House Democrats Beat 100-Hour Clock

The Associated Press
Friday, January 19, 2007; 8:13 AM

WASHINGTON -- Hickory, dickory dock, the Democrats beat the clock.

They passed their six-bill, 100-hour agenda with 13 hours to spare.

The last of "Six for '06" bills that Democrats promised voters in the fall passed shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, about 87 hours after the 110th Congress opened Jan. 4.

"This was only the beginning," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference hailing her party's accomplishment more than two hours before the final vote, which came on an energy bill.

Pelosi's "game" clock showed only 42 hours and 15 minutes of the 100 hours had elapsed when the roll call ended on the energy bill, which would reimpose $15 billion in fees, royalties and taxes on the oil industry.

Pelosi had promised the six-bill, 100-hour drive to voters last the fall. After recapturing a House majority in the November election following a dozen years of Republican rule, Democratic leaders said their clock for measuring the hours would include only those spent directly on the six bills.

How it's counted is irrelevant, House Democrats said.

"No matter how many different ways they want to count it, we made it within our 100 hours," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland

Republicans complained the bills were hammered through after Democrats reneged on a campaign promise to let the opposition offer amendments and help shape legislation. Democrats had leveled the same criticism that Republicans, when they held the majority, denied them those opportunities.

"Many of the flawed 100-hours bills either face an uphill battle in the Senate or are destined for a veto pen," said Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Pelosi dismissed the complaints. "It was about keeping our promise, not about adhering to some process," she said.

President Bush has threatened to veto two of the bills _ a measure to expand stem cell research and legislation that would force the government to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs under Medicare. Last year, he vetoed a similar stem cell bill, the only time he's wielded the veto pen during his six years in office.

All of the bills face change in the Senate, where rules and a much slimmer Democratic majority assure a bigger role for Republicans. And the House and Senate would have to agree on the language of any bill before it is sent to Bush.

The bills passed by the House as part of the 100-hour agenda would:

_Slap a "conservation fee" on oil and gas taken from deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; scrap nearly $6 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks enacted by Congress in recent years; and seek to recoup royalties lost to the government because of an Interior Department error in leases issued in the late 1990s. Passed Thursday.

_Lower interest rates on federally subsidized student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent in stages over five years at a cost to taxpayers of $6 billion. About 5.5 million students get the loans each year. Passed Wednesday.

_Make the government bargain directly with drug companies with the aim of reducing prices of prescriptions for Medicare beneficiaries. Passed Jan. 12.

_Expand government-financed embryonic stem cell research. Passed Jan. 11.

_Raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over 26 months. Passed Jan. 10.

_Bolster terrorism-fighting efforts with more cargo inspections. Passed Jan. 9.

Democrats also won approval of internal House rule changes dealing with ethics, lobbying and budgeting. They were passed on Jan. 4-5, the first two days of the new Congress.

© 2007 The Associated Press