Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Republicans bid farewell to majority

CONGRESS The November elections interrupted 12 straight years of Republican reign in the House, which the departing majority used to steamroll Democrats


Republicans relinquished their political grip on Capitol Hill early on Saturday as the 109th Congress adjourned after a final spurt of legislation and accusation.

In one of their last acts in the majority, Republican leaders forced through a broad tax and trade bill. The bill was packed with provisions that drew substantial bipartisan support after harsh opposition melted away when it became obvious the legislation was headed to the president, and lawmakers were ready to head home after a difficult year.

"I recognize I am going to lose," Republican Senator Judd Gregg said, in making a final, futile procedural attack against the measure, which was approved on a 79 to 9 vote just before 2am.

The House had passed the provisions in two separate packages.

With the conclusion of the Congress, four years of full Republican control over the apparatus of Washington came to an end because of election gains that will install Democrats in the House and Senate majorities when Con-gress reconvenes on Jan. 4.

The election also interrupted 12 straight years of Republican reign in the House, where the departing majority steamrolled Democrats for years.

Democrat Senator Charles Schumer, who was instrumental in engineering the Democratic takeover of the Senate, beamed as he left the chamber.

"Not a bad year," Schumer said.

But Republicans were subdued, with some who were defeated last month saying goodbye to colleagues and staff members, and lingering a few extra minutes on the floor after casting their last votes.

In the House, Representative Dennis Hastert made his final speech as speaker and received a hug and a kiss on the cheek from the incoming speaker, Democrat Representative Nancy Pelosi, a frequent target of Republican attacks.

"Those of us on this side of the aisle will become the loyal opposition, and the gentle lady from California, Mrs. Pelosi, will assume the duties as our speaker," Hastert said.

"I know she will do so with skill and grace, and that she will bring honor to this institution," he said.

The trade measure, a collection of last-minute priorities sent to President George W. Bush, was the chief legislative accomplishment of the final hours.

It restored US$38 billion in popular tax breaks, established normal trade relations with Vietnam and granted trade benefits to Haiti and four South American countries, and blocked a cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

The measure also fulfilled a long-sought objective of Gulf Coast lawmakers and the oil industry by expanding offshore drilling opportunities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and directing hundreds of millions of dollars in new royalties to the region.

"Just when everyone bet against us, Republicans put together a broad package of energy, tax, trade and health care measures," Senator Bill Frist said.

The Senate also approved a stopgap measure to maintain financing for government agencies at current or lower levels through Feb. 15 -- a temporary fix required because Congress had failed to pass nine of the 11 routine spending bills that were due on Oct. 1.

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