Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Donna Cassata/The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Congress is ushering in the new and the old — dozens of eager freshmen determined to change Washington and the harsh reality of another stretch of bitterly divided government.
Anne Easby-Smith, left, and Trace Robbins, right, who work for House Speaker John Boehner, help to prepare the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill in Washington,Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, where members of the House of Representatives will pose for pictures at an oath of office ceremony with Boehner. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The 113th Congress will convene Thursday at the constitutionally required time of noon for pomp, pageantry and politics as newly elected members of the House and Senate are sworn in and the speaker of the Republican-controlled House is chosen. The traditions come against the backdrop of a mean season that closed out an angry election year.
A deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of big tax increases and spending cuts split the parties in New Year's Day votes, and the House's failure to vote on a Superstorm Sandy aid package before adjournment prompted GOP recriminations against the leadership.
"There's a lot of hangover obviously from the last few weeks of this session into the new one, which always makes a fresh start a lot harder," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said.
For all the change of the next Congress, the new bosses are the same as the old bosses.
President Barack Obama secured a second term in the November elections, and Democrats tightened their grip on the Senate for a 55-45 edge in the new two-year Congress, ensuring that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will remain in charge. Republicans maintained their majority in the House but will have a smaller advantage, 235-199. Former Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Illinois seat is the one vacancy.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has faced a bruising few weeks with his fractious GOP caucus but seemed poised to win another term as speaker. He mollified angry Republicans from New York and New Jersey on Wednesday with the promise of a vote Friday on $9 billion of the storm relief package and another vote on the remaining $51 billion on Jan. 15.
The GOP members quickly abandoned their chatter about voting against the speaker.
The new Congress still faces the ideological disputes that plagued the dysfunctional 112th Congress, one of the least productive in more than 60 years. Tea partyers within the Republican ranks insist on fiscal discipline in the face of growing deficits and have pressed for deep cuts in spending as part of a reduced role for the federal government. Democrats envision a government with enough resources to help the less fortunate and press for the wealthiest to pay more in taxes.
"We can only hope for more help," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was re-elected in November. "Any time you have new members arriving you have that expectation of bringing fresh ideas and kind of a vitality that is needed. We hope that they're coming eager to work hard and make some difficult decisions and put the country first and not be bogged down ideologically."
The next two months will be crucial, with tough economic issues looming. Congress put off for just eight weeks automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs that were due to begin with the new year. The question of raising the nation's borrowing authority also must be decided. Another round of ugly negotiations between Obama and Congress is not far off.
There are 12 newly elected senators — eight Democrats, three Republicans and one independent, former Maine Gov. Angus King, who will caucus with the Democrats. They will be joined by Rep. Tim Scott, the first black Republican in decades, who was tapped by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the remaining term of Sen. Jim DeMint. The conservative DeMint resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation think tank.
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