The 2011 U.S. House freshman class is in Washington for orientation as Congress today opens a lame-duck session to decide whether to extend billions of dollars in Bush-era income-tax cuts.
“I’m just looking forward to getting started,” Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio, who beat Democratic Representative John Boccieri in the Nov. 2 election, said in an interview yesterday. Renacci said his first priority when the new lawmakers take office in January is that “we’ve got to get spending under control.”
The members-elect attended a reception and separate dinners for Democrats and Republicans. They will undergo orientation this week as legislative leaders meet with President Barack Obama on tax cuts and House members of both parties meet in private to choose their leaders for next year.
Democrats announced a plan to keep their team in place, although they ordinarily would lose one position upon becoming the minority party in January.
“This is about the freshman class,” said Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 ranking House Republican, as he walked to the reception at a hotel about a mile from the Capitol. “It’s an opportunity for them to get to know one another. I’m just here to get to know them and meet all the new faces.”
Democrat Karen Bass of Los Angeles said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California offered a toast to the new members of both parties at the reception and spoke of the need to “freshen” Congress every two years. Pelosi is running to become minority leader in 2011.
Renacci said he expects the lame-duck Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year. “We need to make sure those tax cuts are extended” to help the economy, he said. If they lapse, he said he hopes Republicans will try to renew them retroactively.
Obama and congressional Democrats want to continue the tax cuts only for the first $200,000 in income for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Republicans insist on a permanent extension of the tax cuts for all income levels.
Obama told reporters yesterday he’s committed to extending tax cuts for middle-class Americans by the end of the year and indicated he’s willing to negotiate with Republicans on an extension for the country’s highest earners.
Immigration, Jobless Benefits
Lawmakers also may address issues including immigration, an extension of unemployment benefits and food safety. Bass said her top hope is that lawmakers extend federal jobless benefits scheduled to expire Nov. 30.
Democrat Hansen Clarke, who will represent a district in Detroit, said his primary goal will be to listen to taxpayers and work with Republicans in the majority. “I really don’t care about partisanship,” he said. “The public is tired of all this partisan infighting.”
On taxes, Clarke said he supports keeping lower rates for capital gains to help entice investment in Detroit, where he said industry should begin diversifying from automobile manufacturing to sectors like alternative energy.
Democrats will still control the both houses during the lame-duck session. Republicans won at least 60 seats from the Democrats on Nov. 2. Republicans also gained six seats in the Senate, trimming the Democrats’ control to 53- 47.
House Democrats will elect their leaders on Nov. 17. Pelosi, 70, is creating a third leadership position under a plan that will keep all three members of the current team.
Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 71, the current majority leader, would get the No. 2 job of minority whip in January. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, 70, now majority whip, would hold the post of assistant leader, created to head off a contest for the whip position.
North Carolina Democrat Health Shuler said he will challenge Pelosi for the minority leader’s job although he said he lacks the numbers to win. Having Pelosi as minority leader is “unacceptable for our party, to move our party forward in a moderate direction,” Shuler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Clarke and Bass said they support Pelosi to be minority leader.
House Republicans will choose their leaders Nov. 18. Minority leader John Boehner of Ohio has no opposition to become speaker, and Cantor is in line to become majority leader.
Arizona Republican Paul Gosar, who beat Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick, said his arrival in Washington has been a blur. “People coming in very fast, moving out very fast,” he told a television interviewer as he stood next to his wife, clasping her hand. “I’m just a small- town pol.”
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