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Advocates expect Democrats to avoid culture wars
Posted 11/21/2006 9:55 PM ET
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Advocates for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights say they are thrilled by the Democratic takeover of Congress. Even so, they admit their issues aren't likely to be addressed early — or at all — during the legislative session that begins in January.
"I'm aware of political reality when you're coming up to a presidential election," says Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union. "I'm afraid (Democrats will) be a little too cautious."
Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who headed the Democratic campaign committee and is part of the leadership team setting the agenda for the upcoming term, says his party was "very clear" on its priorities: The Iraq war, ethics reform, health care, jobs and other economic concerns will come first.
That's not likely to deter liberal bloggers and groups such as MoveOn.org, says University of California-Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain. Those groups will "keep the heat on," Cain says. He predicts they'll have little success. "The Democratic leadership will completely stifle" debate on issues that could hurt chances to retain the majority or take the White House in 2008, he says.
Vanderbilt University political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer agrees. "I do not expect either the Democratic House or Senate leadership to bring up things that are going to force members to take tough votes."
Many Democrats still recall 1993, when Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president in 12 years, tried to make good on a campaign vow to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Republicans seized upon the issue, forcing Clinton's compromise, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The next year, Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Among the liberal causes likely on hold:
•Abortion rights. Although she picked up 22 allies in the House and three in the Senate, Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America says federal efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies by promoting sex education and making contraceptives more available must wait. "We have some bigger issues to be dealt with early on," she says.
•Gun control: Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says he has seen a list of the top 100 Democratic priorities; reinstating the now-expired ban on military-style assault weapons is "in the 90s." At least, he says, conservatives can't weaken gun control laws.
•Gay rights. David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group, expects Democrats to push legislation to bar workplace discrimination against gays and amend the federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation. Still, he says, those changes won't come until "much later" in the session.
"If champagne corks are popping from our perspective, it's because we're not going to be attacked," Smith says. Otherwise, "It's a much more measured can of Budweiser that's being popped."