Eye on the Clock, House Democrats Put Their Focus On '100 Hours'

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

It sure sounds like a race against time. Democrats have given themselves a mere 100 hours to break the bonds between lobbyist and lawmaker, boost homeland security, raise the minimum wage, fund stem cell research, lower prescription drug prices, slash student loan interest rates and free the country from its dependence on international oil.

A hundred hours to pass at least eight significant pieces of legislation and rule changes -- 4.17 days! Heck, Republicans had all year to pass 11 routine spending bills and managed only two. But, hey, who's really counting?

"We think we'll do it in less than a hundred hours," boasted incoming House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) in a fit of bravado yesterday. "But," he added, "it all depends on how you're counting a hundred hours."

To begin with, if you're a House Democrat, you don't start the clock running today, when the 110th Congress is sworn in and voting begins, or even tomorrow, when a package of measures reaches the floor to rein in fiscal profligacy. You fire the starting gun on Tuesday, six days into the 110th Congress. Now that's a head start.

Then you count only legislative hours, that is, the hours that the House is actually in session and voting. Forget the weekends, the night hours, Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, or, for that matter, the next day, when votes don't start until well after sundown.

If all goes according to plan, the House will get through its hundred-hour agenda in 15 days, or 360 hours, by standard definition. Today, the House will take up an ethics package. Tomorrow, new budget controls. On Tuesday, the House will enact most of the security recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On Wednesday, the minimum wage goes up. On Thursday, it's federal funding for stem cell research, and on Friday, Democrats intend to give the government the authority to negotiate drug prices for Medicare. On Jan. 17, interest rates for student borrowers will be slashed, and on Jan. 18, tax breaks for Big Oil will go by the wayside, making room for alternative energy research.

That may not be 100 hours, but let's not be too literal about these things. After all, the Bible tells us that Abraham died at 175; his wife, Sarah, gave birth to Isaac at the matronly age of 90; and Noah made it to age 950. Talk about a drain on the Social Security system.

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