'Fiscal cliff' tension lingers as 113th Congress convenes
WASHINGTON — Republican John Boehner narrowly won re-election on Thursday as the speaker of the House of Representatives as the 113th Congress convened in an atmosphere of unusual uncertainty and turmoil.
Outwardly, the day had a festive air as children were allowed to sit in House members' seats and the usually somber halls of the Capitol teemed with revelers. The day also had an uplifting note, as Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who suffered a major stroke last year, climbed the 45 outdoor steps into the Senate chamber with the help of Vice President Joe Biden and two Senate colleagues.
There were celebrations of the diversity of the new Congress. The Senate welcomed its first openly gay member. Senate Republicans welcomed the first black Republican in three decades.
The House Democratic caucus for the first time had a majority of members who weren't white men.
But there were undercurrents of internal divisions lingering from the fight over the “fiscal cliff” and signs of partisan battles to come.
Boehner set a somber tone. “Public service was never meant to be an easy living. Extraordinary challenges demand extraordinary leadership,” the Ohio Republican told the House.
“So if you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is behind you.”
Even the election of the speaker had moments of tension. Twelve Republicans didn't vote for Boehner, and his 220-vote total matched the lowest for a speaker in 14 years, when there were fewer Republicans.
The dissenters were conservatives who have complained that Boehner is too willing to deal with Democrats. They're still upset over the “fiscal cliff” deal, saying it didn't contain enough spending cuts; 151 Republicans voted against the plan, and it passed only because of a huge Democratic vote.
Boehner has tried to get tougher, as four Republicans were tossed off key committees, and he attempted earlier this week to get a majority for an enormous spending-cut package. But the suspicions lingered, and Democrats signaled that they're going to dig in.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was somewhat more partisan in her acceptance speech to the House. Her calls for more diversity and immigration restructuring drew standing ovations from Democrats, while most Republicans stayed in their seats, not applauding.
In the Senate, Republicans took the less conciliatory tone. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who helped craft the “fiscal cliff” deal, called it “imperfect,” though he said it had settled Washington's long debate about raising revenue.
“The president got his revenue; now it's time to turn squarely to the real problem, which is spending,” he said. “In a couple of months, the president will ask us to raise the nation's debt limit. We cannot agree to increase that borrowing limit without agreeing to reforms that lower the avalanche of spending that's creating this debt in the first place. It's not fair to the American people.”
The Democratic leader urged calm. “The recent effort to avert the ‘fiscal cliff' was an example of both the divisions and the collaborations that will mark a moment in history — and it was a moment in history,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The new Congress began with slightly more Democrats than its predecessor had. The party controls 55 Senate seats, up two from the last Congress. In the House, Republicans have a 233 to 200 majority, down eight seats.
The makeup is slightly different. For the first time, the House Democratic caucus doesn't have a majority of white men. Eighteen percent of House members and 20 percent of senators are women. Nineteen percent of House members and 6 percent of senators are minorities.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina made history as the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction and the first black Republican senator since Ed Brooke of Massachusetts left in 1979.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat who defeated popular former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl, became the first openly gay senator.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Clinton: Women ‘expect’ extremism from terrorists, not GOP candidates
- ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ series premiere sets cable record
- Affordable Care Act ‘Cadillace tax’ may prompt employers to trim health benefits
- US economy surged at 3.7 percent rate in April-June quarter
- 13 states spared EPA regulation of waterways
- Kraft Heinz recalls more than 2M pounds of turkey bacon
- Female sailors begin training for Navy submarine duty
- Eastern Pa. pastor in insider-trading scheme granted bail
- Breast cancer study fans overtreatment fears
- Obama opens climate change tour
- Virginia reporter, cameraman killed on air; gunman also dies