IN THE NEWS #483 - Changes in American Senate

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The Republican Party of President George W. Bush will soon lose control of the United States Senate. This may happen as soon as Tuesday. Republicans still control the House of Representatives. Yet the change in the Senate is expected to threaten President Bush's chances to pass legislation. It may also have major effects on foreign policy and presidential appointments.

A moderate Republican from the small state of Vermont caused the change in the Senate. James Jeffords was first elected as a Republican senator in Nineteen-Eighty-Nine. But last month he decided to leave the party. He declared himself an independent. Senator Jeffords said he disagreed with Mr. Bush about several major issues. For example, the senator wanted more money spent for education. He wanted stronger policies to protect the environment.

Senator Jeffords' decision ends the current balance in the Senate of fifty Democrats and fifty Republicans. When the Senate is evenly split, the party of the president is the majority because the vice-president can vote to break a tie. With the loss of one Republican, the Senate now has a Democratic majority. This means Democrats will be chairmen of all the Senate committees. And Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi will be replaced as majority leader by Democratic Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Senator Daschle and his committee chairmen can decide which bills the Senate will consider.

Democrats may act quickly on issues they support. These include measures on energy and health care. For example, their patient's bill of rights would make it easier for people to take legal action against health care providers.

At the same time, the Senate may act slowly to approve the president's candidates to be federal judges. Candidates fearing rejection may withdraw before their confirmation hearings.

The change in some committee chairmen may not make a great difference. But other changes will be important.

Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina will no longer be leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The new chairman, Senator Joseph Biden, is likely to urge more support for the United Nations and for foreign aid. The Republican chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee supports oil-drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Environmentalists oppose this plan. It may not survive under Democratic leadership of the committee.

President Bush supports building a missile-defense system. But the Armed Services Committee led by a Democrat may demand more testing of the system.

Republicans are unhappy about losing their majority in the Senate. They are working hard to keep other moderate Republican legislators as members of the party.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English