The New House Majority Offers Bipartisanship -- And an Ambitious Agenda

By Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Congressional Democrats savoring their return to power pledged yesterday to work closely with President Bush on a legislative agenda but demanded a change in course on Iraq and new directions on policies such as the minimum wage and stem cell research.

Democrats were on the verge of capturing the Senate last night to go along with the House majority they won on Tuesday. In Virginia, former Navy secretary James Webb appeared to have defeated incumbent George Allen (R) in the last remaining Senate race, although Allen had yet to say whether he would ask for a recount.

In the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is poised to succeed J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as speaker, promised swift action early next year on a Democratic package that includes an increase of $2.10 an hour in the minimum wage, full implementation of the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11, 2001, commission, and making some college tuition payments tax-deductible.

Pelosi said she will not heed the calls of some activists on the left to explore impeaching the president. But with subpoena power and committee chairmanships, Democrats will ensure that Bush's anti-terrorism and war policies receive tough scrutiny in the last two years of his presidency. "Democrats are not about getting even; Democrats are about getting results," Pelosi said at a news conference. "I have said before and I say again, impeachment is off the table."

Voters on Tuesday handed Democrats control of the House for the first time since 1994, giving the party a gain of 28 to 30 seats. In January, Pelosi will become the first female House speaker. Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker, announced he will step aside and let a new generation of party leaders emerge after this week's losses.

Montana Democrat Jon Tester was declared the winner yesterday in his race with Conrad Burns, the fifth incumbent Republican to fall in the Senate. Democrats need to pick up six seats to gain the majority. As for the Virginia race, with Webb leading by 6,697 votes, even Senate Republican aides were quietly saying their majority was over.

In morning phone calls, Bush congratulated Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), and invited them to a White House lunch today. Bush and Pelosi pledged to put behind them a bitter campaign, in which the president had asserted that a Democratic victory would be a victory for terrorists and Pelosi repeatedly questioned his competence.

"I've been around politics a long time," Bush told reporters. "I understand when campaigns end and when the governing begins."

But policy clashes are inevitable. Control of both houses of Congress would ramp up pressure on Democrats to turn their calls for change into quick legislative accomplishments.

Beyond the Democrats' planned 100-hour blitz to pass most of their legislative agenda, Pelosi reiterated her pledge to restore fiscal discipline to Congress. That could pit her promises of federal largesse against Democratic desires not to roll back the president's tax cuts before their scheduled 2011 expiration dates. She also vowed to enact far-reaching controls on lobbying and ethics that Republican leaders promised this year but did not deliver.

The Democrats' victories also spell trouble for Senate confirmation of interim U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton and greatly complicate Bush's efforts to appoint conservatives to the federal bench. The administration is virtually certain to face greater congressional scrutiny -- and possibly new legislative restrictions -- on warrantless wiretaps, trade pacts, interrogation techniques for detainees and other controversial policies.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said in an interview on Washington Post Radio (WTWP-FM) that Bush will be "reacting to subpoenas flying, investigations."

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