The result is that the next Congress will start with the bitter aftertaste of the last, which left a long list of unfinished business and political scores to be settled.
“Everyone’s just as tired as I am, I’m sure,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said late Tuesday as he put the finishing touches on the 112th Congress.
At the very last minute, lawmakers agreed to a toughly negotiated package that avoided severe austerity measures but set up more battles in the coming weeks, including over mandated across-the-board spending cuts, the debt ceiling and a new bill to fund the government after the current agreement expires in March.
“In the first three months of the new year and the new Congress, we have set for ourselves three potential crises in the making,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who said he cast a “hold-your-nose vote” for the bipartisan deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
For Republicans demoralized by the passage of the fiscal rescue plan, Thursday brings another bitter pill: Rather than sweeping Democrats from power in November, the GOP lost ground in both chambers of Congress.
In the House, Democrats picked up eight seats. On Thursday, Republicans will hold 233 seats to Democrats’ 200. Two seats will be vacant.
More significantly, the Senate will remain in Democrats’ solid control; the party has an expanded majority of 55 seats, up from 53.
Though most of the new Congress will look the same as the old, the next session will boast a record number of women — 20 in the Senate and 81 in the House — and will be more racially diverse, with more black, Latino and Asian lawmakers. For the first time, a Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), will take office in the House. And Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono (D) will become the first Buddhist senator.
The first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will be seated, as well as the first openly bisexual member of either chamber, incoming congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
In the House, ceremonies marking the new session start Thursday morning with a prayer service, followed by an opening session at noon and swearing-in ceremonies in the afternoon.
Once deliberations begin, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has assured angry colleagues, the chamber will start work on legislation to provide federal aid to states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
To the outrage of lawmakers from Sandy-affected areas, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) dropped plans late Tuesday to hold a vote on a supplemental spending plan before the old session ended, a decision that will force the Senate to restart debate on a $60 billion aid package it passed last week. A Democratic leadership aide said the plan is to try to quickly pass whatever the House sends over.