Government Without Consensus: What it Means for Industry

The results of November's election will have a lasting impact on both the moldmaking and plastics industry. As a result, Industry groups such as SPI will have to find new ways to deal with government.

The oft-quoted line from The Wizard of Oz, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," seems unusually appropriate in the wake of the 2000 elections. While at this writing the outcome of the Presidential race remains unresolved, there is little doubt that the November 7, 2000, elections will leave a lasting impact on the way the nation is governed in the next several years.

This impact also will affect the manner in which industries such as the moldmaking and plastics industries deal with and are dealt with by government. Here are some observations that will be relevant, regardless of who is the next President.

The Presidential Election

The next President will assume office without a clear mandate of leadership and saddled with lingering animosity from those whose candidate lost. This will have an influence on early decisions regarding Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions, as well as relationships with Congress.

The losing party is certain to expend even greater energies than normally would be the case in mounting an early and aggressive campaign to retake the White House in 2004. However, it is not clear in either party who the leading candidates would be to mount such a challenge. In any event, as in love, in politics there is no more riveting emotion than the compulsion to get even when one feels unjustifiably and unfairly rejected.

While the Republicans will continue to control Congress, the narrowness of their margins will mean that any President must resort to coalition building to accomplish any legislative goals. This circumstance might lead the new Administration to seek regulatory avenues as an alternative means to achieve some goals. However, such an approach will not be without peril, given several new tools Congress now has at its disposal to strengthen oversight of the regulatory process. In short, it will be more difficult for a new Administration to move unilaterally in ways the Clinton Administration has been prone to do over the past eight years.

For interest groups such as SPI, it will be considerably more challenging under these circumstances to pursue objectives with regulatory agencies. Traditional paths of access and influence will change or disappear. New radar systems will need to be developed.

The Congress

House of Representatives
The Republicans have barely held their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, that majority will indeed be sometimes shaky. The House, which has had great difficulty creating majority votes on many legislative issues in this past Congress, potentially will become even more divided. The role of the moderate Democrats (e.g., Blue Dogs, New Democrats) also will become even more critical in passing legislation. Coalition efforts will be absolutely necessary to enact any legislation around which there are strongly differing views. This will significantly increase the degree of difficulty for organizations such as ours to express their viewpoints on legislative initiatives.

It is worth noting that retirements in the House will mean new leadership for two committees that are important to the plastics industry. The House Commerce Committee, which has responsibility for environment, health, food packaging and product safety legislation, will be electing a new chairman to replace the retiring Tom Bliley (R-VA). The Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and trade legislation, will choose a new chairman to replace the retiring Bill Archer (R-TX). The Republicans' term-limitation policy on committee chairmanships also means that some other committee chairmanships will be changing, including: the Committee on Education and the Workforce, which oversees OSHA and workforce development issues; the Committee on Science, which oversees the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as the Fire Administration; and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. When committee chairmanships change, even within the same party, issue priorities and sometimes positions are modified, and staff persons often are reshuffled.

The Senate
The Republicans will control the Senate, if the word "control" can be used in a loose sense. Depending upon a number of complicated scenarios, the GOP will have either a 51-49 margin (compared to the 54-46 majority in the 106th Congress) or effective control should the Senate have a 50-50 division.

If coalition building is to become more necessary for the new President and the new House of Representatives, it will need to become a religion for the Senate in the 107th Congress. The Democrats have called for a greater role in running the Senate. Regardless of the outcome of party negotiations over the control and operation of the Senate, the earlier-quoted Wizard of Oz metaphor will most certainly be in operation in the Senate of the 107th Congress. And the degree of difficulty for any interest group seeking to lobby the Senate on anything will be unlike that in anyone's living memory.

Obscured amidst all of this confusion over Senate control is the fact that retirements and election defeats will mean that at least nine and perhaps 10 new Senators will be freshman members. Even without the aforementioned politically driven questions about committee ratios and leadership, there will be some significant changes in committee compositions. The Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade issues, has lost 30 percent of its membership. Its Chairman, Sen. Roth (R-DE) was defeated for re-election and its Ranking Minority Member, Sen. Moynihan (D-NY), has retired. The Committee also has lost one Republican (to retirement) and three Democrats, with one being defeated and two retiring.

Governors

The changes in the nation's governorships were the least dramatic resulting from the November 7 elections. Only 11 governorships were on the ballot, four held by Republicans and seven by Democrats. Only in West Virginia was there a party change, where incumbent Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood was defeated by Democrat Congressman Bob Wise. In 2001, the Republicans will have 29 Governors, the Democrats 19; two Independents (Ventura of Minnesota and King of Maine) will continue in office. The role of the governors in the coming two years will be very critical politically as all 50 states must, before the 2002 elections, redraw their congressional and state legislative district boundaries in accordance with the results of the 2000 Census. In most states, the governors will have a significant role in the redrawing of congressional district boundaries.

State Legislatures

The elections resulted in Republicans and Democrats each controlling 17 state legislatures, with 13 split between the parties and one state, Nebraska, being non-partisan. This represents a slight shift in favor of the Republicans, but the numbers can be deceiving. For instance, the Republicans gained control of the House in Pennsylvania (from a previous 100-100 tie in seats), the Vermont House and the New Hampshire Senate. However, the Democrats made gains in the Arizona Senate to create a tie (from previous Republican control) and won outright the Senate in Colorado. These gains for the Democrats become critical because of the importance of congressional redistricting.

The state legislative sessions in 2001 will be strongly colored by the task each of the states has of drawing new congressional and state legislative boundaries, based on the 2000 Census results, in time for the 2002 elections. States that are expected to gain U.S. House seats include California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Georgia. The states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Illinois are expected to lose at least one seat. In most states, congressional districts are drawn by the state legislature and must be approved by the governor. The new congressional and state legislative seats that are drawn for the 2002 elections will be in place for 10 years.

Conclusions

Volumes of analyses will be written in the months and years ahead that seek to explain and interpret the November 7, 2000, elections. For now, this much is clear:

  • No one political party or interest emerges from the elections with a clear mandate at the federal level. As a result, coalition approaches to achieving governmental initiatives will be absolutely necessary.
  • State legislatures and governors will be exceedingly preoccupied in 2001 with the highly political process of redrawing legislative boundaries. Each party will seek to insulate itself in some way from future uncertainties and ambiguities like those produced by this year's election results.
  • The nation's electorate continues to be strongly divided on a range of issues and candidates, and there is no immediate prospect for that circumstance to change. It will continue to be challenging for office holders to discern what the "will of the people" truly is.
  • Interest groups, be they the plastics industry, labor, environment or consumers, will find it exceedingly more difficult to lobby for their respective points of view before federal and state legislative bodies and, in some cases, before regulatory bodies. As majorities have narrowed, paths toward consensus have been obscured.

However, for all of its seeming faults and shortcomings in the wake of the 2000 elections, the unique federal system of democracy in the United States still works better than the alternatives.

Related Content

U.S. Congress likes tidal power for stimulus

A dozen leaders each from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives would like to see some stimulus money spent on tidal energy research and development.