updated 10/23/2006 5:37:04 PM ET 2006-10-23T21:37:04

Democrats say they will burst out of a 12-year exile with a bang if they win control of Congress in two weeks. They promise to quickly pass a minimum wage increase at home and to reduce the U.S. war role in Iraq.

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Made-for-televison hearings would focus on faulty intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, strategic and tactical missteps once there and the sending of troops into combat with insufficient armor, the Democrats say.

From the helm of the House Armed Services committee, they would press for an almost immediate troop drawdown. They also would try to switch the U.S. from a major role in Iraq to a supporting one - counterterrorism and logistical tasks rather than patrols of the streets of Baghdad.

Control of congress
All that is assuming the Democrats win, a matter still to be decided by voters. 2006 key races

As in other policy matters, there's also a question whether the Democrats could agree on how to force Bush's hand. For example, they remain divided on how many troops should be brought home right away. Many dismiss any suggestion they would try to cut funding to end the war as in the Vietnam era.

As for investigations the Democrats might start, targets could include the administration's handling of agency finances and Bush's habit of issuing statements attempting to limit his obligations in following some details of laws he has signed.

"We haven't had any oversight hearings in six years, except for cheerleading sessions," said Rep. Pete Stark of California, who is in line to chair the House health subcommittee should Democrats become a majority.

Democratic promises
Over the years, majority Republicans have developed an all-purpose reply to Democrats' gripes: When they gain control, they can run Congress as they please.

Capturing the House, the Senate - or both - also would allow Democrats to turn Capitol Hill into a pulpit from which to make the case for even more seats in the 2008 elections - including the one in the Oval Office.

House Democratic leader - and speaker in waiting - Nancy Pelosi has promised to pass within the first 100 hours of a new Congress an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the current hourly pay of $5.15. The last increase was voted by Congress in 1996.

Democrats also would dare Bush to cast a second veto against one of the most popular bills passed by Congress during his term, a measure that would have allowed federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research.

Supported by former first lady Nancy Reagan, the bill passed both the House and Senate, leading Bush this year to cast the lone veto of his administration. The president says public money should not be spent on a process that social conservatives compare to abortion.

Polls show that more than three-fourths of Americans disagree. Democrats say a new debate and a new veto would remind voters closer to the 2008 election that the legislation and a new president who supports it would put federal funding behind the search for cures.

Rethinking the Bush agenda
Other major policy matters facing would-be Democratic congressional committee chairmen include influencing Bush's signature domestic law, No Child Left Behind, set for its first update next year.

Though they helped pass it with bipartisan support early in Bush's first term, Democrats have fumed that the education law has been mismanaged. The also accuse the president of reneging on a promise to fully fund it. In charge of one or both education committees, Democrats also would try to put their stamp on the Head Start program and restore money Republicans cut for college aid.

On health policy, Democrats would try to make changes to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, requiring the government to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. But Stark is under no illusion his party will have the votes to do that, and Bush said last week he would resist changes.

"Without a change in the administration, which isn't likely, I wouldn't expect to see major legislation for the next two years," Stark conceded.

Oversight hearings
Nearly every prospective Democratic committee chairman interviewed by The Associated Press in recent days pledged to step up Congress' supervisory role over the management and conduct of executive branch agencies.

Democratic-led Judiciary committees would launch oversight hearings on the Justice Department's conduct of the war on terrorism, looking at everything from secret searches and wiretaps to how the FBI treats whistleblowers. Would-be Senate Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., says he also would hold hearings on abuse of terrorism detainees and on war profiteering.

As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Joseph Lieberman would push for stronger oversight on a raft of matters, including contracts awarded to private companies for Hurricane Katrina and Iraq.

Democrats' environmental agenda would include investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of polluters, pesticides and chemical exposures, and the how the Interior Department has handled oil and mineral leases.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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