John Boehner
Alex Brandon  /  AP
House speaker-in-waiting Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 3.
updated 11/15/2010 7:52:02 AM ET 2010-11-15T12:52:02

Dejected Democrats and invigorated Republicans returned to the Capitol Monday to face a mountain of unfinished work and greet more than 100 mainly Republican freshmen-elect lawmakers determined to change how they do business.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, in line to become speaker when the new Republican-led Congress convenes in January, told GOP newcomers Sunday evening that they may spend their next two years doing just two things: stopping what he called "job-killing policies" and the "spending binge."

"The American people are sick and tired of the 'Washington knows best' mentality. All the power in this town is on loan from the people," he told the group, which he noted includes seven farmers, six physicians, three car dealers, two funeral home directors, a former FBI agent, a pizzeria owner, an NFL lineman and an airline pilot.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell met 12 of the 13 newly elected Republicans. He noted that two years ago there were only two freshmen Republicans, and said the new class would bring a "huge improvement" to the Senate.

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Looking ahead to January
First, though, lawmakers must slog through the postelection session that, as with past lame ducks, is expected to be unpopular and largely unproductive.

Republicans are looking ahead to January, when they will take back control of the House; many Democratic lawmakers and staff are more focused on cleaning out their desks and looking for new jobs.

Democrats also have the sad occasion of seeing one of their most venerable members go on trial on ethics charges. The House ethics committee opened the trial Monday of 80-year-old Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the former Ways and Means Committee chairman charged with 13 counts of financial and fundraising misconduct violating House rules.

Story: Rangel's punishment hearing set for Thursday

In an indication of how far the 20-term lawmaker has fallen, Rangel told the four Republicans and four Democrats on the jury that he had run out of money to pay his previous attorney and asked that the trial be postponed until he could get a new lawyer. His request was denied.

High on agenda: Bush-era tax cuts
High on the agenda for the lame-duck Congress: Lawmakers must act before year's end on expiring Bush-era tax cuts to protect millions of people from significant tax increases. Congress failed to pass even a single annual spending bill this year, and funds are needed to keep federal agencies financed and avoid a government shutdown. Doctors, meanwhile, face a crippling cut in Medicare reimbursements.

The taxing debate begins

Democrats still command sizable majorities in the House and Senate and have other ambitions for the lame-duck session. Most will go unfulfilled.

There are efforts to give Social Security recipients a $250 check to make up for no cost-of-living increase next year; to extend unemployment benefits; to allow gays to serve openly in the military; to ratify a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia; and to extend government oversight of food safety.

Congress will be in session for a week, break for Thanksgiving week and return on Nov. 29. Lawmakers will continue until they complete their work or give up.

Most of the attention this week will be on activities off the House and Senate floors.

Getting House, Senate logistics in order
Elsewhere on the Hill, more than 100 incoming House and Senate freshmen started learning the rules of decorum, how to run a congressional office and how not to get lost in the Capitol basement. Two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin, who won the seat of the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and Chris Coons, elected to Vice President Joe Biden's Delaware seat — will be sworn in Monday.

Image: U.S. Capitol
Alex Brandon  /  AP
The U.S. Capitol bathed in the setting sun Friday.

On Tuesday the Senate parties elect their leaders. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada will continue to head the reduced Democratic majority, with McConnell of Kentucky still guiding the Republicans.

House leadership elections take place Wednesday. Pending the official floor vote in January, Republicans will confirm Boehner as the next speaker and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia as future majority leader.

Things appear to have settled on the Democratic side.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants to stay on as Democratic leader, and a Democratic arrangement reached Friday clears the way for Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer to become second in command without a challenge from South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn.

Video: Rep. Shuler on why he's running against Pelosi

The chances of bipartisan action during the lame-duck session could become clearer when President Barack Obama meets next week with leaders of both parties at the White House.

On the most pressing issue facing Congress, extension of the Bush tax cuts, Obama wants to extend them for couples earning less than $250,000 annually while seeking a compromise, perhaps a temporary continuation, for wealthier taxpayers. Buoyed by their advantage, Republicans are holding firm on permanent extensions for all.

This, Boehner said last week, "will be the most important thing we can do to help create jobs in the country."

On Sunday, Obama said that if Republicans "feel very strongly about it, then I want to get a sense of ... how they intend to pay for it."

Lame-duck sessions are usually unpopular and unproductive. And nothing suggests otherwise about the one due to begin Monday.

Seven weeks ahead of the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, hobbled Democrats and invigorated Republicans were returning to Capitol Hill with a mood of change clearly in the air.

More than 100 mainly Republican freshmen were also due to arrive to be schooled on the jobs they'll assume when the next Congress convenes in January.

Dethroned by an angry electorate and defending her role leading the Democratic caucus in the House, Nancy Pelosi gavels in the lame duck session of Congress in a state of political purgatory, suspended between the past and future.

She'll still be House speaker — second in line to the presidency — and a reminder of the Democrat-driven 2006 and 2008 elections.

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But the attentions of the press klatch were elsewhere.

As Pelosi edged her way behind a raucous mob of reporters — acutely attuned to her comings and goings for four years — few noticed and and none followed.

Spotlight on Boehner
Instead, the spotlight and the microphones awaited Ohio Republican John Boehner, likely next Speaker.

Change at the top, the populist battle cry in the 2010 midterm elections, had already taken hold around Pelosi in the final days of her history-making speakership.

While Republicans were looking ahead to January, when they will take back control of the House, many Democratic lawmakers and staff were more focused on cleaning out their desks and looking for new jobs. That doesn't mean they can slack off.

Congress must act before year's end on expiring Bush-era tax cuts to protect millions of people from significant tax increases.

Lawmakers failed to pass even a single annual spending bill this year, and funds are needed to keep federal agencies financed and avoid a government shutdown. Doctors, meanwhile, face a crippling cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Democrats still command sizable majorities in the House and Senate and have other ambitions for the lame-duck session. Most will go unfulfilled.

There are efforts to give Social Security recipients a $250 check to make up for no cost-of-living increase next year; to extend unemployment benefits; to allow gays to serve openly in the military; to ratify a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia; and to extend government oversight of food safety.

The chances of bipartisan action during the lame-duck session could become clearer when President Barack Obama meets next week with leaders of both parties at the White House.

Tax cuts
On the most pressing issue facing Congress, extension of the Bush tax cuts, Obama wants to extend them for couples earning less than $250,000 annually while seeking a compromise, perhaps a temporary continuation, for wealthier taxpayers. Buoyed by their advantage, Republicans are holding firm on permanent extensions for all.

This, Boehner said last week, "will be the most important thing we can do to help create jobs in the country."

On Sunday, Obama said that if Republicans "feel very strongly about it, then I want to get a sense of ... how they intend to pay for it."

Congress will be in session for a week, break for Thanksgiving week and return on Nov. 29. Lawmakers will continue until they complete their work or give up.

Most of the attention this week will be on activities off the House and Senate floors.

Rangel trial opens
In a back room of a House office building, the House ethics committee will open the trial Monday of 80-year-old Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the former Ways and Means Committee chairman charged with multiple ethics violations.

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Elsewhere on the Hill, more than 100 incoming House and Senate freshmen start learning the rules of decorum, how to run a congressional office and how not to get lost in the Capitol basement.

Two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin, who won the seat of the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and Chris Coons, elected to Vice President Joe Biden's Delaware seat — will be sworn in Monday.

On Tuesday the Senate parties elect their leaders. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada will continue to head the reduced Democratic majority, with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky still guiding the Republicans.

House leadership elections take place Wednesday. Pending the official floor vote in January, Republicans will confirm Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as the next speaker and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia as future majority leader.

Things appear to have settled on the Democratic side.

Pelosi wants to stay on as Democratic leader and a Democratic arrangement reached Friday clears the way for Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer to become second in command without a challenge from South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn.

"We didn't lose the election because of me," Pelosi said in an interview on National Public Radio.

Post-election polling suggests that getting a nod to lead the Democrats for the next two years would be easy compared to the job that lies ahead — winning back the electorate's confidence and favor in time for the 2012 elections with the same leadership lineup and a more liberal caucus.

And doing it all in an atmosphere in which 54 percent of Democratic-leaning adults say they want the party to move in a more moderate direction, according to a poll taken Nov. 4-7 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama faces a lame-duck Congress

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama faces a lame-duck Congress

    >>> what can president obama hope to accomplish with a lame duck congress? richard wolfe is author of new book "survival" the struggle for survival inside the white house . i want to talk about some of these developments in washington. as kelly just pointed out. mitch mcconnell has done this about face, supports the ban on earmarks, what does that say about the power of the tea party ? has it already been unleashed in washington?

    >> it's not the tea party , it's a movement, it's a sense of reform that we saw in 2006 and 2008 and it's something the president has wanted for a long time. but he also passed a giant senate bill with over 2,000 earmarks. so it's time for him to undo what he has done in the white house .

    >> they're all feeling the pressure, this is an establishment that has enjoyed the earmark system. if they don't change now, there will be another change in election two years from now.

    >> we also heard sarah palin say she might run for president if there's no one else to do it. what does the white house feel about a palin candidacy?

    >> they love it. they think she is a deeply flawed candidate, she will expose all sorts of divisions inside the party. this is a fight they want to have. they definitely want to be running against her because they kind of enjoyed it last time.

    >> two democratic pollsters also work for fox news and they stirred things up when they said the president should not run for re-election in 2012 , they argued if he didn't run, he could focus totally on policy instead of politics. has the white house had any reaction to that?

    >> that's not advice they're looking for right now. this is a very competitive president. it didn't go unnoticed that one of these fox news pollsters happens to be closely aligned with the former clinton campaign. so there's some resentment there. two of them, hillary and the president, secretary of state and the president clearly have patched up a lot of their differences, they're working well together. but the staff level, the advisors, these are people who want to revisit and maybe seek vindication.

    >> and there's also a battle going on between the revivalist and the survivalists.

    >> on the survivalist side, you have people who want to revitalize the campaign. they feel that long the way he's diluted that and he's an establishment figure. on the other side is survivalists. the survivalists think they've got to do whatever it takes to get by. do the deals, grease the wheels and do what you k on the revival side, you have people like david plouf who ran the campaign. on the survivalist side, rahm emanuel , former chief of staff, pete rouse , the current chief of staff.

    >> thank you so much.

    >>> just ahead, a driver serving a sentence for manslaughter after he hit and killed 14-year-old boy is now suing his victim's parents. why he blames them for the accident. but first, this is "today" on nbc.

    >>> just ahead, this morning's big news, prince william and kate middleton engaged. to jared. - excuse me? - what's in the bag, dave? - a diamond necklace. - may i see it? - uh, can i just get directions, please? - i'm sorry, dave. i'm afraid i can't do that.

    female announcer: jared, the galleria of jewelry, has five times the selection of ordinary jewelry stores, so you'll find the perfect gift

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