New US Congress Convenes

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Photo: AP House members take their oath of office during the first session of the 112th Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

BY MICHAEL BOWMANA new U.S. Congress has convened in Washington.  Republicans now control the House of Representatives, and Democrats have a reduced majority in the Senate, giving the United States a divided legislature.

The 112th Congress features scores of new Republicans.  Most are still getting settled in their new offices and learning their way around the Capitol.


But the new legislators come infused with the ideological fervor that fueled their successful campaigns.  They view last November’s election as a national rebuke of President Barack Obama’s economic stewardship and a mandate to scale back the size and scope of the federal government.

Kentucky freshman Republican Senator Rand Paul told CBS’ Early Show he will not vote to raise the limit on federal borrowing unless spending is drastically cut.

“All the new people coming to Washington are going to insist that if we raise the debt ceiling, it has to be linked to something,” he said. “From here on out, we are going to balance the budget.”

The Obama administration says failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause the U.S. government to default on its loan obligations and produce a catastrophic financial crisis.

House Republicans say their first act will be to vote to trim their own office payrolls.  Next week, a vote to repeal President Obama’s health-care reform initiative is expected.  New House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin ties repeal to national prosperity.

“This is related to jobs and the economy,” Ryan said. “The health-care bill has massive tax increases on individuals and employers that will cost us jobs.”

Ryan spoke on NBC’s Today Show.  Most political observers view the repeal effort as a symbolic act, since the Democratically-controlled Senate will not follow suit.

New House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio takes over from California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who spoke about her party’s role going forward.

“We extend a hand of friendship [to Republicans] to create jobs, grow the middle class, and reduce the deficit.  We look for common ground to solve the problems of the American people,” Pelosi said. “But where we cannot find common ground, we must stand our ground on behalf of the pledge we take every day: ‘with liberty and justice for all.’  And that includes economic justice for all.”

The new Republican House majority has promised to change the way the chamber operates, with special reverence for the U.S. Constitution.  The founding document is to be read aloud in its entirety before the House gets down to business.  In the future bill sponsors will have to provide constitutional justification for legislation before it will be considered.