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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Senate change: Will it make a difference?

In the US, the Democrats are preparing to take control of the Senate for the first time in six years.

The defection of Republican Senator James Jeffords means they will now take control with a majority of one, enough to hand them control of all the committees and the legislative agenda in the upper chamber.

The change of fortunes has given the Democrats an opportunity to forward their own agenda on tax, education and the minimum wage, ahead of mid-term elections in 2002.

It may also make it harder for President Bush to push through his more conservative plans, on defence, the environment and appointments to the judiciary.

Will the change in the Senate be good for the democratic process in the US? Will it encourage more compromise over policy? Or will it lead to legislative gridlock and political stalemate?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

It's of no consequence. There is currently a democratic senator who may lose his seat due to criminal charges being brought against him. Not only that but it is projected that in the midterm elections the Republican Party will take back the Senate. Jeffords' defection will give the democrats a short-lived victory. There are a lot of conservatives here in the U.S. I'm 22 years old and a lot of young adults like me find our parents liberal ways distasteful. Soon enough we will take the reins of government and when we do, Clinton's policies will go the way of the dodo.
Robert Alpy, United States, upstate New York


It is ridiculous to continually describe US politics as democratic

Megan Sweet, USA
It is ridiculous to continually describe US politics as democratic. This is not, nor has it ever been, a democracy. The US is a prime example of an oligarchy, which can easily be illustrated by our political campaign finance system. It is impossible for a person to run for any office in the US without the financing provided by the parties (only two really) and the various monied interests which make the donations to them. As a life-long voter I have finally realised the futility of joining this sad hypocrisy. As for Mr. Jeffords, I say "Good Work" at least in this instance, since shaking up the power structure even a little means a great deal to me. At least in Britain you have limited the campaign season and its financing to prevent your country from being as obviously dumb as our system has made us be.
Megan Sweet, USA

With the Senate at 50-50, it should have been obvious that in order for anything to get done some bipartisanship was needed. Jefford's departure shows the power that he and other moderates in both parties have. For all of you who feel that his defection was illegal or unpopular, recognise that unlike parliamentary systems such as Britain, senators cross their own parties often, since they are accountable only to the voters who elected them. He did what he felt would be best for himself and his constituents. Considering that Vermont's only congressman is an independent and his state is quite liberal (voting for Gore), his actions probably were in lock step with his constituents.
Agis, Los Angeles, USA

In response to A. Carrier. We agree on two points - neither Bush nor Clinton had a mandate of the people, and the Senate shift will change the agenda of US government. But let's remember that the most we bleeding-from-every-pore liberals can hope for is that the shift in priorities will be from left of centre to the centre. As for the welfare mentality, death of free speech of any kind, increased pregnancies? The alignment of lobbyists and politicians from both sides with major corporate interests has increased the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Hurray, for one senator's decision to stir things up and shift the current order.
Jeannette, USA

Those who are outraged at Mr Jeffords' actions do not understand the principles upon which the American republic was founded. Political parties were never intended to be a guiding mechanism of our society - indeed, George Washington, who belonged to no party, warned against the rise of partisan politics. In the USA, candidates may belong to parties, but that is simply a mechanism for getting on the ballot. The word "party" does not appear a single time in the Constitution. We elect individuals, not parties. Mr. Jeffords is a man of courage, because he did what he had to do, within the bounds of the law, to see that the principles he believes in are upheld. Those who would condemn him for that, be ashamed.
Matthew Grieco, Bradenton, Florida, USA


Most of us applaud his courage and honesty

Sarah Spoon, USA
In regards to Neal's comment about Jeffords' probability of losing an election now, I disagree. I'm a Vermonter and I can tell you that recent local polls show that Jeffords' approval rating is over 70% in this state. We are traditionally an independent state with our only House member an Independent (Bernie Sanders). Most of us applaud his courage and honesty and we acknowledge that he hasn't aligned with the Republicans for years. What Florida taketh, Vermont giveth back.
Sarah Spoon, USA

I just had to respond to the comments of Siassa from Canada. I'm really sick of people who are harping that Bush doesn't have a mandate to govern because he barely won the electoral vote. Were you saying the same thing back in 1992 when 57% of the voters specifically DIDN'T vote for Clinton? I doubt it. Yes, the Senate shift will help the cause of liberalism.

Answer me this, are the following conditions in America due to Conservative thinking or Liberal thinking? The death of free speech on college campuses. Drug use. Increased teen pregnancies. Subsequent teen abortions. The welfare and entitlement mentatlity. Billions wasted on a "war on poverty" in which we've seen virtually no percentage of poverty decrease. Calling regimes like China our "strategic partners". Think these things were brought about by Conservatives? Think again.
A. Carrier, USA

Hopefully it will make some change to Bush's ability to force his proposals through the Senate. Any change to that is a good change. The Son of Star Wars programme can hopefully be stopped. George Bush needs to stop his act now and think 50-years-later and look at the real world.
Tom OD, UK


Liberal thinking is the way to go for Americans

Siassa, Canada
This is liberalism versus extreme conservatism. Bush has to know that a mandate he had to become the president was not overwhelming. Liberal thinking is the way to go for Americans, not the extreme right. Just in the wings also to quit Republican Senate will be John McCain, his adversary. This will be a nail in the coffin for the Republican agenda. Liberalism will triumph.
Siassa, Canada

Michael, UK, shows an interesting ignorance of a system he is so ready to criticise. Senators represent the state populations, not the parties of which they happen to be members. We want our Senators to use their own judgements, not merely mouth party platforms or ape poll findings. Jeffords is an unfortunately rare specimen of what we want.
T.J. Cassidy, U.S.A.

Gradually, Americans are waking up to the fact that George W. Bush is a 'puppet' for corporations that have no interest in the environment, health care, or energy - other than to pilfer the public. The change taking place in the U.S. now is coming much later than I had originally anticipated. But, make no mistake, there are new changes coming and they are going to be in the interests of the Democrats and the majority of Americans who vote.
Dave Adams, USA


There isn't much choice left by way of ideology any more

Tanveer Tarafdar, UK
Senator Jeffords' defection makes not an iota of difference to world politics. I know this is a truism, but democracy died a horrible death a long time ago. There isn't much choice left by way of ideology any more. Take your pick: corporate rule today or corporate rule tomorrow.
Tanveer Tarafdar, UK

It amazes me that the Americans can persuade themselves that they have a constitutional state: after the fiasco of the election, which was only decided when the wrong man conceded, they can now allow the Senate to be run by a party the people didn't vote for. Even if it means reconsidering fundamental aspects of the constitution, the Americans must consider the possibility that it's time to change their electoral system, and to make it make sense.
Michael, UK

Whoever thinks there will be no change is deceiving themselves. The very fact that the heads of the permanent committees have been surrendered to the Democrats is already a change. Even if the there is no total blockade of Bush's reforms he will suffer a great deal from delaying tactics. Remember that he has only 4 years while the Senators have 6 years. He is the one in a hurry they are in no hurry.
Hamilton Arrey, Cameroonian in USA

I voted for Ralph Nader. I hope the defection will bring a change. But, I am not going to lose sleep over it.
Russ Black, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Jeffords' switch of parties was not only good for the country, it was good for Bush. Since his election, Bush has been trying very hard to please the far right wing of the Republican party. These are the same people who abandoned Bush's father because they thought he was too soft on the liberals. Now that the Democrats control the Senate, Bush will be forced to moderate somewhat. This will be both good for the country because there were too many right wing policies being pushed through the legislature as well as good for Bush who will now start to be seen as more of a moderate. He knows that this will be better for him in the long run if he wants to be re-elected.
Peter, USA

George Bush has to establish an energy policy because there was none previously. If conservation was the only answer, California wouldn't have a problem. Global warming is poorly understood. The media has less understanding of it than do scientists. Several ice ages have come and gone without industry on the planet.

We need to be ahead militarily. When we entered WWII we were poorly prepared. I don't trust the Chinese communists. And finally, if it would make you EU folks feel better, the next time there is trouble on your continent, you can liberate yourselves. When Germany rolls into France in 2015 I say let them have it. By the way, an EU "rapid reaction" force is laughable given past history.
JP, US

It amazes me how the Bush agenda is characterized as extreme right-wing. It also amazes me at how many in the UK take such swipes at Bush over the ABM treaty and the environment. It is time to realize that the more free market capitalism of the US has worked well. Let's not break it. The Democrats will.
Scott Small, Arkansas, USA

Why are some members of the Republican Party so upset at the Honourable Member for Vermont changing parties by means of "an outrageous defection"? The USN has a destroyer named after a man who changed political parties twice, one Winston Spencer Churchill.
Richard Hawes, Canada

I voted today in a school funding election here in California. I hope that my support of strong state schools will create a generation smart enough to pick up the mess being created by Bush today. The Democrats can't stop it; they're too weak and conservative. There is no Labour party here to stop the right-wing juggernaut. Appreciate what you have, Britain, or you may lose it and end up like us.
Anne, USA

The so-called democratic process has been ill served by Jeffords' untimely change of allegiance. The wellbeing of the United States as a whole has never been at the top of the agenda for the Democrats and now that the balance of power has shifted in the Senate, we can look forward to the United States being sold further down the river - a sale that started 8 years ago. God help America.
Di Stewat, USA


Thank God for our hero, Jim Jeffords

Tammy, USA
Thank God for our hero, Jim Jeffords. He has given Dems the chance to restore checks and balances in the US Senate. The Repubs are going to try to gridlock the Senate in order to fill judicial seats with possible radical, far right-wing people. The Repubs want to bypass traditional and legal procedures to rush these people into judicial seats such as the American Bar Association, which has traditionally interviewed these people before their considerations reach the Senate. I have to wonder what it is about this common American tradition that makes Repubs so anxious, even to the point of declaring war in the Senate.
Tammy, USA

James' defection was a great day for mankind! I strongly believe that no one can overestimate just how huge this event is for America, and the world in general. No other empire in the history of the world even comes close to the influence the USA has on global affairs. Dampening Bush's neo-conservative ambition allows me to sleep better at night! Wait until McCain decides to run as an independent in 2004 - oh, the future smells good...
Dave, Canada


We are still reeling from the election 2000 coup d'etat

Michele Marie, Tennessee, USA
We are still reeling from the election 2000 coup d'etat. The disenfranchisement of the people's vote, the complete lock-down of the media, the corruption of the electoral process as well as collusion of the Supreme Court undermines the very essence of our fragile democracy here in these United States. A shift in the balance of power is a necessary beginning to wrest control of our government from the grip of corporate interests.
Michele Marie, Tennessee, USA

Switching parties is one of the oldest games in democracy. Well, one could always argue pros and cons of this issue. I take the perspective that when one is giving their ballot, he or she should assume that there could be a switch after someone is elected. It is also a tool in a political game where the governing body would be kept on their toes. It is a democratic thing to do.
Raj, India


They are two parties that lean to the right in varying degrees

Francesco Tripoli, Italy
As an outsider looking in, I can say that there is a rising number of foreigners looking in that believe that very little separates the two parties. They are two parties that lean to the right in varying degrees. The backbone of the US is of course its economy. For outsiders, all this means is "how will the US Government continue to defy the US public? Do they not know that rhetoric and practice of market democracy is not a democracy for people but instead for big business? Both parties support such a democracy. Therefore, both are right-wing as far as far as public representation is concerned.
Francesco Tripoli, Italy

Let's hope the Democrats bring a little normality back to American politics and help steer the country off the dangerous road it's been going down since the election.
Andy, UK


Of course it will make a difference

Pritpal, USA
Of course it will make a difference. Democrats are closer to 'people realities' especially the middle class. They will push for policies and agendas that are more meaningful to the greater majority of Americans and push back on those that favour the corporations and the 'really rich'. Additionally, in spite of now being in the majority and having major differences with the Republicans, I do not see the Democrats stalling proceedings or holding up the passage of spending budgets etc as the Republicans shamelessly did during the Clinton era.
Pritpal, USA

North of the US, it is premature to think changes to the already polluted environment in the Great Lakes region will be implemented. Bush has vowed to increase coal burning generators to the maximum. I wish we could smile a bit if it is thwarted. Also, the ambitious oil pipeline from the Arctic to the US will be a disaster to the natural environment. I hope the Democrats ditch these environmentally unfriendly projects.
Rhoda, Canada

While the Senate was Republican-controlled, President Bush's idea of Congressional "bipartisanship" was to intimidate Democratic Senators whose states had overwhelmingly voted for Bush, and threaten to campaign against them on their next election. With the Democrats now in control, Bush will no longer be able to side-step the Democratic leadership, who will control the Senate's agenda.
Johnathan, USA

I suppose in retrospect, nothing has come easy for Bush or his administration, and perhaps that's the way that it should be. From here on out, Bush will have to "sell" his policies rather than force-feed them. I do feel that Jefford's actions are at best suspect, but a Senate divided has always been good for politics because neither party can dominate legislation, and that is the point of checks and balances and distribution of power.
Ryan Johnson, USA


This is not going to make much difference

Avinash K, USA
This is not going to make much difference. First, President Bush already got the appalling tax cut passed and there is very little money to go around for such things as fixing Medicare or health benefits. Secondly, it does not matter all that much who is running the government, for the most part big money runs our government and they will make sure they send enough money the Democrats way to ensure the business community gets what it wants. Thirdly, remember that most Bush policies have passed with 10+ Democratic senators supporting them, this will not change with committee chairmanship control.
Avinash K, USA

President Bush's detractors consistently hammer away at his ideas but they never seem willing or able to propose solutions to the problems that continue to plague us all. Yet Bush consistently chooses not to be aggressive in putting forth his ideas in the absence of solutions others should be proposing. Personally, I don't agree with all of Bush's ideas and I find some of them just plain laughable. However, it's really not his job to go out and set the agenda and solve problems as much as it is to foster a comfortable working atmosphere and bring people together to solve the nation's problems. Unfortunately, a general lack of teamwork on both sides of the political fence makes that all but impossible.
Matt, USA

This change does not necessarily hand power in the Senate over to the Democrats, it hands power to Jeffords who is independent and will be able to control which bills are passed and which ones are blocked by switching sides as he pleases, effectively promoting his own agenda in the process. These are interesting times indeed...
James, UK

No-one should call Sen. Jefford's defection "illegal". The disappointment of conservative Americans is understandable, but the majority of Gore supporters did the right thing in finally understanding that George W. Bush had become their legitimate, constitutional president, no matter what the public vote said, or how narrow the outcome of the presidential elections had been. Now, Sen. Jefford's defection is just as constitutional and legitimate, as Mr Bush's presidency.
Franz Bleeker, Germany

It is misleading for Mr Jeffords to call himself "independent". For all intents and purposes he has effectively made himself the most powerful man in the Senate.
Robert del Valle, USA


There will be massive damage to the Democrats.

Richard, USA
There will be little damage to President Bush's agenda, but there will be massive damage to the Democrats. Their illegal activities in the 2000 election and then this dishonourable action will turn people against them.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

This is only good if the Democrats have the guts to stand up to the Right-wing agenda of this appointed administration. Last year the whole world watched the American presidency get stolen by a group of shameless right wing judges who decided that their vote meant more than millions of us. Now maybe the Senate will block any more such judges taking office.
Faramarz, USA

Thank God, Americans have a way of finally countering the coarse policies of republicans and Bush and his cronies. No longer do we have to wince when he makes decisions that make America seem like an inconsiderate world bully. The democrats are much more sympathetic to world concerns and the environment.
Marcus Lloyd, USA


Jeffords... a pawn of political powers.

Scott, USA
The Jeffords switch was another ridiculous power ploy engineered by a few power brokers who have been unabashedly working this deal for months. While those elected officials have been busy getting the lines redrawn to benefit themselves, there are still a few Senators (in BOTH parties) who have, thankfully, been hard at work on the business of fixing the multitude of problems our country faces. Unfortunately, their efforts may be seriously hindered by the self-serving political machine we now see rising to power. I certainly do not see Jeffords as a "conscientious person who is looking out for the best interests of [his] country", but more like a pawn of the political power brokers.
Scott Smith, CA, USA

Of course the senate power change will make a difference. The democrat party will try to obstruct the republicans' agenda and also to set themselves up favourably for the elections in two years. This may not be to their advantage, since the senate is not as sensitive to control as the house of representatives is. The republicans still have a lot of power in such a closely divided senate. The republicans may have to abandon their niceness campaign, and actually develop a backbone. I can only hope...
Kathy Willsea, USA

If Hitler had lost his power like Bush just did, maybe we would have never had World War II. The whole world can sleep a bit easier at night.
Manuel, USA

Yes there will be a difference but not as much of a difference as big money makes in Congress and the Senate. Although the two major US political parties claim to have the best plan for the American people, both parties step in line to corporate lobbies and their money. All you have to do is look at the number of mega mergers and lack of universal health coverage in the US.
Tom V, USA


The defection was outrageous.

Neal, USA/UK
Although I'm a voting Democrat, I think the defection was outrageous. If any politician wants to switch parties, that's fine, but let the people go back to polls. The majority of people vote on the basis of political party. It's my guess that if Jeffords had to test his popularity now, he'd lose to the Republican nominee.
Neal, USA/UK

We have seen enough of Bushism. This narrow-minded government has to be kept in check. I feel that the change in the Senate will certainly be good for the "Hard working Americans".
Fagun, MN, USA

Yes it will be good! This means that now there will be serious opposition to Bush and to his policies. This means that he cannot push them through so easily. I imagine that this has happened because of the general global outrage to his policies such as rejecting Kyoto, scraping the ABM Treaty and opening up national wildlife reserves. Hopefully this means that for the next three and a half years there will be serious deliberations over the policies suggested and Bush can be stopped before acting before he thinks.
Sharon B, UK


Perhaps no change is better than a wholesale movement to the right

Doug Lyons, Washington, D.C., USA
The change in the Senate will be very good for the US democratic process. The Republicans have been steamrolling over popular sentiment with their conservative agenda despite having no mandate, and a change in party in one of the houses of the legislative branch will at least check conservative excesses. After the election, the Senate was split evenly anyway, and the tie-breaking vote was to be cast by a Vice President that was elected under the most dubious of circumstances. Everyone knows that the American electorate is split right down the middle and that neither side has any mandate whatsoever to lead.

If indeed legislative gridlock or political stalemate are the order of the day, I'd say that this is a far better than giving the keys to the US government to only one party. Perhaps no change is better than a wholesale movement to the right. Thank you Senator Jeffords for throwing a monkey wrench into the works! You are indeed a very conscientious person who is looking out for the best interests of your country.
Doug Lyons, Washington, D.C., USA

Anyone who makes Bush think twice is worth supporting.
Forbes Cunningham, Netherlands & UK

This damage to Republican dominance in Washington is good for the democratic process. It will help redress the injustice that American democracy suffered in the recent "election", in which Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were appointed to power not by the people but by Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices.
Ivan, US

I'm not worried about Bush. For all his faults, he's shown the abilities to compromise when he was governor. What does worry me are the other Right wing extremists in the Senate who are taking the defection personally and would bring the government to a halt out of spite.
Tom Byrne, USA

...and the whole world sighed in relief...
Toby, UK

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See also:

24 May 01 | Americas
Senator's move stuns Washington
24 May 01 | Americas
Q&A: What the Senate switch means
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