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Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gained an expanded Senate majority Tuesday night, and the country may have given Democrats a mandate for their agenda, but it remains unclear how the strengthened Majority Leader will turn this momentum into legislative gold in the next few months.
Reid also has a tough decision on whether to take actions that could reduce the five seats that he has already gained by one. Reid is expected to meet with Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) in Washington, D.C., today, presumably to talk about whether Lieberman should remain chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee after he aggressively criticized President-elect Obama and endorsed GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
With or without Lieberman, Reid will have a majority of at least 55 and possibly more if any of three Senate races that are close but undecided turn in Democrats favor. At press time, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) appeared to be headed into a Dec. 2 runoff, giving the Democrats a chance for another potential pickup.
Even with that decisive majority, Reid appeared to be laying the groundwork to govern from the middle. Reid said repeatedly Tuesday night that the election did not provide a mandate for Democrats, but for bipartisanship. His first test will come Nov. 17 during the lame-duck session, when Democrats in both chambers attempt to move a massive appropriations bill designed to stimulate the economy, but its already looking like a heavy lift.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnells (R-Ky.) re-election Tuesday makes it likely that the makeup of the Senate leadership in both parties will stay the same raising the question of whether two years of legislative gridlock can be overcome when the parties doing the negotiating havent changed.
Democrats warned that though they hope Republicans will see the election as cause to re-evaluate their objections to another stimulus package, among other things, it appears the GOP is retrenching by calling for a return to the partys fiscally conservative roots.
Were still waiting for a clear signal from the Senate Republicans ... and the White House about whether theyre willing to sit down and negotiate, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. If not, the American people will once again lose under the Republicans failed economic policies.
Other Senate Democrats, however, said Reid has an opportunity in the lame duck to leverage his gains into passage of a stimulus package, despite the fact that his new Members will not be seated until January. One senior Senate Democratic aide suggested that Republicans may make the calculation, with or without Reids prodding, that passing a stimulus this year would save them from passing an even larger spending package next year when the economy could be in worse shape.
Even in the unlikely case that Senate Republicans go along with a stimulus bill during the lame duck, Reid still has to deal with a stubborn Republican White House that has been reluctant to sign onto any new economic stimulus package.
I certainly hope that the president will be on board with us, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said of President Bush. He cant be completely tone deaf to where the American people are in this election on the economy.