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House Democrats celebrate the passage of their 100-hour agenda

WASHINGTON—Democrats congratulated themselves Thursday as they led the House of Representatives to pass the last of their six priority bills well within a self-imposed deadline of the first 100 legislative hours.

"We have delivered on the promise," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "We have demonstrated that the Congress of the United States is not a place where good ideas and the optimism of the American people go to die."

The partisan celebration may be short-lived, however. For all the House Democrats' success in delivering on their campaign promise to win results in their first 100 hours in power, the achievement reveals little about whether they'll be able to push the federal government in a new direction.

Future measures promise to divide Democrats, unlike their initial six bills. And even if they can drive their agenda through the House, Republicans already have shown that they can block Democrats in the Senate, where opponents can derail bills with just 41 votes and Republicans have 49.

In fact, Republicans sidelined the first bill that come up for a vote in the new Senate—ethics revisions—forcing Democrats to negotiate over details.

"The minority is not irrelevant," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

Similar Senate fights doubtless will greet other House bills. Then too, President Bush retains veto power.

Moreover, while House Democrats were consumed with their 100-hour agenda, the Iraq war trumped domestic concerns among the public. While Democrats talked about the war a lot this week, every Democrat who wants to be president in 2008 is offering a competing plan to end it, and so far the party shows no sign of taking effective action to change the war's course.

All this helps put the House Democrats' early agenda triumph in perspective: a victory, to be sure, but of limited significance.

"They should get credit at least for having an initial platform they wanted to carry out," said Donald Wolfensberger, the director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"It has symbolic value, showing the American people they're serious about getting some things done," he said. "But as you remember with the Contract with America," the manifesto of Republicans who took control of Congress in 1994, "a lot of that stuff died in the Senate or was vetoed by President Clinton. It's sort of the opening salvo. The hard stuff comes now."

The six House-passed bills would implement Sept. 11 commission recommendations, raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, expand embryonic stem-cell research, negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, reduce college loan rates and end some oil-company subsidies.

Much of what passed faces resistance ahead. Senate Republicans say they'll go along with the minimum-wage increase only if they get tax breaks for small businesses, which they say will be hurt by the wage hike.

The House stem-cell legislation is probably dead, because Bush intends to veto it and Democrats lack the votes to override him. The prescription-drug and college loan bills also could face vetoes if they clear the Senate, which is uncertain.

The Democrats' bid to invest more in alternative energy research may have the strongest prospects because of public frustration over high gasoline prices, concerns about relying on the unstable Mideast for fuel and broad bipartisan support for promoting alternative fuels such as ethanol, which benefits farmers in the U.S. heartland.

In coming months, Democratic leaders will be challenged to harness their competing moderate and liberal factions behind shared goals while courting Republicans for support—on immigration, for example, tax policy or global warming.

On Thursday, Pelosi announced plans to seek a vote by midsummer on a global-warming bill that probably would force automakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. To do that, she's creating a special committee to hold hearings—and to bypass Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., a powerful veteran lawmaker who represents the Detroit area and its auto industry.

Further complicating the outlook, if House Republicans ever were motivated to put partisanship aside, the Democrats' handling of the session's first two weeks dampened that mood. The 100-hour House agenda moved quickly because the Democrats skipped the usual hearing process and barred amendments.

Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, called the 100-hour agenda a "dog and pony show" and predicted: "Democrats have rammed through the House a watered-down slate of so-called reforms that will never become law in their current form."

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., countered: "Some will be quick to say that we picked the easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit. But I say, if it were so easy, why haven't we raised the minimum wage in 10 years?"

Here are the six bills that House Democrats passed in their first 100 legislative hours in power, with dates and vote totals:

_Implement 9-11 commission recommendations (Jan. 9, 299-128).

_Raise minimum wage to $7.25 hourly over two years (Jan. 10, 315-116).

_Expand stem-cell research (Jan. 11, 253-174).

_Negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare plans (Jan. 12, 255-170).

_Cut college loan interest rates (Jan. 17, 356-71).

_End some energy-company subsidies (Jan. 18, 264-123).

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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