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It won’t be business as usual

John Dimsdale and Kai Ryssdal Jan 4, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s Madam Speaker from now on in Washington:

NANCY PELOSI: I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship.

The newly-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi after her swearing-in today. Democrats took power in Congress this afternoon, as I said, and apart from members of the Republican party, it’s a day business interests have probably been dreading more than anybody.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale is at the center of the political universe today. Hi, John.


RYSSDAL: You know John, hostile’s a pretty strong word, but if you look at what the Democrats have said they wanna do, it’s maybe not too strong.

DIMSDALE: It’s true: some Democrats are arguing that they should use this new majority to strike a blow against their opponents by going after the people who donate to Republican candidates. And if you look at the early agenda for the Democrats, you know there could be something to that. Increasing the minimum wage, that’s gonna hit stores and restaurants. Cutting interest rates on student loans takes money away from banks. Injecting the government into prescription drug prices hurts pharmaceutical companies. Subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies are being targeted, cracking down on government contractor abuses . . .

RYSSDAL: Nice, long list, John, but can they really get this done? I mean it’s a two-party system, after all.

DIMSDALE: Well, you know, the new leadership has some goodwill, some momentum behind them right now, so there could be some early successes. And polls don’t find many defenders in big oil companies or drug companies these days. But, of course, there will be limits. President Bush can use his veto. The Democrats need 60 votes in the Senate, where they’ll have only a single-vote majority. Most of these issues are gonna get bogged down in negotiations. And that’s why Congressman Barney Frank, who’s a very liberal new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is offering a deal to businesses: he’s saying if you go along with the Democratic priorities on stronger labor rules, higher minimum wages, better pensions, the Democrats will support business positions on immigration, trade and investments. He calls it a “grand bargain”:

BARNEY FRANK: Use our collective capacity to work together not to interfere with the free enterprise system, but to work along side it so you reduce inequality. There are things we can do to reduce that, so I am hoping that we can get that kind of cooperation.

RYSSDAL: So what kind of cooperation is Congressman Frank getting from the business community, John?

DIMSDALE: There’s some talk of it in these early days. This morning, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, was asked about the Democrats’ overtures to business leaders:

THOMAS DONOHUE: Nothing is gonna happen out of a, what is basically a divided Congress, unless we come to these types of agreements. And I applaud them for raising the issues and I look forward to discussing them with them.

DIMSDALE: On the other hand, the Chamber this morning put out its own list of legislative priorities that looks really different from the Democrats’: litigation reform, crackdown on counterfeiting, easy trade. So, all the elements are there for two more years of political gridlock, and it’s gonna be up the Democrats to prove that they can live up to their promises to change all that.

RYSSDAL: And we will be talking about it, I’m sure. Marketplace’s Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale. Thank you, John.

DIMSDALE: Thanks Kai.

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