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Republicans, Democrats Begin Preparing for Next Congressional Session - 2002-11-09

The new Republican-led U.S. Congress, elected in Tuesday's midterm elections, does not begin its work until January. But Republicans and Democrats have already begun preparing for the new session with discussions of agenda and party leadership issues.

U.S. lawmakers are to return to Capitol Hill Tuesday for what is known as a 'lame-duck' session, held between an election and the start of a new Congressional term. Some of that time will be used to plan for next year's Congress.

House Democrats on Thursday will vote to choose a successor to their leader Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who resigned his post in the wake of Democratic losses in the House in Tuesday's election.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who had served as the number two House Democrat in the current Congress, known as a liberal lawmaker, is favored to win. She wants the Democrats' agenda to focus on the lackluster U.S. economy. "We will come together, across the board, the full spectrum of Democrats, to talk about what our economic message should be, on how we grow the economy," she said. "Any suggestions that anyone has about any issue has to be put to the test: Does it grow the economy? So too, for the President's proposals: do they grow the economy?"

Running against the 62-year-old Congresswoman for the leadership position is 32-year-old Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He believes his more moderate stand on issues would have greater appeal to Democrats. "The criteria is what can Democrats do over the next two years, not just to be the loyal opposition, and not just to be obstructionist, or to engage in gridlock, which is what I hear a lot of what Nancy [Pelosi] is saying, but what is it that we can provide constructive opposition to what is occurring or what we expect to occur over the next two years?"

In the Senate, where Republicans were elected to the majority Tuesday, Senator Trent Lott is expected to take over as Majority Leader from Senator Tom Daschle.

Emerging from a White House meeting with President Bush Friday, Mr. Lott reiterated the President's call on Senators to approve a plan for a cabinet-level Homeland Security Department before the end of the year. "If we leave town not having achieved that, it would be four or five months before that could be done," he said. "We need to have better efficiency, and more flexibility, we need to get this process underway, we are talking about security for the American people, here at home."

The plan has been stalled by Senate Democrats who oppose Mr. Bush's demand that he have the power to hire and fire employees in the new department.

Senator Daschle said he hoped the controversy over civil service protections could be resolved so that the legislation could be approved soon. Mr. Daschle is expected to keep his position as leader of Senate Democrats despite the loss of his party's control of the chamber in the midterm elections. But he made clear the opposition party would hold the President's policies in check. "We are going to stand up for our principles and fight when we feel that the President is wrong," he said. "That is what I mean, we are going to do that, we are going to do that on economic questions, we are going to do that on domestic questions, we are going to do that on foreign policy issues."

Although Republicans won a narrow majority in the Senate, Democrats have a large enough minority in the chamber to block or delay the President's proposals.

How much Mr. Bush will be able to achieve on Capitol Hill depends on when and how the Democrats choose to fight.