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New numbers empower Vitter, marginalize Melancon

The irony of it all is that as Democrats prepare to wield more power in Washington, in Louisiana the biggest loser from this will be its sole Democrat member while the biggest beneficiary will be its most high-profile Republican.

One might think Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon might be in a good position given the takeover of the White House by his party and a stronger majority in the Congress. The fabulously do-nothing 110th Congress run by Democrats, which when it tried to do something substantive typically sent extremist legislation blocked by Pres. George W. Bush’s veto, gave Congress the lowest public opinion approval ratings in history. But with him out of the way, the floodgates may open allowing Melancon and his ilk greater leeway than ever (as long as they hold on to that power which, if they serve up the same kind of legislation they have been proposing, unless it tries to structurally change electoral politics in Democrats’ favor such as by the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, won’t be long).

But his problem is that things got too good for Democrats. Melancon often argues his affiliation with the liberal Democrats, not liked by a majority in the state (and whose presidential candidate got about 35 percent of the vote in Melancon’s Third District), is tempered by his fiscal conservatism. He will claim that it’s not a contradiction to put him into office because he can help moderate the more extremist tendencies of his party. It’s an assertion that next year he will have a much more difficult time conveying convincingly.

In the 111th Congress, the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative Democrat “blue dogs” will have about 50 of the about 257 Democrats in the House. With a majority (assuming all present) of 218 in order to win votes, for the fiscal and in every way liberal Democrat House leadership because of absences and defectors, they won’t need Melancon or his colleagues to pass legislation and therefore will not moderate it. In the 110th, their votes were sometimes crucial but that not being the case any more, their influence will go down.

At the same time, Republican Sen. David Vitter’s influence will go up, and for the opposite reason. Being in the smallest minority now than ever before, as a member of the opposition Vitter has greater freedom than ever to make a name for himself within it precisely because the opposition does not have the responsibility to govern. Utilizing the power of filibuster and cloture along with other Republicans, Vitter can publicly lambaste the harebrained schemes likely to emerge from the 111th Congress and have a visible hand in stopping them, gaining large credit back home for doing so.

Melancon, by contrast, will be tarred with every bad decision made in Congress. And to add to the irony, this will impede him as he contemplates taking on in 2010 Vitter who will be gaining strength with the same dynamics. As a result, in the next two years expect a lot of vocal opposition from Vitter, while Melancon stays as far away as possible from discussing policy desires of his party and confines his remarks mainly to how much pork he brings his district.

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