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Congress returns to an 'intense' opening

There’s impetus to move quickly on the economy though some seats are empty.

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But despite the bigger Democratic margins – at least 78 seats in the 435-seat House and 16 seats in the 100-seat Senate – bipartisan support remains a key to moving big legislation in the 111th Congress.

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Even with at least 57 Senate seats, Democrats are short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, if all 41 Republicans vote together. And in the runup to opening day of the 111th Congress, Republicans are insisting that their voices still count.

“Half the American public is represented by a Republican senator, and all we’re suggesting here is that we be part of the process,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Sunday morning on ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Republicans are urging a recovery plan that is anchored in tax cuts and expanded energy production, including exploration and drilling in previously protected offshore sites. An offshore drilling ban, in effect since 1982, lapsed at the end of the 110th Congress.

Citing Obama’s call for 3 million new jobs, 80 percent of which are to be in the private sector, McConnell said: “Do we really want to create 20 percent of the jobs in the public sector? That would be 600,000 new government jobs.”

House Republicans are calling for hearings and open amendments. Last fall, House GOP leader John Boehner released a plan calling for doubling the child tax credit and zeroing out the capital gains tax for two years to encourage more investment.

“Obviously with reports that they’re planning on spending $1 trillion, this needs to be a very open process. We need to have hearings in appropriate committees, and this bill needs to be free of special interest earmarks,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner.

Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi announced a hearing on the economic recovery plan on Wednesday, to be conducted by the Steering and Policy Committee, an arm of the Democratic caucus.

The hearing, to be held in the committee room of the House Ways and Means Committee, is not expected to include Republicans.

“We know that smart, strategic investments in our nation’s infrastructure are key to getting Americans back to work and getting our economy moving forward,” said Rep. George Miller (D) of California, a cochair of the Steering and Policy Committee, in a statement last week.

Democrats on Capitol Hill want the plan to include spending on infrastructure as well as on tax relief for the middle class and aid to states.

Some had hoped to have a recovery plan in shape for Obama to sign on Inauguration Day, but that goal is now highly unlikely.

“I want to be sure we do this in a bipartisan manner. I want to make sure that all senators have some input here and do it as quickly as we can,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid on NBC NewsMeet the Press” on Sunday, including “working nights and weekends to get this done.