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Reid says Democrats will restore ‘checks and balances’

Times Staff Writer

Even as he pledged a new era of bipartisanship, the Senate’s top Democrat warned Republicans on Friday to be prepared for new investigations and oversight of the Bush administration.

“There’s been no checks and balances” since President Bush took office in 2001, said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who will serve as Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes in early January. He added: “They’ll be there now.”

House Democratic leaders, who like their Senate counterparts are preparing to take the helm of their chamber, also have pledged to launch inquiries.

In the wake of this week’s midterm election that ended Republican control of Congress, the White House continued its efforts to reach out to the Democrats, with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meeting with Reid and his deputy, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), at the White House.

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“The elections are over, the problems haven’t gone away,” Bush said after the session. “And I assured the senators that we will cooperate as closely as we can to solve common problems.”

On Thursday, he delivered much the same message at a White House luncheon with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who is poised to become House speaker.

Reid, in comments immediately following the White House get-together, sounded the same notes of bipartisanship that have emanated from both sides since election day gave Democrats control of both congressional chambers for the first time in 12 years. But upon returning to Capitol Hill, he acknowledged that Democrats intend to use their new status to scrutinize the administration and its policies.

“I believe that the first order of business when we reorganize after the first of the year is congressional oversight,” Reid said. “Let’s find out what’s going on with the war in Iraq [and] the different large federal agencies that we have.”

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Reid insisted Democrats would not wield their new powers with abandon -- a recognition that the perception of overly aggressive oversight could hurt the party among some voters who backed its candidates in Tuesday’s election.

“I don’t want to frighten anyone about investigations,” Reid said. “Congressional oversight is not a negative. ... There will be times, on rare occasions, when subpoenas will have to be offered, but rarely.”

Reid also said he believed Democrats could find common ground with Bush on how best to proceed in Iraq, as well as reach agreement on immigration, energy and education policies.

Bush has said he would consider signing an increase in the national minimum wage, one key Democratic goal that could be in the offing.

Under the GOP-controlled Congress, the national minimum wage has stood at $5.15 an hour since 1997. Many states have hiked it within their own border; in California, the wage is $6.75.

maura.reynolds@latimes.com


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