THE SURPRISING SCOPE of the Democratic victory in last week's Senate races has raised many questions about the 1988 presidential contest and the course of government between now and then.

Two of the key questions involve President Reagan and the losses suffered by the Republican senatorial candidates for whom he campaigned so heavily. By one tally, nine of those 13 candidates went down to defeat, suggesting strongly that the president's tremendous personal popularity doesn't rub off on other GOP hopefuls.The questions: Will that popularity be any more transferable to the Republican presidential candidate two years from now and will it help him in dealing with the new Democratic Congress?

Taking their cue from the president, White House aides say the 1986 elections won't bring a change in Reagan administration policies. But the results may change our tactics or our agenda, Haley Barbour, the president's deputy assistant for political affairs told a Railway Progress Institute meeting last week.

Mr. Barbour maintains that the Democrats had campaigned on a me-too ticket rather than mak ing direct attacks on the president.

Now the Democrats say they'll cooperate and the president is saying me, too, Mr. Barbour says.

For myself, he adds, I say, 'we'll see.'

JUST BECAUSE industry groups are renewing pleas for more protection against imports now that Democrats have won control of the Senate doesn't mean passage of a tough trade bill will be practically automatic in the new Congress.

Those who say it was simply a campaign issue for Democrats in the last Congress argue that the bill's supporters, both Democrat and Republican, will use trade again in the same way. The argument is that not that many lawmakers want a protectionist bill, but supporting one sounds good to constituents who connect the trade deficit with unemployment and plant closings.

The Reagan administration and private sector groups who oppose a trade bill - exporters, importers and multinationals are high on the list - will continue to lobby against it. And there is still the presidential veto.

A GOVERNMENT AGENCY RARELY offers an exchange rate prognostication, but the Commerce Department did so in a trade report released last week.

The Canadian dollar, it said, is unlikely to appreciate significantly against the U.S. dollar, at least over the near term. The reason: About 70 percent of Canada's exports of manufactured goods are to the United States, and, Canada, the report suggests, probably must keep a relatively cheap dollar to help sustain those sales.

The report also tended to discount the negative fallout of a soaring U.S. foreign debt. Even if the debt hits $800 billion by 1990, which some analysts project, it will be only about 16 percent of the nation's gross national product, according to the report.

Besides, the report said, almost all of the debt is in dollars, so, unlike other debtor nations, the United States need not worry about getting foreign exchange to pay it. Already close to $200 billion in debt, the United States is the world's No. 1 debtor nation.

SPECULATION IS REVIVING about a merger of the two maritime unions for unlicensed personnel - the National Maritime Union and the Seafarers International Union.

The possibility has been rumored for the best part of 30 years. More recently, both unions have seen their membership shrink and experienced many head-butting representational battles that led to lower wages.

Both also have watched overall ships crew sizes shrink at what they regard as at their expense, while officer unions have seen less shrinkage on the


The stage, insiders think, may now be set for joining the somewhat larger NMU with SIU into one union representing the roughly 25,000 unlicensed deck and engine room hands and stewards.

IF THERE IS ANY DOUBT that product liability law reform will be in trouble in the new Democratic Senate, Joan Albert Dreux of the National Association of Casualty and Surety Agents will remove it.

She figures that chances for product liability law reform were 50-50 with the Republican Senate majority in the last Congress but the ascension of reform opponent Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., to the Commerce Committee chairmanship cuts the odds sharply. Let's be optimistic, she said, predicting a 5 percent chance of passage. I can't believe Sen. Hollings will do anything but bury it.

NOV. 15 IS DECISION DAY for the legislation passed by Congress to create a federal no-fault vaccine compensation system and allow for the export of pharmaceuticals approved in other countries but not yet through the approval process in the United States.

President Reagan must decide by that date whether to sing the bill. It has the backing of drug companies, physicians, parents of children injured by vaccines and others, but the office of Management and Budget opposes the bill on philosophical grounds.

There is concern that a program to compensate children who are injured by mandated childhood vaccines will be the example for attempts to create a no- fault compensation program for victims of Agent Orange, the herbicide used in


The administration used similar philosophical arguments when President Reagan recently vetoed an appliance energy labeling bill supported by both industry and consumer groups.

HOUSE COAL INDUSTRY SUPPORTERS see Democratic control of the Senate as a major victory for the industry on the issue of acid rain. According to a House aide, the likely return of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., to the position of Senate Majority leader is the best defense against unfavorable acid rain legislation the industry could hope to attain. Sen. Byrd called the acid rain bills in the last Congress proposals for the imposition of a massive new regulatory program, the costs of which would far outweigh any environmental benefits.

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