Yet the surface equality masks a major difference between the two Democratic Congresses. The conservative Southern wing of the party was much stronger then than it is now, giving Obama the chance to govern these days with a Democratic majority in Congress that is really a functioning majority.
The regional shift of strength within Democratic congressional ranks over the last decade and a half has been significant. In January 1993, Southern Democrats comprised nearly one third of the party's number in the House and more than one quarter in the Senate. Nowadays, the Southern component of the Democratic majority is less than one quarter in the House and barely 10 percent in the Senate. The Democrats have made up for their Southern losses by gaining congressional seats in the party's more liberal beachheads on the two coasts.
That geographical change has had significant ideological implications. When the conference report on Clinton's budget bill passed the House in the summer of 1993 by the razor-thin vote of 218 to 216, there were 41 Democratic defectors--a majority of which (23) were from the South.
When Obama's economic stimulus bill first passed the House late last month, the vote was a clear cut 244 to 188. The number of Democratic defectors totaled only 11, six from the South. And when the conference report on the stimulus passed late last week, the total number of Democratic defectors was down to seven.
Gone is the talk of a "conservative coalition" of Republicans and Southern Democrats capable of controlling Congress--terminology that was in vogue for much of the second half of the 20th century.