WASHINGTON _ With Bill Clinton's lease on the White Houseextended for four years and the Republicans controlling the Capitolfor another two, the political landscape hasn't changed in the wake ofTuesday's election.
Nevertheless, the nation is unlikely to see a repeat of the chilly andcombative political climate that characterized the relationshipbetween Republicans and Democrats during the 104th Congress.
The familiar political territory along with a more bipartisan spiritmay ultimately grease the legislative wheels to provide an avenue forchange that could be vital to the biotech industry such as FDA andpatent reforms.
"Hopefully, both the Republicans and Democrats have learned fromtheir mistakes and will work to find some common ground," said CarlFeldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization(BIO). "And, I hope that common ground includes FDA reform."
After the 103rd Congress, Democrats lost control of both the Houseand the Senate largely as a result of voter dissatisfaction with theClinton Administration's attempts at sweeping health care reforms.The 104th Congress ushered in the first Republican-controlled Housein 42 years. "Early on, both sides took particularly partisanpositions," said Lisa Raines, vice president of government relationsfor Genzyme Corp., of Cambridge, Mass. "The Democrats found itunpleasant to be out of power, and the Republicans let the victory goto their heads."
As a result, legislation that passed the House on a partisan vote gotblocked in the Senate where legislation needs more than a simplemajority to pass. "If the legislators had realized that they neededbipartisan support to make it through the Senate, they may have beenmore moderate in the first place," Raines said.
With Clinton's victory and a narrower majority in the House, BIO'sFeldbaum said he suspects that Congress will indeed be a moremoderate body. "The Republicans found out last year that shuttingdown the government didn't go over well," said Feldbaum. "Thisshould be a more productive Congress."
The mix of a Democratic president and a Republican Congress maybenefit the biotechnology industry because "it will prevent extremismfrom either side," Raines said.
Raines predicted that the industry is unlikely to face price controllegislation again as its biggest proponent Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.)has retired this year. Some industry friendly senators have alsoretired, however. For example, Sen. Carlos Moorhead (R-Calif.) whowas the chair of the Intellectual Property Subcommittee in the Houseretired.
Another loss, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), chaired the Laborand Human Resources Committee and was a big proponent of FDAreform. The task of FDA reform will likely fall on the shoulders ofthe committee's presumed new chair James Jeffords (R-Vt.) in the105th.
"It will be a while before we know what will happen," Raines said."Committee leadership will be decided in January and February. Wemay even have a new speaker in the House."
Even with some new faces chairing these committee's, David Beir,vice president, government affairs for Genentech Inc., noted that thedynamics between the administration and Congress is likely to bevery different this year. "Typically, at the beginning of the secondterm, it falls to the administration to set policy," Beir said. "Thepresident is going to have to make the first move on all the majorissues." n
-- Lisa Seachrist Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.