WASHINGTON A more robust Democratic majority will control the U.S. Congress in January, boosting the party's chances for passing bills to stimulate the economy, repealing some of President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich and setting timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Election results show that Democrats will expand their hold in the Senate and likely in the House of Representatives. Their prospects brighten further if fellow Democrat Barack Obama holds onto his lead in the presidential race. Below are some of the consequences:
THE POLITICAL PROFILE:
* Results were still being tallied. But Democrats are building on the 235-199 majority they currently hold in the House and their 51-49 advantage in the Senate. If Obama also wins, Democrats will simultaneously control Congress and the White House for the first time since 1994.
* Democrats likely will fall short of their goal of securing 60 seats in the 100-member Senate, a majority that would have allowed them to handily overcome Republican procedural hurdles. But with at least 55 seats next year, it will be easier for Democrats to lure Republican "swing" votes on some issues to reach that important threshold of 60.
THE SHAPE OF LEGISLATION:
* Money problems. Every major move Democrats make will have to take into account the huge budget deficits the government is piling up -- a record $455 billion in the fiscal year that ended September 30 and maybe double that this year.
* Economic stimulus. Despite budget deficit worries, some leading Democrats want to spend at least $150 billion to give the sagging U.S. economy a quick jolt.
* Iraq troop withdrawals. Democrats have been trying to set timetables for withdrawing combat troops. Republicans will have a harder time blocking this. If such legislation passes, it would be with Obama's blessing.
* Taxes. Democrats don't want to renew Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy that are set to expire at the end of 2010, but probably would expand the middle-class tax cuts.
* Financial industry reforms. In the wake of the collapse of some Wall Street firms and a $700 billion taxpayer bailout, Democrats will kick off what will be a tough fight over how to regulate the financial industry in a new era.
* Health care. Democrats' first foray will be to expand health care for children and funding for broader embryonic stem cell research. A tougher campaign promise is delivering health insurance for those who have none.
* Fiscally conservative Democrats want to immediately tackle the rising costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the U.S. elderly population grows. One idea is the creation of a bipartisan commission to figure out how.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; editing by David Wiessler)