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Democrats, Republicans Trade Praise, Jabs, Before Adjournment

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have combined conciliatory rhetoric with criticism over legislative goals as Congress moves toward adjournment. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

After a year of political warfare, in which members of Congress traded harsh rhetoric before and after a historic mid-term election, lawmakers found some time to put aside partisan differences.

A speech by outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who served longer in that position than anyone, provided such a moment in the final hours of an agenda crowded with last-minute legislation.

The Illinois Republican, who weathered ethics-related and other storms during his tenure, received a standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans as he reflected on his time in a position that under the Constitution is third in line to the presidency.

At the end of a year and a session, that saw no end to partisan battles between Democrats and Republicans, Hastert put in a word on the value of cooperation across the political aisle. "This floor should also be a place of civility and mutual respect and a place where statesmanship and not just electoral politics guide our decisions," he said.

Hastert added a tribute to his fellow Republicans, who although they lost control of the House, he said had helped push through legislation reflecting his party's ideals of small government and lower taxes, among other things.

In a respectful salute to the man she will replace when she becomes the first woman to be Speaker when Democrats assume majority control of the House in January, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi briefly left behind past tensions with Hastert. "My colleagues in Congress, we hold the title of honorable because we serve in Congress. We hold the title of honorable by virtue of our office. Dennis Hastert holds it by virtue of his character," she said.

Similar tributes were heard in the U.S. Senate, which is rushing to conclude its work.

However, other moments this week provided a glimpse of things to come when Democrats are the majority, and Republicans are in the opposition.

In the wake of the November election, Democrats have pledged to bring civility back to Congress, saying they will provide Republicans with opportunities that they assert Republicans denied them.

Debate on an amendment to last minute legislation featured these provocative statements by New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey, and Republican Bill Thomas.

Hinchey: "People of this country continue to suffer and that is one of the reasons they made the decision on November 7 that they did, because they recognize the suffering that they have been exposed to as a result of the carelessness and exploitation that has been authorized by this [Republican] Congress!"

Thomas: "They have the audacity to go to the well and describe their amendment and what it is, when they won't even give us a copy of it. Now this is a preview of the coming majority, in terms of their saying one thing and doing another. Buckle your seat belts!"

Speaking with reporters earlier this week, Democratic leaders placed responsibility for the failure of Congress to act on legislation needed to fund government operations squarely on Republicans.

Wisconsin Democrat David Obey asserts this was due to disagreements among Republicans in the House and Senate, rather than obstacles from Democrats.

When Democrats are in control of Congress, says Obey, Republicans should consider the work that was left unfinished when they were in power. "If the Republicans are not willing to exercise their responsibility when they are in control, they lose all right to criticize in any way, shape or form, the manner in which we go about trying to clean up their mess," he said.

For now, the U.S. government is running on a continuing resolution through February 15 because Congress, mostly due to Senate inaction, did not complete its work..

That fact has enraged House Republicans who shared Democratic disgust, as in this statement by Congressman Jerry Lewis of California who directed blame at outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. "The breakdown of regular order this cycle, indeed the failure to get the bills done, should be squarely placed at the feet of the departing [Senate] majority leader who failed to schedule time for consideration of appropriations bills on the Senate floor," he said.

When the 110th Congress does convene in January, Democrats in the majority will face the daunting task of overseeing consideration not only of President Bush's 2008 government budget, but pushing through the major spending bills for 2007 that the Republican-led 109th Congress left on the table.