Americans voted for divided government. Now they want to know how it will work in practice. Will the incoming Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate hold the executive to account, or merely obstruct it? Will President George Bush veto every bill the Democrats send his way, or only the bad ones? Will moderate Democrats and Republicans co-operate, or will party discipline trump good sense? None of these questions can be fully answered before January 3rd, when the Democrats formally take control of Congress. But the world will not stop just because America has a lame-duck legislature—this week, for example, saw alarming new revelations about Iran’s nuclear programme and the brazen mass kidnapping of education officials in Baghdad.

Both sides say they will work together. You might have thought, during the campaign, that they did not much like each other: Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat, called Mr Bush ignorant, incompetent and shallow and Mr Bush described the Democrats’ strategy for Iraq as “the terrorists win and America loses.” But as Mr Bush noted last week, people often say unfortunate things during campaigns, and “if you hold grudges in this line of work, you’re never going to get anything done.” He called for a “new era of co-operation”.

A whiff of bipartisanship would be nothing new in the Senate, where the minority party can thwart the majority by filibustering (blocking) legislation. But in the House, where a simple majority is enough to pass any bill, the Republicans have ruthlessly excluded Democrats from the law-making process. Dennis Hastert, the outgoing Speaker, brought bills to the floor for a vote only if they had the support of a majority of Republicans. The Democrats might perhaps like to do the same, but since their bills must be signed by Mr Bush, they cannot expect to get far if they do.

c/o-: The Economist

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