112th Congress Convenes

Jan 6 2011 - 12:11am

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(MANUEL BALCE CENETA/The Associated Press) 
During a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden (right) administers a ceremonial Senate oath to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as Lee’s wife, Sharon, looks on.
(MANUEL BALCE CENETA/The Associated Press) 
During a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden (right) administers a ceremonial Senate oath to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, as Lee’s wife, Sharon, looks on.

WASHINGTON -- Claiming power beneath the Capitol dome, resurgent Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday as the 112th Congress convened in an era of economic uncertainty. Dozens of Tea Party-backed lawmakers took office in both houses, eager to cut spending and reduce government's reach.

"The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions," said newly elected House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, replacing Democrat Nancy Pelosi and transformed instantly into the nation's most powerful Republican in a new era of divided government.

Both the House and the Senate convened at the constitutionally mandated hour of noon for a day of pageantry and bipartisan flourishes that contrasted sharply with the fierceness of the midterm elections that set the new roll of lawmakers.

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop was sworn in for his fifth term while newly elected Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also took the oath of office.

"For more than two years now, Utahns and Americans across the country have taken necessary steps to tighten their fiscal belts because it was the prudent and responsible course of action," Bishop said in a news release. "Just as the American people have done, Congress must also follow suit and rein in the undisciplined and wasteful spending of hard-earned tax dollars."

In the Senate, where Democrats retain control, Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, selected retired Republican Sen. Paul Laxalt to accompany him when he took the oath for a new term after a difficult re-election campaign.

In the House, children and grandchildren squirmed in the laps of their elders, less than transfixed at the historic events unfolding around them.

Republicans hold a 242-193 conservatives' majority in the House and have pledged to challenge President Barack Obama both with legislation and with their power to investigate. The first salvo is expected next week, a bill to repeal the sweeping health care law that Democrats pushed to passage 10 months ago and have vowed to defend.

Capitol Hill was abuzz Wednesday with the arrival of the new class of Republican lawmakers who charged into office with a promise to shun the ways of Washington.

But even as they publicly bash the capital's culture, many have quietly begun to embrace it.

Several freshmen have hired lobbyists -- pre- eminent Washington insiders -- to lead their congressional staffs.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite, hired lobbyist Spencer Stokes, a former Weber County commissioner, as his chief of staff. Lee explained that he and Stokes, who represented software and health care interests, shared the goal of more "limited federal government" in the future.

"He is a brilliant man," Lee told Fox News Sunday this week. "He understands Utah politics and he understands Washington politics. And I need a man like that to help me in Washington."

That explanation won't fly with some, particularly the more activist members of the Tea Party movement who blame Washington insiders for the growth of government.

"It's a huge red flag," said Everett Wilkinson, a Tea Party activist in Florida. "I have been disappointed by several congressmen who are hiring so-called 'experienced staff.' To me, that's a telling sign that we have a pretty huge battle ahead of us. The good ol' boy Washington is alive and kickin'. We know that."

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