Congress returns to an 'intense' opening
There’s impetus to move quickly on the economy though some seats are empty.
With more robust majorities in both houses of Congress and a deepening global financial crisis, Democrats aim for a quick start to the 111th Congress, including swift passage of an economic recovery plan expected to cost between $850 billion and $1 trillion.Skip to next paragraph
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“Economists from across the political spectrum agree that if we don’t act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment and the American Dream slipping further and further out of reach,” said President-elect Barack Obama in a radio address on Saturday.
In the two weeks between the convening of a new Congress on Tuesday and Inauguration on Jan. 20, House Democrats plan to move legislation on issues key to their base – bills making it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination and organize a union – then move toward votes on a plan to create some 3 million new jobs.
Elements of the plan include doubling renewable energy production and renovating public buildings to make them more energy efficient, rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, and schools, computerizing medical records to save costs, and cutting taxes for 95 percent of American workers.
Democrats are also ramping up new legislation to overhaul the nation’s health-care system and to leverage a move toward alternative energy sources. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds its first hearing on energy security issues on Jan. 8.
At the same time, lawmakers are grappling with the unfinished business of the last Congress, including completion of most of the appropriations bills for FY 2009, which began on Oct. 1. For now, the government is funded by a stopgap measure that expires on March 6.
“The opening days of the Congress will be intense,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter to House members on Dec. 30.
Their colleagues in the Senate have the added distraction of bruising battles over two vacant seats. The outcome of the Senate race in Minnesota race is bogged down in a recount and related legal challenges that could go on for months. The appointment to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Obama is tied up with the ongoing criminal investigation of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) over allegations that he tried to sell the seat.
Senate Republicans say they will refuse to seat Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota, who held a narrow lead in the latest recount, until all legal options of the incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman are exhausted.
Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle object to the seating of former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, appointed by Governor Blagojevich to fill out the last two years of Obama’s seat. Obama, who has no vote in the outcome, says he also opposes seating Mr. Burris.