Democrats take over Congress today - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Democrats take over Congress today

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is slated to become the first female speaker of the House. Rep. Nancy Pelosi is slated to become the first female speaker of the House.

Democrats prepared to take control of both houses of Congress on Thursday after spending most of the last dozen years in the minority, with plans to quickly raise the minimum wage and toughen lobbying rules.

The Democratic takeover arrives with congressional leaders and President Bush stressing bipartisanship -- but with indications emerging of the partisan fights to come.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is slated to become the new speaker of the House -- the first woman to hold that post -- and Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is scheduled to take over as Senate majority leader.

New members of Congress will also take their oaths in ceremonies on Thursday.

Exit polls showed that rising discontent over the war in Iraq and a spate of corruption scandals helped drive voters in November to hand Democrats control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.

And a national poll released this week showed Democrats have strong support for nearly all the measures they want to pass in their first days in charge.

Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told reporters that Democrats would move quickly on rules changes.

"On Thursday and Friday, we're going to adopt rules that will change the way the people's house operates to ensure its integrity, to ensure its openness and to ensure its transparency," Hoyer said Wednesday.

Tighter restrictions on spending earmarks, lobbying, gifts and travel will be proposed, Democratic House leaders said.

A $2.10 hourly increase in the minimum wage is among six bills Democrats pledged to advance in their first 100 hours of making new laws next week, after members are seated and committees are organized.

The minimum wage was last increased in 1997. Democrats want to raise it to $7.25, in steps over two years, a proposal that has drawn conditional support from President Bush.

But they may face a tougher hurdle in efforts to repeal Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. In the only veto of his presidency to date, Bush killed a similar bill that passed with bipartisan support last year -- and White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday that the president's position has not changed.

Other bills Democrats want to move in their 100 legislative hours would roll back tax breaks for the oil industry and redirect the revenue to alternative energy research; implement the homeland security recommendations of the 9/11 commission; cut interest rates for student loans; and allow administrators of the Medicare prescription drug program to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for discount prices.

The schedule for the 100 legislative hours stretches from Tuesday through January 18, five days ahead of Bush's State of the Union address.

Bush: Avoid 'stalemate'

In a statement in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, Bush urged Congress to make the tax cuts passed during his administration permanent and grant him line-item veto power, which would allow the president to cut specific spending from a bill without killing the entire measure.

And in an opinion piece published in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Bush wrote that Democrats now have a responsibility to avoid creating a "stalemate" by passing bills "that are simply political statements."

"If a different approach is taken, the next two years can be fruitful ones for our nation," Bush wrote.

The Supreme Court killed a previous law giving the president line-item veto power in 1998, and Hoyer said he opposes renewing it.

Reid defended the Democrats' legislative agenda.

"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 told The Associated Press.

House Republicans, now facing life in the minority for the first time since 1994, complained that the Democrats are cutting them out of setting House rules. They urged Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to adopt the same "minority bill of rights" that Democrats had urged in 2004.

Though Republicans rejected that call at the time, Rep. Adam Putnam, a Florida Republican, said Democrats promised Americans "a new way of doing business" during last year's campaigns.

Republicans want guarantees that they will be able to offer substitute legislation and amendments to bills as they move through the chamber. Hoyer said Democrats would adopt such rules after their 100-hour package passes.

The revived talk of a minority bill of rights, said Rep. Louise Slaughter, shows Republicans are "terrified we're going to treat them the way they treated us."

"But we will not. We're going to treat them much better," said Slaughter, a New York Democrat and the incoming Rules Committee chairwoman.

Democrats also promise to beef up oversight of the Bush administration.

The new head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, is already butting heads with the Justice Department over documents relating to the interrogation of suspected terrorists. And the incoming chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees have already announced plans to hold hearings on the war in Iraq.

Party leaders got a dramatic show of pressure from anti-war protesters Wednesday, as peace activist Cindy Sheehan and others interrupted Hoyer's news conference with chants of "De-escalate, investigate, troops home now."

Poll finds strong support

Hoyer said he believes the Democrats' first six bills "are overwhelmingly supported by the American people." The poll conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp. found strong support for five of the six.

"We see the first 100 hours as a mandate from the American people," Hoyer said. "We told the American public, 'If you elect us, this is what we will do immediately.'"

Eighty-seven percent of those polled said they want to allow Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors, to negotiate for lower drug prices. Only 12 percent opposed the idea.

An increase in the minimum wage drew 85 percent support. And 84 percent supported cutting student loan interest rates.

Implementing the 9/11 commission's recommendations had the support of 64 percent of those polled. Sixty-two percent favored funding embryonic stem-cell research. But the public was split 49-49 on the wisdom of cutting tax breaks for oil companies.

The CNN poll found 75 percent support for a crackdown on lobbyists' influence. And 79 percent said they would favor establishing an independent panel to enforce ethics rules.

In addition, 77 percent said they want to see "significant changes" to U.S. policy in Iraq.

Pollsters interviewed 1,019 American adults on December 15-17. The survey has a sampling error of 4.5 percentage points.

Source: CNN Newsource

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