge of the important Senate Committees, which control the flow of legislation.

Look for much more action from these committees on health and education issues, like getting prescription drugs to more of the elderly. Look also for blocking a delay on some of Mr Bush's policies and proposals.
George W Bush
George Bush's 'Republican train has been thrown off the rails at Jeffords Junction'

Forget drilling for oil in the Alaska Wildlife refuge and forget more conservative judges.

But also remember that the votes on the Senate floor will still be divided. The Democrats are not that united.

The Republicans may have lost one man overboard; the Democrats' ship is not exactly stable.

So the new Senate Majority leader, Tom Daschle, the quiet man from South Dakota, will not have it all his own way.

For George Bush, this is an undoubted blow. His Republican train has been thrown off the rails at Jeffords Junction.

His claim during the campaign that he can work with both parties will now be put to the test.

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See also:

24 May 01 | Americas
Senator's move stuns Washington
22 May 01 | Americas
Bush argues for urgent tax cuts
30 Apr 01 | Americas
Who runs the Bush White House?
06 Jan 01 | Americas
Senate reaches power-sharing deal
24 May 01 | Business
US investors act on Jeffords move
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