Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lawmakers Assert Their Role in Working with Obama

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lawmakers Assert Their Role in Working with Obama

Article excerpt

When President-elect Franklin Roosevelt arrived in the capital on March 2, 1933, America had lost 16 million jobs and the banking system no longer functioned in 34 states.

"We must act and act quickly," he said in his first inaugural address, two days later. If Congress failed to act, Roosevelt pledged to seek "broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency."

It wasn't necessary. Subdued by the depth of the crisis, the Congress - once dubbed "a wildcat cage" by a journalist of the era - took fewer than eight hours to pass the president's emergency banking bill, without changing a comma.

The times aren't quite that grave as Barack Obama takes the reins of the country, but job losses are mounting and banks remain shaky. The Congress he'll be working with, though, is not on track to be as accommodating as the one in FDR's first 100 days.

This Congress, while run by Mr. Obama's fellow Democrats, looks set to insist on its own role in writing the history of economic recovery.

But that doesn't mean that it will be purely business as usual in the 111th Congress. Already, a change of tone is evident. At least for the first days of the new Congress, partisan sniping isn't the first reflex when views collide.

Senate confirmation hearings carry less of an edge; even critics convey a respect that nominees are not heading off to a sinecure (that they may not deserve) but to a tough assignment.

"This is the worst economy we've had in 75 years, and both sides understand it," says Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, majority whip. "Students of history know that America did rise to the occasion under FDR in 1933 and started moving forward with new ideas. Many of the Republicans I've spoken to are trying to find ways to work with Barack."

While GOP leaders are still working out new talking points after devastating fall elections, individual caucus members are making their own terms with the new administration.

"There appears to be a lot of energy on our side to affect and address policy, and the fact that the president-elect has talked a lot about bipartisanship has given people opportunities that they're willing to take advantage of," says Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

Dispensing with the traditional time off between the start of a new Congress and the inauguration, Democratic leaders spent their first week working out the terms of a massive financial rescue package with the president-elect and his team.

They also signaled to the incoming and the outgoing presidents that approval for access to the second half of a $700 billion financial rescue package voted in the last Congress would take a fight that is shaping up - although not along partisan lines.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding that the Obama team give more explicit assurances that the new administration will ensure accountability for how the funds are spent. …

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