101st Congress Seated Amid Tension--Leaders Vow to Work With Bush
The 101st Congress convened today with leaders of the Democratic-controlled chambers pledging cooperation with a George Bush White House, but with tensions already mounting within the Capitol over a proposed hefty pay raise for lawmakers.
President-elect George Bush, acting in his role as vice president, gaveled the Senate into session and then immediately administered the oath of office to the new and reelected senators in groups of four.
The Senate chamber was outfitted with new gold curtains behind the presiding officer’s chair and new carpet throughout. There were new benches upholstered in bright scarlet for staff members. “It’s all for television,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), showing off the accommodations to constituents.
The galleries were packed with spectators, including Lady Bird Johnson, widow of the late President and mother-in-law of Virginia’s new Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb.
In the House, the chamber was packed by members, their families and friends as Texas Democrat Jim Wright was reelected Speaker, on a party-line vote of 253-170 with two members voting “present,” over Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois.
Wright entered the chamber to a standing ovation before leading the mass swearing-in ceremony.
Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers, 55 to 45 in the Senate and 259 to 174 in the House. Today, there was talk of cooperation with Bush from leaders of both parties.
“By working together, we can help our new President fulfill his promise of ‘a kinder, gentler America’,” Wright said in his statement accepting reelection.
“We’re very optimistic that we’re going to be able to work with President-elect Bush and we can solve some of the problems,” said Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), House majority whip. “We need to have that cooperation. . . . We’d like to resolve some problems and get rid of some of this confrontation.”
“I think at least at the outset . . . the appropriate tone is one of cooperation and a spirit of bipartisanship, and let’s see how far we can go with that,” said Rep. Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.), House minority whip.
Moving to get a jump on other lawmakers, Rep. Tom Tauke (R-Iowa) announced a bill to force roll-call votes before Congress accepts any pay increase and to delay any approved raise two years--until after the next election. Under current law, Congress automatically gets a boost proposed by the President unless it votes it down.
“Congressional pay adjustments have become a perpetual source of debate, controversy and embarrassment,” Tauke said.
President Reagan is expected to call for a substantial pay raise next week for members of Congress to take effect March 1 unless rejected before then by both houses, an unlikely scenario. An advisory commission has recommended a 50% boost for lawmakers, federal judges, and top executive branch officials, with members of Congress giving up lucrative honorariums.