Jeffords' Senate switch could boost S. 697

CLEVELAND, May 31 -- The exit of Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican party, and his declaring himself an independent voting with the Democrats, could have major ramifications in the Congress, especially for BLE members, their families and all union members.

Jeffords' actions swung control of the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. Formerly, the body was split 50-50 with Vice-President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote in the case of ties. Now, the Democrats hold a majority. While the Democrats will hold to some procedural rules made when they and the Republicans agreed to power-sharing earlier in this Congress, they will assume the chairmanships of all Senate Committees.

The change in committee power structure could help the BLE better achieve its legislative goals. No longer should conservative foes of the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001 be able to use their power to derail the measure by procedural means, as they did last year.

The Senate Finance Committee, to which the Railroad Retirement legislation was referred upon its introduction, currently is chaired by Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa. Upon the switch to the Democrats, the committee could be chaired by either Max Baucus of Montana or Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. Both Senators are co-sponsors of this much needed bill, unlike Grassley.

Jeffords felt that the Republican Party under President Bush's leadership was becoming too conservative and was pushing out the more moderate members.

Republicans will relinquish the majority when Congress sends a final version of its tax-cutting legislation to the president, or on June 5, whichever is later.

As soon as the change is formalized, Democratic committee chairmen will decide which bills will have hearings and what measures will be allowed to reach the Senate floor. Moreover, the Bush administration may face a much harder time getting judicial and executive branch agency nominations confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate.

 

Back to News Flash Index!

May 31, 2001
bentley@ble.org

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers