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Election Returns

Congress changes little as states make their own policy decisions

by David J. Hanson
November 8, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 45

National election demonstrated a continued shift to the political right, as more Republican lawmakers were elected to both the House and Senate. The slightly higher majorities that the Republican Party will hold in each chamber may make it easier to pass controversial legislation, especially in the Senate.

Many of the issues facing the 109th Congress, moreover, will be the same difficult ones that did not get through the past Congress. These include comprehensive energy legislation, the Administration's Clear Skies Initiative to reduce air pollution, and overhaul of the nation's intelligence programs.

Despite the fact that Republicans retain control over both chambers, there will be some switching of committee chairs because of party-imposed term limits. Perhaps most significant will be a new chair for the House Appropriations Committee, which approves all federal spending. Who the new chair will be has not been decided.

One major change will be in the Senate Democratic leadership. Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), the Senate minority leader, was defeated by Republican John Thune. Expected to succeed Daschle in the leadership post is Senate Minority Whip Harry M. Reid (Nev.). Reid, although considered a moderate Democrat, is an ardent opponent of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in his state. The repository is a major effort supported by the Bush Administration.

California voters approved the state's Proposition 71, providing $3 billion for embryonic stem cell research over 10 years. The measure creates the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and will begin funding research in 2005. The popular referendum allows the state to avoid restrictions that the Bush Administration placed on federally supported embryonic stem cell research. The huge amount of money dwarfs the amount of federal funds devoted to such research and is expected to make California a stem cell research haven.

Only a few other state initiatives involved scientific or environmental issues. California also approved a measure that requires the state to collect DNA samples from all convicted felons and individuals who are arrested for certain crimes.

In Washington state, voters easily approved an initiative that changes the standards for nuclear waste cleanups. It prohibits the production of any more radioactive waste at federal facilities until all existing contamination is cleaned up.

Colorado residents approved an initiative requiring large Colorado utilities to generate or purchase at least 10% of their electricity using renewable resources. At the same time, the initiative caps how much utilities can raise rates in response to higher costs.

And voters in Montana rejected an initiative supported by mining interests that would have repealed a 1998 prohibition on using cyanide to extract gold and silver in mines.



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