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As for what direction the Democrats are likely to take, much would depend on whether would-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decides the next two years are about revenge, or about governing--and whether she can keep her troops in line. "They listen to no one," she told TIME earlier this year. "They don't even listen to each other." Pelosi's initial goals, which she says she wants to accomplish in the Democrats' first 100 legislative hours in power, are modest and relatively uncontroversial. She would have the House pass bills aimed at raising the minimum wage, cutting student-loan interest rates, allowing the Federal Government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients, and reforming lobbying practices.
Pelosi needs 15 seats to become the next Speaker, but if her majority is only a vote or two, she's not likely to get much further than her 100-hour plan. More conservative Democrats, many of them newly elected from Republican-leaning districts, would hold the balance of power. If the Democrats have a more comfortable majority, however, the party's edgier, angrier side could emerge, especially on the question of whether or how quickly to withdraw from Iraq. One of the early tests of which direction Pelosi would take could be an expected fight for majority leader between the current whip Steny Hoyer and Pennsylvania's John Murtha, who has become a hero to the antiwar left.
If lame-duck Presidents are to achieve anything, they often have to look for ways to go around Congress, especially when it is in the hands of the other party. Clinton used Executive Orders and his bully pulpit to encourage school uniforms, impose ergonomic rules on employers and prevent mining, logging and development on 60 million acres of public land. White House press secretary Tony Snow says Bush may take the same bypass around Capitol Hill. "He told all of us, 'Put on your track shoes. We're going to run to the finish,'" Snow said. "He's going to be aggressive on a lot of fronts. He's been calling all his Cabinet secretaries and telling them, 'You tell me administratively everything you can do between now and the end of the presidency. I want to see your to-do list and how you expect to do it.' We're going to try to be as ambitious and bold as we can possibly be."
In fact, when it comes to deploying its Executive power, which is dear to Bush's understanding of the presidency, the President's team has been planning for what one strategist describes as "a cataclysmic fight to the death" over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is "going to assert that power, and they're going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation."