GOP newcomers: 'It's a new day in Washington'

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 5, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The first day of a new Congress is like popping a champagne cork.

The corridors of the Capitol bubble over with enthusiasm.

That was certainly true Wednesday as the new Congress took office, at least among Republicans.

“It’s a new day in Washington,” said freshman Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. “Last November the American people stood up and spoke like they have not done in a long time in a unified voice. So this is an historic moment as we come here and try to change the course of the country for future generations.”

File that in the same folder with previous Republican claims to a sweeping political mandate after big election victories, along with a similar boast by Democrats just two years ago.

Power can be fleeting in Washington. But while Democrats sulked and plotted their comeback, Republicans lawmakers from the region were still marveling at their political fortune.

“It’s a bit surreal today,” said Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, a few hours before taking his first oath of office as a House member. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this day. I couldn’t be more proud or excited about this moment, for me as a person, and for our country.”

Newcomers to the House had only been in their offices just 48 hours, so the pace of events was somewhat overwhelming at times. Yoder’s congressional office, like Hartzler’s, seemed devoid of paper or books. Glass-fronted bookcases sat empty. That will change soon enough.

Already they were getting calls from constituents with questions. They were still navigating the geography, as well, befuddled at times by the vast underground network of tunnels and passageways that lead to the Capitol from the office buildings.

“I managed to get lost in the basement a couple of times,” said freshman Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas.

All of them were excited that the Republican House majority was already gunning it political engines. It plans votes this week on rules to encourage more transparency on legislation. Another change would require bills to be certified that they are constitutionally permissible.

Republicans also intend to begin their effort to repeal last year’s health care reform bill. It would be hard to find a Republican who didn’t pledge during the campaign to join that bandwagon, but it’s a task certain to fail.

Democrats run the Senate and President Barack Obama would veto the measure if it ever got to his desk, in any case. Still, Yoder, newly–assigned to the House Appropriations Committee, said it was worthwhile.

“Although it’s evident we don’t have a veto-proof majority, we still think it’s important to stand up and be heard and have that debate,” he said. “There are lots of Americans frustrated with what happened last year. This is their chance for their voices to echo in the House chamber.”

Hartzler, who will serve on the Armed Services and Agriculture committees, praised her majority’s vow to cut the congressional budget by 5 percent. She said it was symbolic of its pledge to slash government spending this year by $100 billion. Defense and Social Security would be off limits.

“It demonstrates we’re serious about cutting spending…rather than asking American families and businesses to cut theirs’,” Hartzler said.

A number of Republicans believe that the $100 billion goal won’t be reached.

Across the Capitol, in the more intimate confines of the Senate – 100 members versus 435 in the House – fledgling Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said he was cautiously hopeful that some degree of bipartisanship would prevail, despite much evidence to the contrary.

“I don’t expect anything to change overnight, but I do think the Senate has a greater opportunity for working together on the issues,” said Moran, who served seven terms in the House. “Over time, the House of Representatives has divided up into teams, with so much of the effort to scoring points on the other team.”

Then he added a caveat: “I’ve only been in the Senate a very short time.”

Moran’s escort to his swearing-in consisted of senior Kansas colleague, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, and former Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, now the governor of the state. The recently-sworn-in Kansas chief executive said that he was not going to miss Washington.

“I’m going to Walk Jerry Moran down the aisle and take a plane west,” he said.

Missouri’s newest senator, former Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, walked to his swearing-in accompanied by Missourians Claire McCaskill, a Senate Democrat, and former GOP Sen. Kit Bond.

In a prepared statement, Blunt said he was “honored” to serve in the Senate and looked “forward to continuing to work for Missourians as I’ve had an opportunity to do in the past.”

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