DEMOCRATS TO TAKE CONTROL OF CONGRESS FOR FIRST TIME IN 12 YEARS
The Democratic party will take control of both houses of the US Congress today, as the president's party struggles to adjust to the idea of losing control of the legislative process. The November elections gave the Democrats a majority in both the House and the Senate, and they are already planning aggressive moves on key legislation for the first few days.
Among the first bills to be pushed through, which Pres. Bush will be forced to face, deciding whether or not to sign legislation that does not come from his own party leadership, are a long-awaited minimum-wage increase (from $5.15/hr to $7.25/hr), funding for stem cell research and a reduction on interest rates for student loans.
Sparking controversy, the Democratic leadership announced yesterday it would not consult the Republican party through the normal hearings process (a move reminiscent of the Republican-controlled Congress' aggressive tactics) for its "first 100 hours agenda". The reason being, the first 100 hours is expected to include several items of legislation the Republicans refused to address, and which were part of the Democrats national campaign; this, they say, makes the first few days an exception, as they have a mandate, and bipartisanship will grow over time.
Newly minted House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), defended the hearings bypass for the first days, saying "We view the first 100 hours essentially as a mandate from the American people,'' Hoyer explained. 'We said to the American people, `If you elect us, if you put us in charge, this is what we're going to do, and we're going to do it in the first 100 hours.'"
Republican Jeb Hensarling quipped "It appears the 'first 100 hours' of the Democrats' legislative agenda will come from a smoke-filled room", suggesting the Democrats were not willing to revert, as promised, to the open debate process the Republicans had largely overstepped in pushing through controversial legislation in recent years.
But the president was more conciliatory in his unusual op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, announcing his intention to work with the Democrats to "find practical ways to advance the American Dream". He suggested the Democrats might enact a different agenda, but that cooperation was preferable to stalemate.
The first 100 hours are expected also to include initiatives to enact the national security proposals of the 9/11 Commission Report, reducing prescription drug costs for seniors and eliminating subsidies to oil companies. Pres. Bush has also urged that the Democrats take swift action to end the process of "earmarking", wherein language is included in legislation to direct federal funds to specific districts, "pet projects", favored firms or even individuals.