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THE HOUSE

Democrats Promise Broad New Agenda

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) campaigned last month in Indiana on behalf of Democratic House candidates Brad Ellsworth, left, and Baron Hill, right. Ellsworth was declared an early winner last night, while Hill was leading in a tight race. Indiana was considered a bellwether state for Democrats' hopes of retaking the House.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) campaigned last month in Indiana on behalf of Democratic House candidates Brad Ellsworth, left, and Baron Hill, right. Ellsworth was declared an early winner last night, while Hill was leading in a tight race. Indiana was considered a bellwether state for Democrats' hopes of retaking the House. (By Michael Conroy -- Associated Press)

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By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Democrats vowed to press a broad agenda of legislative change and to confront President Bush on issues such as the war in Iraq after seizing control of the House last night following 12 years of Republican rule.

Victories from New Hampshire to Arizona marked a rebuke to Bush and a House Republican majority that has served as a firewall for the White House's agenda. Republicans lost three seats in reliably Republican Indiana and a bellwether seat in Kentucky, and they suffered huge losses in Pennsylvania.

Veteran Republican Reps. Nancy L. Johnson in Connecticut and E. Clay Shaw Jr. in Florida lost to spirited Democratic challengers, while fresh-faced Republicans trying to retain the scandal-ridden seats once held by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and former Reps. Mark Foley (Fla.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio) could not overcome the baggage of their predecessors. Two other veterans, Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) and Sue W. Kelly (R-N.Y.), went down to defeat, as did one of the Republicans' most liberal members, Jim Leach of Iowa.

"The message is clear: This is a referendum on the Bush administration's failed policies and the inability of the Republican Congress to hold them accountable," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

"The American people have sent a resounding and unmistakable message of change and new direction for America," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). "It's time for the endless campaign to stop and the hard work of governing to begin."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is set to become the first female House speaker and the highest-ranking elected woman in U.S. history.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), the longest serving Republican speaker, will almost certainly retire from GOP leadership as a new generation of Republicans tries to regroup.

"I'd like to congratulate House Democrats on a hard-fought campaign," House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last night. "We are deeply disappointed in the outcome, but as Republicans we must recommit ourselves to the principles that brought us to the majority and renew our drive for smaller, more efficient, more accountable government."

Democrats will probably come to power in January with a narrow majority and a crop of moderate-to-conservative lawmakers eager to keep their party rooted to the center of the political spectrum. By midnight last night, Democrats had scored a net gain of 26 House seats, 11 more than the total needed to win control, and held leads in several more races.

Early Democratic priorities will include raising the minimum wage, boosting homeland security spending, shifting the nation's energy policy away from oil and gas exploration toward alternative fuel sources, and reversing cuts to education spending.

Meanwhile in the committee chambers, aggressive new chairmen, such as Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), promise a series of investigations and hearings into matters that have largely gone unexplored under GOP control, such as allegations of waste in Iraq and mismanagement of the war.

That alone could dramatically change the political atmosphere during Bush's final two years in office.


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