Jeffords to announce plans today
Following intense speculation about his possible defection from the Republican party, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords released a statement yesterday stating that he would announce his "future political plans" in Vermont today.
"I want to go home to my people," he told CNN.
Jeffords is scheduled to make an announcement in the state capital of Montpelier.
Senate Democrats have reportedly been courting Jeffords for the past few weeks, offering him the chairmanship of the Senate's powerful Environment and Public Works Committee should he ultimately decide to leave the GOP.
Jeffords' departure from the party would lead to the end of a unified Republican government, ushered in with the election of George W. Bush. Although the Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, Vice President Dick Cheney's position as President of the Senate means that in the event of a Senate deadlock, it is a Republican's -- Cheney's -- vote that breaks the tie.
Current rumors inside the beltway suggest that if Jeffords does leave the GOP, he will declare himself an independent but ally himself organizationally with the Democratic party. Whether or not this proves to be the case, Jeffords' defection would still allow Democrats to gain a Senate majority, with a minimum of 50 Democratic Senators in contrast to a new Republican total of 49.
According to Government Professor Constantine Spiliotes, the shift in party domination is important in respect to hegemony within the Senate. The Republican's loss of control of the chamber would lead to a new vote on party leadership, theoretically elevating current Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, to the position of majority leader.
The demise of the 50-50 partisan split, however, may have a smaller effect on legislation than some might think, Spiliotes said.
"A number of bills may be passed no matter what [Jeffords] does. Having one person switch parties doesn't necessarily take away a coalition," Spiliotes said.
Arguably, the most important legislation of the current Congressional session -- an 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill -- escaped any possible effects of Jeffords' potential party switch. After days of heated debate between Senate Democrats and Republicans, the bill passed the Senate yesterday afternoon.
The legislation, which would reduce the tax rates in four income tax brackets, will now make its way to a conference committee consisting of members of both the Senate and the House. The committee is charged with drafting a final version of the bill that will be submitted for approval by the President.
Bush got some bad news today in the form of the House's rejection of his private-school voucher initiative. The amendment would have provided students in chronically failing schools up to $1,500 in federal funding to help them pay tuition at private or religious schools. The House also rejected another, less-comprehensive voucher amendment.
The failure of the two amendments clears the way for the passage of a bipartisan education bill, which would require the annual testing of public school students and would hold states and school districts accountable for their performance. A final House vote on the bill is expected soon.