State Democrats predict benefits from Senate shift

Latasha Webb

The University might benefit from Vermont Republican Sen. James Jeffords’ announcement Thursday to forsake the Republican Party and become an Independent, Minnesota Democrats said Thursday.

With Vice President Dick Cheney, the Republicans previously held the majority. However, Jeffords’ switch will create a Senate composed of 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one Independent.

“Senator Jeffords’ decision, and the resulting shift of power in the Senate, will be good for Minnesota,” said Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in a written statement.

“He and I strongly agree on the importance of investing more substantially in education,” he said.

Many Democrats, including Wellstone, are hoping the shift in power will result in more funding for educational programs, Minnesota farmers and prescription drugs.

Rep. Neva Walker, DFL-Minneapolis, said she also hopes the switch will bring more federal funding to education.

“We don’t have money for the different levels of education and for housing because we spent it on the tax cuts and the sales rebate. That’s just backwards,” she said.

With Republicans suddenly handing over control of major committees, Democrats across the country are beginning to realize they might have the power to push issues previously unsupported by the majority party.

“Now for the first time in quite a while there’ll be a necessity for the kind of bipartisanship that the president professed he wanted,” said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll get right to issues like prescription drug coverage for seniors that were nowhere on the former majority leader’s schedule,” he said.

Tony Sutton, the executive
director of the Minnesota Republican Party, disagreed. “Dayton and Wellstone are out of touch, out of mainstream,” he said.

Other issues that might reach the forefront with the onset of Democratic control include: abortion, missile defense, higher minimum wage and environmental protection – specifically preventing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Jeffords said issues like these separated him from the majority of Republicans. One of the most significant differences Jeffords had with the president was education funding.

But Sutton said Republicans agree education, along with tax cuts, are important to the American people.

“The president’s education bill passed 384 to 45 bipartisan in the House. The president is making proposals that are supported by the American people,” he said.

Federal education funding might become more important to University students if Gov. Jesse Ventura’s $125 million plan passes in the state Legislature.

“(Democratic control of the U.S. Senate) may mean increased funding for higher education,” said University Relations director John Engelen. He added that the University is “the largest direct lender of federal student loans in the country.”

Currently about 30,000 University students receive more than $165 million in federal aid annually.

Engelen warned the combination of a Democrat-dominated Senate and a Republican-controlled House might create a congressional deadlock similar to Minnesota’s current legislative standoff.

Dayton said disagreement would be better than total Republican control, and that Republicans had been dictating and “acting as though they had absolute control.”

The U.S. Senate will be in session until October of this year.