Congress Opens Up

Two years ago, the Capitol "was in the grip of a revolution," led by the GOP froshie class. They were "loud, feisty and extremely conservative. Dynamiting the bureaucracy couldn't happen soon enough. They even shut down the government -- twice -- when the president wouldn't bend to their budget demands." But it is "unlikely" the 105th Congress would repeat that, or "use the slash-and-burn tactics and rhetoric" of the 104th. The "message from the voters was clear: Work together." A GOP majority that two years ago was "pushing for sweeping cuts in student loans, in environmental protections and in children's programs now is talking about the kind of family-oriented issues that helped propel President Clinton to a second term." Frosh Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS): "The atmospherics are substantially different. ... Now the executive branch agrees with our agenda" (Goldstein, K.C. STAR, 1/8).

The opening of the new Congress "lacked the revolutionary rhetoric and marathon work schedule of the 1995 GOP political crusade. ... Absent too is the zealous activism of a huge freshman class that entered Washington two years ago brimming with enthusiasm" (Fullwood, L.A. TIMES, 1/8).

COPLEY's Barabak: "Humility hung heavy in the marbled hallways ... where, a scant two years ago, Power Rangers and power egos romped gleefully. ... Gone, too, is the unquestioned adulation that surrounded Gingrich and his every move in the heady early days of the GOP's self-proclaimed 'revolution' -- a word that, tellingly, has fallen drastically out of fashion" (S.D. UNION- TRIBUNE, 1/8).

GOPers "begin the new year with far less consensus on their agenda, more open divisions among their factions and with leaders -- both in Washington and the states -- either tarnished, untested or little known on the national stage" (Balz, W. POST, 1/8).

While "power politics and drama" ruled the day in the House, the Senate opened with "tradition, decorum and a bit of nostalgia." In the chamber were a handful of former members, including Bob Dole, Charles Percy (R-IL), Alan Cranston (D-CA) and Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH). Several retiring senators, including Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), Sam Nunn (D-GA), Paul Simon (D- IL), Bill Cohen (R-ME) and Bennett Johnston (D-LA) stood behind their successors as they were sworn in. The mood in the Senate was "decidedly upbeat." Maj. Leader Trent Lott: "If we resolve to work together and do what is right for the country, there is no limit to what we can accomplish." Min. Leader Tom Daschle: "We begin with renewed hope, optimism and good will." Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN): "I foresee a very constructive period ahead" (Benedetto, USA TODAY, 1/8).

The difference in moods between the two chambers helps explain why "C-Span broadcasts of the House resemble English soccer matches while the Senate mimics Masterpiece Theater" (Wines, N.Y. TIMES, 1/8).

Lott said that Congress will "move forward with our own agenda" if Pres. Clinton "fails to swiftly take the lead": "While we are willing to wait and give him an opportunity to get his new people in place and to send up his budget, we have an agenda that we need to work on for the American people. ... It's important that he provide leadership and show some courage in addressing some of the issues that were not adequately addressed in the last session." The first priority for the GOP is to "pass capital-gains tax cuts and relief for families with children;" Daschle expects a compromise to pass regarding the size of the tax cut (Roman, W. TIMES, 1/8).

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