5 Nov 2008

Democrats expand majorities in Congress

6:38 pm on 5 November 2008

Democrats expanded their majorities in both chambers of the United States Congress in Tuesday's election to position themselves to quickly act on much of American president-elect Barack Obama's ambitious agenda.

But Democrats fell at least a few seats short of obtaining for the first time in three decades the 60 needed in the 100-member Senate to clear Republican procedural hurdles.

Still, Democrats expressed hope that in wake of the election they will be able to win over a few moderate Republicans to pass major measures, including ones to begin to withdraw American troops from Iraq and end the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression.

"They (Republicans) are going to have to be more cooperative. They have to realise their old way of just blocking everything just doesn't work for them," a Democratic leadership aide said.

"Their party got its butt kicked tonight and (Senate Republican Leader Mitch) McConnell barely won another term," the aide said.

By picking up five seats with several other Senate contests yet to be decided, Democrats had increased their majority to 56, and figured that they would get at least a few more.

"There is no way in hell of getting 60," one aide said. "But I think we gain at least six seats, maybe seven," to reach 57 or 58.

By picking up four seats with more than dozen Senate contests yet to be decided, Democrats had increased their majority to 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, and figured that they would get at least a few more.

Overall, 35 Senate seats were up for election, 23 held by Republicans, the others by Democrats. Many of the races involving seats held by Republicans were seen as competitive.

All 435 House seats were up for election. Democrats now control the chamber, 235-199 with one vacancy. MSNBC projected that Democrats would increase their majority to 261-174.

Campaign promises

The new Congress that convenes in January should be able to keep a long list of campaign promises, now that Barak Obama has become the president-elect.

They include ones to withdraw American troops from the Iraq war, roll back tax cuts

for the rich and move to end the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But regardless of how many seats Democrats pick up, record federal deficits and the poor state of the economy will limit what they can do.

Democrats would likely have to limit or postpone any big new spending programmes, such as ones to expand health care, upgrade education and advance renewable energy technology.

Among the senators who easily won re-election was Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. However, he will now have to give up his seat as vice-president elect.

Republicans, who lost control of Congress in 2006, have been hurt this year by the unpopularity of President Bush and presidential nominee John McCain's inability to rally support in states that have traditionally backed Republicans.