The New Minority

Republicans Take Back-to-Basics Tack

Former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) is acknowledged by his colleagues during the swearing-in ceremony in the House chamber.
Former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) is acknowledged by his colleagues during the swearing-in ceremony in the House chamber. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 5, 2007

On a day when House Democrats celebrated their first taste of power in a dozen years, Republicans eschewed news conferences and raucous receptions yesterday and instead quietly conferred among themselves and observed the traditional Opening Day rites with their families and friends.

But GOP leaders signaled that they won't quietly fade into the background, and they pledged to promote innovative policies and stay true to conservative ideals -- a path that they hope will lead to victory in 2008. Although they will challenge Democrats on a broad range of domestic and foreign policy issues, they say they won't resort to guerrilla-style tactics or harsh rhetoric.

"We plan to engage in a rigorous, substantive, policy-oriented debate on the issues facing this country," said Rep. Adam H. Putnam (Fla.), the GOP conference chairman. "We will certainly work together when we can, and have respectful disagreements when we can't."

Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) declared, "If we legislate and act like Republicans, we will remind the American people that they voted for a conservative government," noting that at least 60 House Democrats won election this fall in districts that backed President Bush in 2004.

Democrats swept to power in November, winning a majority of 233 to 202 seats in the House and a narrow 51 to 49 seats in the Senate.

Republicans struggled earlier this week to adjust to their new minority status, which is unknown territory for newer GOP House members. In a series of interviews, senior Republicans, particularly in the House, warned Democrats against acting unilaterally in passing their agenda -- a leadership style that the GOP itself used for many years.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans vowed to work closely with the new Democratic leadership, beginning with ethics and lobbying reform and an increase in the minimum wage. One of the first bills introduced in the Senate was offered by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) along with the committee's ranking Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, to repeal the alternative minimum tax.

Republicans had a mixed legislative record in the past several years and suffered from a series of high-profile corruption scandals that demolished a once-powerful House leadership team, including former majority leader Tom DeLay (Tex.). The Republican-controlled Senate also proved to be a black hole for most substantive bills.

The new minority leadership appeared to acknowledge its shortcomings. "I stake my party to a pledge: When faced with an urgent issue, we will act; when faced with a problem, we will seek solutions, not mere political advantage," McConnell said in a floor speech.

For the most part, Republicans spoke of how they could work together with the new majority. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) struck a congenial tone before handing over the gavel to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or independent, today is a cause for celebration," Boehner said.

Several Republicans said they hoped the two parties could agree on fiscal issues. Democrats are talking about restoring discipline to government spending, and Bush outlined a plan Wednesday to balance the budget in five years.


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