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US Senate Democratic Leaders Outline New Agenda

A day after a new Democratic-led U.S. Congress was sworn in, lawmakers are focusing on an ambitious agenda. Senate Democratic leaders Wednesday outlined their priorities, which range from passing an economic stimulus plan to addressing new global threats and closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Topping Democrats' agenda is an economic stimulus plan that will put the growing number of jobless Americans back to work.

"The American people realize we have such a difficult time with the economy. It is in the state of crisis. It's not thousands of jobs being lost each month, but now hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each month," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senate Republicans are open to a stimulus package, but say tax relief must be an essential part of the plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at a separate news conference.

"I also think we should take a look at the tax portion of the stimulus package, take a look at reducing the middle class tax rate," he said.

President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office January 20, wants Congress to pass a stimulus package by early next month, at the latest.

On national security, Democrats want to draw down U.S. combat troops from Iraq and put more emphasis on the fight against al-Qaeda.

"We will strengthen nonproliferation and protect our nation from other deadly weapons and will share more effectively in the fight against terrorism by transitioning our strategy in Iraq and refocusing our resources on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and other emerging threats," said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

Democrats are also eager to end Bush administration detainee policies. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, discussed legislation she introduced this week that would close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

"The need the close this facility is clear: along with the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo has been decried throughout the world. It has helped our enemies recruit, it has reduced America's credibility worldwide, strained relationships with our allies, and created a misguided dual legal system," she said.

The legislation would also limit interrogation procedures by the Central Intelligence Agency and end the outsourcing of coercive interrogations to government contractors.

Other issues on the Democrats' agenda include immigration reform, health care and education.

Besides passing legislation, members of the Senate will hold hearings on President-elect Obama's cabinet nominees. The first hearing is scheduled Thursday for former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Mr. Obama's choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Although the hearings can be held before Mr. Obama's inauguration, senators cannot vote to confirm nominees until after the new president is sworn in to office later this month.