Most discussion of the decision by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) to bolt the Republican party has focused on big picture issues like taxes and missile defense. But the shift in the balance of power in the Senate is likely to alter the Washington landscape for the biotech industry for years.

In the short term, the shake-up has moved efforts to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare from the middle of the legislative pile to near the top. In the long term - two years is a long time in Washington - the change enhances the chances that Democrats, less sympathetic to intellectual property rights and free market pricing of drugs than Republicans, will take control over both houses of Congress.