After mounting a massive drive to keep George W. Bush in the White House, business lobbying groups in Washington say they want to capitalize on what they see as the other significant result in Tuesday's election: Republican gains in the Senate.
The Republican Party now holds 55 seats in the Senate, up from 51, and business groups see that as their ticket to push legislation on tort reform, energy and health care that have stalled in the narrowly divided chamber.
``The opportunities are better than they've ever been,'' said John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. ``[For] our ability to compete and have a level playing field internationally, this will be our moment.''
NAM officials echoed Republicans on Capitol Hill, who argued that having 55 votes makes it easier to push their agenda. Engler, the former Republican governor of Michigan, said he welcomed the defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., because that chamber had become the ``graveyard'' of legislation.
Several of the new Republican senators - Richard Burr of North Carolina, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota - have much more business-friendly ratings than the Democrats they replace, noted Michael Baroody, NAM executive vice president.
But the Republican numbers include some moderate senators from New England, and 55 votes still is short of 60 needed to override minority party objections, said Mike Lynch, vice president of government affairs at Illinois Tool Works Inc. of Glenview, Ill.
Bush's re-election could give the administration's new manufacturing council and newly appointed manufacturing czar the chance to push a stronger agenda, Lynch said.
Engler listed a number of priorities: free trade, renewing U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization, asbestos litigation, judicial appointments, health care, taxes and energy.
On energy, Baroody said it may be better to push smaller bills than one massive piece of legislation, and he said the biggest challenge is boosting natural gas production.
But he said that also hinges as much on local decisions, like siting of liquefied natural gas terminals, as it does on federal policy for more drilling.
Lynch, who is heavily involved in the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s lobbying campaigns, said natural gas is the industry's top political issue, but he said getting more drilling still faces some of the same hurdles, such as Florida's objections to drilling off its shores.
Business groups said they mounted what was for them an unprecedented grass-roots campaign aimed at boosting voter turnout.
The Business-Industry Political Action Committee said its members sent 30 million messages to employees, compared with 11 million in 2002. BIPAC spent one-tenth what labor groups spent on get-out-the-vote efforts, but focused on key states, sending more than 1.25 million messages in Ohio alone.