Only six months ago, the idea would have seemed ludicrous: Democrats riding President Clinton's political coattails to Congress. Now, there's a chance that the House will turn Democratic by a slim margin come November. Should business be worried that a new age of tax-and-spend liberalism will dawn?

There is certainly reason for concern. First of all, Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), John D. Dingell (Mich.) and Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) are in line for key committee chairmanships, while Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) would likely once again be Speaker of the House. These men are old-style Democrats, and old habits die hard. Small business can probably forget about any further rollback of regulations in the event of a Democratic win in the House. Most worrisome, Gephardt and his chief lieutenant, David E. Bonior (Mich.), fierce opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement, are likely to stand in the way of future trade liberalization efforts.

Still, the times are changing. Most Democrats understand the importance of fiscal responsibility and are likely to work toward a more balanced budget in future negotiations. They're also more amenable to some ideas spearheaded by Republicans: It's quite possible, for instance, that a Democratic House and President will go along with a Republican Senate and cut the capital-gains tax, which would be a boon to business. Indeed, "Blue Dog" Democrats such as conservative Charles W. Stenholm (Tex.) are apt to join forces with moderate Republicans on numerous issues. Every Democrat should remember, though, the message that the 1994 midterm elections drove home: The era of big government is over. If Democrats forget that, they'll be run out of office yet again in 1998.

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