Although the national political landscape shifted dramatically following last Tuesday’s elections, many University students expressed doubt the power shift would affect their lives.
In the midterm elections, Democrats gained control of both branches of the U.S. Congress for the first time in 12 years. During the campaign, the party outlined a six-plank plan of priorities for the 110th Congress.
One part of the platform would directly affect students. It includes plans to expand Pell Grants, make tuition permanently tax-deductible and raise the minimum wage.
Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California-San Diego, said the sweeping policy changes many Democrats tout might be difficult to realize.
“There will be changes in the way things operate,” he said, “but the Democratic Congress can’t do anything that (President George W.) Bush might veto.”
When Jacobson spoke at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs before the elections, he predicted Democrats would take control of the House, but not the Senate.
He said Monday that because the margin of victory was so slim in many races around the country, lawmakers will spend most of the next two years trying to look good for the 2008 election.
“That does not bode well for (legislative) productivity,” Jacobson said.
Some issues affecting universities might change, such as the embryonic stem cell research policy, but Jacobson said it still depends on whether Bush can sustain a veto.
Lawmakers also have to worry about the ballooning budget deficit, Jacobson said, which could make it harder to expand money for Pell Grants or research.
“Money that goes to medical research and scientific research is going to be harder to come by,” he said.
Communications and public relations junior Laura Gatz said she’s worried about economic policy and Iraq with Democrats in the majority.
“I’m afraid that some of the progress of the Republican Congress will be undone,” she said.
Gatz said she fears the Democrat-controlled Congress will push for the immediate withdrawal from Iraq or repeal border-security initiatives like the 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I would feel more comfortable if the Democratic Party took the initiative to create a sense of harmony,” she said.
Electrical engineering senior Matt Wagner said he doesn’t really care which party controls Congress, but is fine with the Democrats.
“Might as well try it the other way,” he said.
But Wagner said he doesn’t foresee any dramatic changes happening with new leadership, as far as lowering tuition or changing direction in Iraq.
“Things always take a while – it’s politics,” he said.
Some students expressed a lack of confidence in changes occurring in the new political environment.
Chemistry graduate student Chris Whiting said he voted on health care and education, but didn’t take the Iraq war into consideration because he didn’t think either party had a good solution.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of noise right away,” he said, referring to the transition of power in Congress. Whiting said he is doubtful any major changes will occur until legislators can get the support they need to pass new measures.
He said he anticipates Republicans and Democrats will take moderate steps to allow stem cell research and override another possible veto by President Bush.
Global studies junior Rita Hardie said she hoped to see bills passed to ensure more funding for higher education and health care, but doubts there will be any changes “on a significant scale.”
“I’m doubtful how much power people have in democracy in general,” she said.
First-year psychology student Jasmine Johnson said even though she’s not sure changes will occur, she still has faith in Democratic control.
Although Johnson said she was unable to vote in the election because of problems with registration, she was happy with the outcome.
“I would like to see (Congress) bringing the troops home,” she said, “You know, not so much of the dying every day.”