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Democrats, After 12 Year Absence, Regain Control In Congress January 4, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.

WASHINGTON (AP)–Jubilant Democrats prepared to elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the first woman to run the House of Representatives as the party takes control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

House Democrats planned quick action on legislative priorities that included boosting both the minimum wage and stem cell research. Democrats also said they would pressure President George W. Bush to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

The new Congress was convening at noon EST Thursday, with Democrats still adjusting to the trappings of power, while Republicans grappled with their new role in the minority.

Pelosi, taking over as House speaker, promised immediate steps to ban gifts from lobbyists and to clamp down on travel funded by private interests. Democrats also planned to vote next week to raise the federal minimum wage, increase federal support for stem cell research and allow the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices on prescription drugs for elderly Americans covered by the government-run Medicare health insurance program.

On the other side of the Capitol, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid – a soft-spoken but tough inside player – was taking the reins of the notoriously unwieldy Senate. He invited both Democrats and Republicans to a rare closed-door conference Thursday in the Old Senate Chamber in hopes of setting a bipartisan mood after years of political rancor.

The Democratic-led Congress also opens a new chapter in the presidency of Bush, who faces divided government as he cements his legacy in his final two years in the White House. Bush Wednesday said he soon would propose a five-year plan to balance the budget, and he challenged Democrats to avoid passing “bills that are simply political” statements.

“There is nothing political about finding a policy to end the war in Iraq, raising the minimum wage, achieving energy independence or helping kids afford college,” Reid shot back.

“In fact, politics has prevented progress on these issues for too many years,” added Reid, who was to become the new Senate majority leader.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a prominent Senate Republican and possible 2008 presidential candidate, said Thursday he was “very sad” his party had lost the majority but added: “We forgot why we came to Washington. We lost our way… and we valued power over principle and we paid a heavy price for it.” He spoke on NBC television’s “Today” show. He criticized fellow Republicans for authorizing wasteful spending on pet projects in their districts.

Pelosi was starting the day at a prayer service at a Catholic church on Capitol Hill before being sworn in as House speaker, the chamber’s top leadership position, in the afternoon by Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is the longest serving member of the House. Pelosi then was to address the House – and the nation – in a speech carried live on several cable television networks.

Dingell administered the same oath to former speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia 12 years ago when Republicans seized the House after 40 years of Democratic control – and Dingell himself is set to get back his gavel as the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

House Democrats promise speedy passage of the first six bills on their agenda and a series of stiffer ethics rules. They said they would not allow Republicans the chance to amend any of the first half-dozen bills to be brought to a vote during the first 100 hours of the new Congress.

“We view the first 100 hours as essentially a mandate from the American people,” incoming Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, told reporters, explaining the decision to safeguard those measures from Republican attack.

The first steps would take place by early evening on Thursday, and consist of several measures crafted in response to the ethics scandals that weakened Republicans in last fall’s elections.

In addition to expanding restrictions on privately financed trips enjoyed by lawmakers, House Democrats said they would prohibit travel on corporate jets. A vote will come Friday to require greater disclosure of “earmarks,” the pet projects inserted into legislation at the behest of individual lawmakers.

Current rules prohibit congressional travel paid for by lobbyists or foreign governments, and violations of the existing restrictions played heavily in the influence-peddling scandal involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff that cost several Republican incumbents their seats in the House.

The Senate, as is typical, will get off to a slower start than the House, where rules and practice permit speedy debate and ensure tight majority power control over the agenda. After passage of a series of routine resolutions – including elevating 89-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, as President Pro Tempore, third in the line of presidential succession – the Senate floor will open up for speeches about the upcoming session.

The Senate is to take up a bipartisan ethics and lobbying reform bill next week.


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