The 110th Congress appears headed toward a partisan close, with Senate Democrats backing legislation that would direct some of the money in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to the auto industry, and the White House and Republicans saying help for automakers should not come from the rescue plan.
"It’s going to be a hectic couple of days," said U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. "We don’t know what the Democrats’ package looks like, and from all we hear, the White House will not sign anything like they’re talking about."
Deal predicted House Republicans, whose ranks will decrease by about 20 members in the new Congress, will spend the lame duck session in opposition mode.
"For the few weeks, between now and the beginning of the next Congress we’ll be trying to stop whatever they’re trying to do," said the Gainesville Republican. Deal, who voted against the $700 billion bailout, which included money for the auto industry, said he didn’t see any way to make the proposed auto bailout more acceptable.
"They (Democrats) were going to put requirements on the industry to meet certain mileage requirements," he said, adding that one of the ideas being floated would eliminate that portion of the bailout and would provide for the government assuming an ownership position in the big three automakers.
"I don’t think we ought to get in the
business of doing that," Deal said.
The veteran lawmaker said control of the Congress will be stronger on the Democratic side after the first of the year. Remaining to be determined is the power in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats are on the verge of gaining the 60-vote super majority.
"That’s why Saxby’s (Chambliss) race plays into that equation," Deal said. Chambliss is in a Dec. 2 runoff with Democrat Jim Martin. Also to be determined is the outcome of the close races for the Senate in Alaska and Minnesota. Currently, Democrats hold a 57 vote majority in the next Congress, the three remaining races could determine if they reach 60, which is enough to stop any filibuster in the Senate.
Some 60 new faces, the freshman class of the next Congress, converged on the Capitol Monday to catch a glimpse of the final moments of the current Congress, bickering to the bitter end.
The 50-odd freshmen in the House, and eight in the Senate, were in Washington for sessions on the minutiae of being a member of Congress — how to hire a staff and set up an office, how to conform to ethics rules and what to do in a security situation.
They will also get to vote on the new leadership, and the people who will head committees when the new Congress convenes and is sworn in during early January.
There was one very familiar face: Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has been battling brain cancer. He said it was "good to be back" and promised to lay the groundwork for early action next year on health care reform — his signature issue.
People with experience "are trying to keep us from rushing into swinging doors," said Rep-elect Walt Minnick of Idaho, one of at least 32 freshmen Democrats. With several seats still undecided, Republicans will have at least 19 fresh faces in a new Congress, the 111th, where Democrats will enjoy an expanded majority.
Minnick, among those securing a Democratic seat in a traditionally Republican district, joined other freshmen in saying he would try to "break away from the ultra partisanship" of recent sessions.
"We feel that we are coming here to be a statesman," said Brett Guthrie, a newly elected Republican from Kentucky.
Republicans will also gather Thursday in caucus to elect their leaders and Deal predicts most will remain the same.
"Not many changes and I think that’s a mistake," Deal said. "(House Minority Leader) John Boehner has enough votes to go back in."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.