• U.S.

THE UNPREDICTABLE POWER OF A SINGLE VOTE

2 minute read
TIME

The grand pageant of American politics, the election of a new President, takes place once every four years and draws to it a vast national–even global–audience of observers, analysts and commentators who declaim its significance and decry its flaws. A simultaneous event, the election of the Congress of the United States, arguably the anchor of American democracy, is often treated as a sideshow.

Yet the makeup of the House of Representatives and the Senate is as important as who is elected President. The character of Congress depends entirely upon its collective political balance, which in turn depends on the mood and mind-set of nearly 100 million individual voters making choices in 435 districts. Because whom you elect to represent you ultimately does affect the conduct of your government, TIME–in collaboration with Congressional Quarterly–offers you this guide to the House and Senate candidates in your region.

If Bill Clinton is re-elected President but inherits a Congress similar to the existing one–controlled by Republicans, but lacking the margin needed to force through their agenda–we are likely to experience a government much like the one that has operated in recent months. If Republicans manage to retain control of both houses and win the White House, Bob Dole could move quickly on a broadly conservative agenda that would include a balanced-budget plan and his across-the-board 15% income tax cut.

A Democrat-dominated government resulting from a Clinton win and a Congress led by Democrats–whether by retaking the House, or the Senate, or both–would allow House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt to pursue his Families First agenda, which calls for expanded health insurance for children, greater pension security and increased aid to education. Whether a re-elected Clinton would support those measures, however, is uncertain. Least likely is the combination of a Dole presidency and a Democrat-led Congress–an outcome that could render Dole’s entire agenda, from tax cuts to shrinking government, dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

Elections are always entertaining. But the payoff is in the work of the government that elections create. We hope you find this guide useful as you do your part in building a government that works for all of us.

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