01/05/07 — Congressmen prepare for new leadership in House

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Congressmen prepare for new leadership in House

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on January 5, 2007 1:53 PM

For America and for congressmen watching from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thursday was a historic day as Nancy Pelosi, D-California, was sworn in as the first female speaker. But the occasion's pomp and circumstance was short-lived as she quickly settled into her role as House leader and got down to business.

"This was a historic day," G.K. Butterfield, D-District 1, said Thursday afternoon.

"And now we're off and running," Mike McIntyre, D-District 7, added a few hours later after voting on a rules-of-procedure package.

With Democrats in control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, Mrs. Pelosi took the gavel with a long list of items she wants the House to pass. She's calling it her 100-hour agenda.

But before members could begin work on it, they were faced with a vote on an ethics reform package.

The bipartisan bill, which will ban lawmakers from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists and discounted trips on private planes, passed 430 to 1.

"This is a new day in Washington and it's overdue," Butterfield said. "The American people want clean government and we're going to give it to them."

For Walter Jones, R-District 3, it was an easy reform to agree to.

Now, he just hopes the Republicans will be allowed to debate and take part in the rest of Mrs. Pelosi's agenda.

"I was pleased that in the introduction of the Speaker by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), he talked about how we needed the ability to work with each other on issues that are important to the American people.

"(Mrs. Pelosi) also mentioned the word 'civility,' and that's something that's been missing and I think it has hurt our party over the last couple of years because the minority represents a district, too."

He doesn't expect, however, that the Republicans will be able to significantly influence her 100-hour agenda.

"This is what she set as the agenda of the majority party. When you're the minority party, the only thing you can hope for is to be part of the debate and the chance to offer amendments. We'll just have to wait and see, but I'm optimistic. There are too many issues we have got to come together on for the good of America."

Among the items facing Congress will be a minimum wage increase, a bill allowing stem cell research, cuts in student loan interest rates, energy alternatives, the massive profits of oil companies, reform of the Medicare prescription drug plan and a fix of the so-called doughnut hole, the war in Iraq and the 5-year-old 9/11 Commission recommendations and, most immediately, budget reform.

"These are all important, down-to-earth measures that will have a practical impact on families in eastern North Carolina," McIntyre said.

They also are all measures that Butterfield, as one of nine chief deputy whips, had a hand in forming.

"I find myself here in the leadership now. I'm in a very good position. I'm very much involved in crafting the Democratic agenda, and I've been at the table when these issues have been discussed," he said. "We have a very bold and ambitious agenda. We have a mandate, and we're going to do some very basic things that we promised the American people."

Up today -- the first of 10 planned 10-hour days -- are a PAYGO proposal and an earmark proposal, both of which are targeted at budget reform and deficit reduction.

"We've got to develop a plan to begin paying down the $8.6 trillion debt. If we're going to enact a new program, we must be able to pay for it," Butterfield said.

The PAYGO proposal is a reinstatement of a rule requiring Congress to pay for tax cuts or spending increases with tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere. Variations of the rule were in effect from 1990 to 2002, but they were often circumvented and the new proposal does little to prevent that from occurring again.

The earmark proposal is a new rule requiring congressmen to attach their names to any homestate projects they obtain in spending bills. The hope is that such disclosure will prevent members of Congress from trading earmarks for bribes, campaign cash or other favors.

They are expected to be the first measures to face significant Republican opposition.

"We hope to gain Republican support in these (and all) efforts, but if not, we do have the majority and we'll go forward," Butterfield said. "But we're not going to do to the Republican minority what they did to the Democratic minority.

"We're going to give them respect and allow them to take part in debate. They will be allowed to introduce amendments, unlike we were allowed to do. We will allow the Republicans the right to have a meaningful part in the process, while not compromising our agenda."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.