By Sophia Kirschenman
Great triumph and excitement consumed the Democrats on Capitol Hill last Thursday, Jan. 4, as they took control of both the houses of Congress for the first time in twelve years.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was sworn in as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives in U.S. history, ushering in new ideas and an ambitious 100-hour plan to commence the first session of the 110th Congress.
Only time will tell how effective the new agenda will be alongside the will of the Bush White House.
Democrats propose to use the first 100 hours to boost the minimum wage, reduce interest rates on student loans, permit the government to discuss lowering prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, cut subsidies for oil and gas companies, and to completely fulfill the suggestions from the 9/11 commission report.
Much of the proposed legislation was already debated during the 109th Congress and does not need further committee discussion.
Jessica Shafer, press secretary to Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel), says that all of these issues are important for the country.
"They have a lot of support and they’re issues we know American people want," Shafer said.
She further emphasized that many Democrats ran for office pledging to get these topics into circulation and now "they’re fulfilling a campaign promise to the American people."
Although the 100-hour agenda consists of matters Democrats in Congress deem necessary for the improvement of the country, universal health-care and issues related to global warming failed to make the list.
Michael Urban, professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz believes that there is a simple explanation regarding this choice.
"They’re not on the agenda because they would take more than 100 hours," Urban said, "it is an issue that can only be effectively addressed by the President."
The new plan also seeks to awaken an idea that was scrapped last year: federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It is the only bill that Bush has vetoed during his two terms in office.
With some of these controversial issues eventually heading to the White House, some analysts say President Bush may begin to wield the veto power he has seldom used in the past. That is, of course, if the legislation makes it through the Senate; Democrats only control that chamber by a slim margin of 51-49.
Along with the 100-hour plan, Speaker Pelosi also stressed the importance of bipartisanship in Congress. In her opening speech on Jan. 4, she discussed working together regardless of party affiliation.
But some, such as UCSC politics professor Paul Frymer, believe that these renewed efforts at bipartisanship will not change relationships in Congress.
"Everyone talks bipartisanship before Congress starts," Frymer said, "There is no reason to think that 2007 will be any more bipartisan than the past."
Pelosi, along with Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), sent a letter to President Bush on Friday, Jan. 5, putting forth their ideas for the war in Iraq. They suggested a redeployment of troops beginning in the next four months.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Jan. 10, the President revealed his revised tactics for the war, which include sending an additional 20,000 soldiers overseas.
This new plan to deploy more combat troops into Iraq will likely face opposition from the new Democratic leadership. Last year’s elections were seen as a repudation of America’s involvement in Iraq, and lawmakers will be reluctant to commit more resources to a worsening situation.
Congress can halt spending in Iraq through its ability to control appropriations, but even Democrats are having difficulty deciding if troop withdrawal is the best policy at this point.
Pelosi has stated that President Bush will need strong justifications to send more troops overseas and that Congress will not support an endless war.
Despite the expected opposition, it is relatively clear that Democrats intend to fulfill the promises with which they won a brand new mandate in the 2006 midterm elections.
However, it remains to be seen whether the effort will yield bipartisan amity or endless squabbling across the Congressional aisle.
"Nancy Pelosi wants to get some results quick," Professor Urban said, "and the Democrats can get results."