* Dodd leads battle for financial regulatory reform
* Dorgan, a key critic of free trade
* Both are influential voices on Capitol Hill
Jan 6 (Reuters) - The decisions by two U.S. Senate Democratic heavyweights to call it quits at the end of this year will cost their party plenty of punch on Capitol Hill.
But it should not knock out any pending legislation, such as healthcare and regulatory reform, though it may affect other areas, from trade to fighting abuse in government contracts.
Here’s a look at the likely fallout from the announcements by Senators Christopher Dodd and Byron Dorgan that they will not seek what would have been their sixth and fourth terms, respectively, in November’s election.
As far as Election Day results, it should be a wash, analysts say. While Dodd had appeared headed for defeat, Democrats will now likely retain his seat. Dorgan was expected to win, but Republicans are now likely to capture his seat. Democrats control the chamber 60-40, just enough to pass legislation without a single Republican vote. Republicans are expected to pick up seats, but not enough to win back control of the chamber.
To be sure, Democrats will miss the pair when the new Congress convenes next January. “You lose two strong voices, especially you lose the populist voice that Dorgan represents,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. As for Dodd, Ornstein said, “He’s an accomplished, smart, important legislator.”
As chairman of the Senate banking committee, Dodd is chief author of legislation to tighten regulation of the U.S. financial industry. In his new status as a lame duck chairman as well as a lame duck lawmaker, Dodd will have reduced influence as an advocate for tighter financial regulation. But since he is not seeking another term, he also will have liberated himself from many political pressures surrounding the issue.
Dodd was handpicked by the late Senator Edward Kennedy to help craft sweeping legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system. And such legislation appears headed toward final congressional approval once a compromise version is reached by Democratic negotiators in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The pending retirements of Dodd and Dorgan are not expected to significantly alter the uphill fight for a bill to stem global warming. Dorgan, who wants to cut carbon but opposes legislation to allow trading pollution permits, likely will continue to push for alternative legislation. But he will do so with reduced political muscle. Dodd supports legislation mandating reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but has been too busy on other issues to be a major player in this fight.
Dorgan is seen as the Senate’s leading “prairie populist” and is a member of Democratic leadership. His departure next year should be a plus for free traders and a minus for U.S. labor. Analysts note that Dorgan voted against most free trade deals and co-sponsored legislation to require that past pacts be renegotiated before any new ones are implemented. Dorgan also led the Senate charge against waste, fraud and abuse in U.S. government contracts in Iraq.
Both Dodd and Dorgan favor allowing U.S. citizens to travel freely to Communist Cuba, and last March introduced legislation to allow this. But the measure hasn’t yet been brought up for a vote as Congress has been busy with other matters. Dodd also helped shape U.S. policy on Latin America as chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. In addition, he’s the sponsor of a bill to levy sanctions on foreign companies that supply gasoline to Iran. If Democrats lose their lose 60-vote Senate majority, they may have a tougher time ratifying treaties signed by the Obama administration.
Writing by Thomas Ferraro; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Kevin Drawbaugh, editing by David Alexander and Vicki Allen