101st Congress Convenes Amid Pomp, Pledges
Temporarily setting aside partisan differences, the Democratic-controlled 101st Congress convened Tuesday with the usual pomp, and its leaders pledged to cooperate with President-elect George Bush to create a foreign policy consensus as well as “a kinder, gentler America.”
At the same time, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), responding to the ethics issue that Republicans have used effectively against him over the last year, announced that he had authorized a bipartisan effort to revise the standards of conduct for members of the House.
But these gestures failed to mask the deep partisan bitterness that still lingers in Congress, both from the November election and from quarrels during the previous session. Not only do Democrats remain at odds with Republicans in the Congress, but they have made it clear that they do not intend to make it easy for the President-elect to reduce the federal deficit without tax increases.
The problem was clearly on Bush’s mind as he, in his ceremonial role as vice president, presided over the swearing-in of new members of the Senate--becoming the first President-elect to do so since Martin Van Buren.
“I will work with them to solve the deficit,” Bush told reporters after the ceremony. “I don’t think anybody out there is running around saying: ‘Raise my taxes.’ ”
Speaking for the Democratic majority, Wright made only one brief reference to the deficit in his speech setting the tone for the new Congress. He addressed the House shortly after he was reelected to his second term as Speaker and after presiding over the swearing-in of all House members.
Wright pledged to work closely with the GOP and Bush on developing a bipartisan policy, both on domestic and foreign issues, and called on the new Administration to submit its budget recommendations to the Congress by Feb. 20--just a month after Bush’s inauguration.
“By working together,” he said, “we can help our new President fulfill his promise of ‘a kinder, gentler America’ "--a reference to one of Bush’s oft-repeated campaign slogans.
‘The Social Deficit’
He said that the nation must work to overcome not only the budget deficit and the trade deficit, but also “the social deficit,” which he defined as the “widening gap between rich and poor and the growing inaccessibility at affordable prices of such necessities as housing, higher education and health care.” He added that Democrats are eager to help Bush improve education, child care, housing and the environment.
Specifically, Wright promised that during the next two years Congress would enact long-debated legislation that provides for so-called enterprise zones aimed at revitalizing depressed areas of cities, and also fully fund anti-drug legislation enacted in the 100th Congress, pass a clean air bill and “clean up the murky areas of campaign financing.”
Wright, who has clashed frequently with President Reagan over U.S. policy in Central America, also pledged his “earnest and unstinting cooperation” with Bush “in seeking true bipartisanship in every area of our nation’s foreign policy.”
His decision to appoint a bipartisan task force to revise the House ethical rules is viewed as a political victory for Republicans, who last year succeeded in initiating a House Ethics Committee investigation of Wright into allegations that he used his position to benefit himself and his Texas friends. The House rules of conduct have not been revised in 12 years.
Final Report Due Soon
The Ethics Committee is expected to issue a final report on its investigation of the Speaker in the near future. It is expected to exonerate Wright of any illegal activity while at the same time admonishing him for ill-advised conduct.
The Speaker, who also has been accused of high-handedness and partisanship by the Republican minority, sought to dampen his feud with the GOP by calling for “greater consultation and cooperation between the two political parties in the House of Representatives.” His entreaty was ignored, however, by irate Republicans who complained that the new parliamentary rules being adopted by the House are weighted more than ever before in favor of the majority.
In the Senate, meanwhile, the newly elected majority leader, Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.), declined to make any official statements on behalf of his party. Aides said that Mitchell, who has promised to give other Senate Democrats an opportunity to participate in leadership decisions, would make no statement until he had met with his policy committee.
Mitchell was one of 33 senators sworn in on Tuesday--32 of them elected last November, plus former Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who was appointed to fill the seat recently vacated by Vice President-elect Dan Quayle. The only newly elected senator who did not attend the ceremonies was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who instead was attending the swearing-in of his son, Patrick, as a state legislator in Rhode Island.
Former First Lady Present
Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady, was in the gallery to watch the oath being administered to her son-in-law, Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), and former Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Me.) showed up to witness the ascension of Mitchell, his former aide, to the leadership.
The last to take the oath in the Senate was Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who was escorted to the podium by his fellow Californian, Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Alan Cranston. Wilson, who was last by virtue of his place in the alphabetical listing of senators, begins his second term.
Unlike the staid proceedings in the Senate, the atmosphere in the House was something close to pandemonium as members brought their children--including infants--and spouses to the floor to witness the proceedings.
Of the 433 newly elected House members, 421 attended the ceremony. There are already two vacancies in the new House created by the appointment of Coats to the Senate and the recent death of Rep. Bill Nichols (D-Ala.).
After ceremonies concluded in both chambers, congressional leaders placed their traditional telephone call to President Reagan to inform him that the Congress had convened.
Throughout the day, there was no official mention of the 50% pay raise that President Reagan is expected to recommend in his Jan. 9 budget for members of Congress, top executive branch officials and the judiciary. But a bipartisan group of House members led by Rep. Tom Tauke (R-Iowa) took the opportunity to introduce legislation to delay the increase until after the lawmakers stand for reelection.
In a letter to Bush, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), urged the new Administration to establish a single federal program--under the Public Health Service but administered by the states--that would finance the treatment of all AIDS patients. He also recommended that the Administration set up a national review board, separate from the federal Food and Drug Administration, to “speed the testing and availability” of experimental drugs for children with the deadly disease.