Is there a dime's worth of difference?
At the national level, visitors to the U.S. Senate may not notice a bombshell of a change that took place last Wednesday. The rest of the country may not notice, either.
It was the day the Democrats took over the Senate for the first time in six years. New Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, now ex officio a Democratic presidential possibility, described it as an event of extraordinary gravity.'' Unusual, yes, and a very big deal in Washington, where key staff jobs change, there are new leaders to be courted and new alliances to be formed.
There are those who say a Senate run by Democrats with a one-vote margin may not look or act much different than a Senate run by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and the Republicans with a one-vote margin. Any true changes of extraordinary gravity may have to await the outcome of the 2002 and perhaps the 2004 elections.
True, the Democrats are in a better position to frustrate President Bush's agenda, particularly his judicial nominees, but they were in a good position to do that anyway when the Senate was split 50-50. There will be moments of gridlock and partisanship but that can happen no matter who is in charge.
The Republicans did not act on the suggestions of some that they filibuster the reorganization of the Senate to get a better deal on committees and a guarantee that Bush's judicial nominees would be brought to the floor. They would not likely have gotten anywhere.
Daschle hardly takes over a disciplined political machine. His majority rests on Republican defector Jim Jeffords, who is technically an independent, and 12 Democrats deserted him to vote for the Bush tax cut and many of them will do so on other issues.
The template for the Democratic-run Senate is likely to be the education bill. Differences were settled by adding more money and dropping controversial provisions. There aren't too many partisan disputes that can't be resolved by ample applications of money. That's how the Clinton White House and Republican Congress settled their differences.
One of the dirty secrets of bipartisan accommodation is that it is almost invariably expensive, and that is very likely how the new Senate will operate.