Republicans Keep Control of the White House and Congress: The Ramifications for History and Archives

Bruce Craig, December 2004

The Republican Party has retained control of the White House and both chambers of Congress following last month's elections. For the first time since the 1920s, the Republican Party has won control of the White House, the Senate, and the House in consecutive elections. Nevertheless, the across-the-board Republican victory is not expected to bring any big changes to archives, history, and humanities programs.

In the House, the GOP gained a couple of seats, thus retaining its decade-long grip on the lower chamber. The Republicans also made moderate gains in the Senate. They now control a total of 55 seats as against the 44 seats held by the Democrats and the one independent.

Despite the conciliatory rhetoric used by President Bush in his victory speech, in which he expressed a desire to heal the nation's deep partisan divide, the name of the game in Congress now is one-party rule and the Republican leadership knows it. Particularly in the House, Republicans are expected to advance a bold agenda especially in terms of tax reform, energy, the environment, and social security. Largely because of the whopping deficit caused by the war in Iraq, the Republican leadership also sees the need to advance plans to rein in the deficit. Undoubtedly, they will be considering new ways to limit or defund social and discretionary programs. That could be bad news for many domestic programs making the prospect of funding for history and education more challenging.

Senate Democrats are also in retreat, though the slightly larger Republican majority is still not close to the 60 seats needed to end a filibuster and completely "control" the legislative agenda of the Senate. Given the swing to the right, many analysts expect that Democrats will be forming alliances with moderate Republicans to help stem the onslaught of radical Republican initiatives. Democrats appear to have coped with the ouster of Senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) by giving Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the nod to become the new Senate Democratic minority leader.

Since the Democrats were not able to make gains in either house, control of committees will be retained by the Republicans. There will, however, be a few new faces in leadership positions. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who has a history of support for the arts, is expected to replace Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) as the new chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Robert C. Byrd, a great supporter of history programs, is expected to retain his position as ranking minority member on the committee. In the House, Representative Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) is widely expected to become the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Regula is a moderate Republican who has a good history of bi-partisan relations. It is worth noting that he is an avowed enemy of congressional earmarks.

It is probably too soon to project other key leadership changes though they are expected to take place in several committees including the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. This is the committee of jurisdiction for a number of pending education bills, including Senator Lamar Alexander's "American History and Civics Education Act," legislation that is currently being reworked and modified. The present chair, Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), has taken a stronger interest in history-related programs than many counterparts in years past. But Gregg is expected to become chair of the Senate Budget Committee. His likely successor on the education committee is Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.), who is considered by Hill insiders to be a strong Republican party "team player." In future weeks, Republicans and Democrats will both be vying for other key spots on various committees.

At this writing, Congress has yet to return in a lame duck session to address outstanding appropriation measures that may be dealt with through a massive omnibus bill. With control of the present and future Congress firmly in the hands of Republican lawmakers, Hill insiders do not expect major changes in appropriation levels when conferees meet to finalize the remaining budgets for federal agencies for fiscal 2005. Funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities is expected to remain flat or perhaps experience a slight increase. The Department of Education's "Teaching American History" initiative will probably continue to see funding of about $120 million. The National Archives budget line is expected to remain about where it is; funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Administration is expected to be at $5 million with a chance of it being raised to $6.5 million.

The lame duck Congress is also likely to address a number of pending legislative measures and several confirmations that the White House would like to see finalized. To that end, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee may well advance the nomination of Allen Weinstein to become Archivist of the United States to the Senate floor. Once his name is advanced out of committee he may be easily confirmed.

— Bruce Craig is director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at rbcraig@historycoalition.org.