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New Members of Congress Pledge New Tone in Washington

New members of the 112th U.S. Congress pose for a freshman group photo on the East Front steps of the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, 4 Jan. 2011

The 112th session of the U.S. Congress convenes Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a strengthened Republican minority in the Senate. Many of the new Republican lawmakers are promising to cut government spending and try to repeal President Barack Obama's signature accomplishment, sweeping health-care reform legislation passed last year.

A total of 87 new Republican House members will be sworn in Wednesday. Many of them are young Tea Party activists, supporters of a very limited role for government and low taxes, and they say they want to change the way things are done in Washington.

Incoming Republican Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania told the CBS News program "Face the Nation" he experienced culture shock when he arrived.

"My early time here in this city, it is so different than where I come from, because I live in a real world where people actually have to use their own money to pay for things," said Kelly. "So, this idea that you can keep doing this or doing that ... and I love this fact that 'We are going to pay for it.' 'We' are not paying for anything, not 'we' in Washington. The people, the American taxpayer pays for everything. And that is what bothers me, there is such a disconnect between this town and the rest of the world."

Democratic lawmaker Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida told CBS the election campaign is over and Republicans need to stop talking about the "real world" and embrace the hard work of actually governing.

"What remains to be seen is whether members like Mike Kelly are going to be able to turn their essentially campaign rhetoric into some kind of reality," said Wasserman.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 Jan 2011
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 Jan 2011

On Wednesday outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history, is expected to hand the gavel over to John Boehner, a veteran Republican lawmaker from Ohio. She strongly defended the accomplishments of the outgoing Democrat-controlled Congress, saying she has no regrets.

"Now as we keep job creation front and center, House Democrats will continue to protect the gains we have made on behalf of health and economic security for the American people," said Pelosi. "Both in terms of the health care reform bill and the Wall Street reform bill, both of which gives leverage to America's working family."

Political analyst Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said the new Tea Party Republican members will be under tremendous pressure from their constituents to cut government spending.

"For many of their constituents, there is this deep-seated belief that all of Washington is waste, fraud and abuse and you can eliminate deficits and have the debt melt away magically if you just get rid of that waste, fraud and abuse and it will not hurt any of us at all," said Ornstein. "That does not fit a reality out there."

Ornstein says Republicans have staked out their agenda - to block or repeal President Obama's policies and to try to prevent his re-election in the 2012 presidential race.

"We know the agenda that the incoming majority in the House has. It includes serious efforts week after week to demolish or roll back the health care bill," added Ornstein. "It includes investigations, very large numbers of them. The new incoming chairman that does most of the oversight and investigations says that he wants his seven subcommittees each to hold two hearings a week, which could amount to several-hundred hearings, of waste, fraud and abuse, scandal and the like."

Republican leaders in the House say they will vote to repeal health-care reform before President Obama holds his annual State of the Union address later this month.

Efforts to repeal the reform are likely to fail because the Democrats still hold the Senate majority and Republicans would need two-thirds of all senators to overcome a presidential veto. But Republicans may succeed in efforts to cut off funding for implementation.

See related report by VOA's Michael Bowman: