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Congress Returns to Wrap Up Unfinished Business

TV News Report Transcript

Members of the U.S. Congress returned to work Tuesday to wrap up unfinished business, clearing the way for the new Congress to take office in January. The session will focus on passing spending bills and working out a compromise for reforming the nation's intelligence agencies.

When the 109th Congress takes office in January, the Republican Party will see its control of both the Senate and House of Representatives expanded. In the Senate, Republicans picked up four seats, while in the House they increased their majority by at least two.

In the interim, the current Congress returns to work to complete legislation put on hold before the November Second election. The most pressing business facing lawmakers are nine government spending bills for the fiscal year that began on October first.

Legislators must also vote on the politically sensitive issue of raising the government's debt limit to avoid a government default.

Many members of Congress also hope to adopt a final version of the intelligence reorganization plan based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. House and Senate negotiators have been trying to hammer out a compromise proposal, something many officials, including Republican Senator John McCain, believe is unlikely anytime soon.

"And Bob Kerry, former member of the Intelligence Committee and our 9/11 Commission, said the old bulls in Congress are more interested in turf than they are in national security, and he's right."

Republican leaders are eager to clear current legislation so in January the new Congress can focus on the agenda Mr. Bush laid out during the presidential campaign.

"I've earned capital in this election and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on, which is the agenda -- social security and tax reform, moving the economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."

In anticipation of the new Congress, the chairmanships of several committees are being decided this week. Among those is the Chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee where a drama is unfolding. The man in line for the job, Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican, set off a firestorm within his own party when he said it might be difficult to get approval for judges who support the Republican Party's opposition to abortion. He has since clarified those remarks.

"I have voted for pro-life nominees. I have supported all of President Bush's nominees in committee and on the floor."

While the current Congress finishes up, the newly-elected members of the next Congress are in Washington, D.C. this week for a series of meetings on Congressional procedures and other matters.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Democratic Party say they will seek common ground with Republicans in the new Congress. However, they promise to fight for "Democratic values and principles."

And Senator John Kerry, who lost to President Bush in the presidential election, vows to remain a voice on Capitol Hill for those who backed his White House bid.