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US Lawmakers Pass Resolution Expressing Sympathy for Tsunami Victims

The U.S. Congress has returned to work, and among its first actions was the approval of resolutions expressing sympathy for South Asian tsunami victims and pledging support for recovery.

"Therefore, the Honorable J. Dennis Hastert of the state of Illinois, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives, the 109th Congress, having received a majority of the votes cast."

With that roll call vote, Republican Dennis Hastert was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives, as 434 newly elected and returning House members looked on.

Mr. Hastert paid tribute to U.S. troops fighting abroad, and welcomed new members of Congress to what he called the place where the battle of ideas takes place.

"It is through debate that we arrive at the policy decisions that will keep this nation safe and make it stronger. This house is where we fight the battle of ideas, and at the end of the day we make the laws that govern this nation," he said.

Both Mr. Hastert and the Democratic minority leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, noted that Congress resumes its work amid the enormous challenges posed by tsunami devastation in South Asia.

How the United States responds, says Mrs. Pelosi, will help reinforce for the world that the United States is a country of compassion.

"When the victims of disasters in Asia see our soldiers bringing food and supplies they see the best of America, an America that is compassionate," she said.

Resolutions approved in the House and Senate express sympathy for tsunami victims and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to generous support for relief and reconstruction.

A number of lawmakers will visit South Asia over the next week to assess relief efforts. They include Republican Congressman Jim Leach, as well as Democratic Senator Jon Corzine, and Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

"These last nine days have brought upon each of us, our fellow Americans and indeed the entirety of the civilized world, profound sadness and sympathy," said Mr. Frist.

There are already clear indications that battles in the previous 108th Congress over the issue of ethics will be replayed.

Earlier in the week, Republicans reversed a decision taken in December that would have allowed a party leader indicted on criminal charges to remain in his or her position.

House majority leader, Tom DeLay, has been under investigation in his home state of Texas over allegations he tried to influence state legislative races in 2002.

Democrats used the Republican reversal as an opportunity to renew a range of complaints against Republicans.

Another change transforms the House Select Committee on Homeland Security into a permanent committee. Republicans say this goes some way toward addressing a complex system in which 88 committees in the House and Senate oversee the nation's counter-terror efforts.

However, speaking outside the Capitol Tuesday, a member of the September 11 Commission, Tim Roemer, and family members of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks said the step does not go far enough.

"This is an internal invitation to overlap and argument,” he said. “We will not streamline Congress by the lack of reform and lack of change in what they did last night."

Congress has another major ceremonial event before it this week.

Senators and representatives gather in the House chamber on Thursday, in a joint session, to formally count state electoral votes from last November's election that, along with victory in the popular vote, gave President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney a second term.