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Congress 2004: Who Won, Who Lost


Congress couldn't get out of town fast enough. After throwing billions of dollars at business lobbyists in a last-minute spree, lawmakers hit the campaign trail for their final election push. Back in the deserted capital, power brokers were trying to assess who hit pay dirt and who fell short in a city tied up in partisan knots. Indeed, the bitter 108th Congress produced few winners and lots of losers. Here's the score from BusinessWeek's Washington bureau:

Winners

U.S. manufacturers and their foreign affiliates were in hog heaven after passage of the pork-laden $136 billion corporate tax relief package on Oct. 12. The new bill effectively lowers the rate on domestic manufacturing profits by 3 percentage points, allows small businesses to expense up to $100,000, and permits U.S.-based transnationals to repatriate profits at a 5.25% tax rate instead of the normal 35% rate.

Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman William H. Donaldson showed a deft political touch yet again. The Wall Street veteran fended off lawmakers' attempts to tighten mutual-fund rules by convincing them the agency could do the job itself. Despite grumbling, Congress also has not thwarted his plans to tighten SEC oversight of hedge funds by requiring fund managers to register with the agency.

The NRA again proved why it's the top lobby shop in town. Congress let the assault weapon ban lapse despite strong support for the law from suburban swing voters. Now the NRA is spending millions to mobilize hunters to vote for President Bush.

After winning a long fight to ban late-term abortions, the Religious Right secured passage of a law that makes assaulting a pregnant woman a double crime -- for harming her and her fetus. If it survives court challenges, the law would be a major step in giving fetuses constitutional rights.

Losers

The Republicans' Medicare reform law was a major flop. Only about 10% of seniors ever signed up for the Medicare drug card -- and the majority of them were automatically enrolled through their Medicare HMOs or state low-income programs. Seniors were confused by the card options or found better deals through existing discount programs. Not surprisingly, John Kerry has a 54% to 41% lead over Bush on Medicare, according to an Oct. 14-16 Gallup poll.

Silicon Valley failed to win approval of either of its two 2004 priorities: federal subsidies for broadband and a bill that would stop the expensing of stock options. But it will try again on expensing in a postelection, lame-duck session.

The big corporate loser: Boeing, which blew a sweet Pentagon deal. The 2005 defense authorization bill bars the Air Force from leasing 100 Boeing 767s for use as tankers. The ban was the penalty for a scandal in which a top Air Force official worked on the deal while negotiating with Boeing for a lucrative job.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, known for his iron-fist control over GOP lawmakers, earned back-to-back rebukes from the House ethics committee. The prodigious fund-raiser was admonished for creating the appearance that he was trading legislative favors for donations. But since the gerrymandering plan DeLay engineered in Texas could keep Republicans in power for the next two years, his leadership position appears safe. For now.

George Bush and John Kerry are so focused on their own election that they're offering little help to down-ballot candidates. Representative Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says he has "no anticipation of coattails" in 2004 House contests. Case in point: Despite Bush's 11-point lead in a heavily GOP central Pennsylvania district, incum-bent Democrat Tim Holden leads highly touted Republican Scott Paterno, son of the legendary Penn State football coach, 48%-36%, according to an Oct. 14-15 American Research Group poll. Indeed, says Reynolds, Presidential popularity has not affected congressional races, "even in Texas where I've seen the President as high as 70-some percent." Five Dem incumbents there are in jeopardy due to a GOP redistricting plan. Likewise, Democrats still face uphill fights in Bush-phobic districts in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

You can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Still, Americans tend to share the partisan affiliation of both relatives and buddies. An Oct. 12 Harris Poll found only 15% of Republicans come from Democratic families and just 12% of Democrats have Republican relatives. People are even more likely to hang out with others who share their political views: Just 10% of Dems say that most of their friends are Republicans. And a mere 14% of GOPers break bread most often with Dems.


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