Friday, June 10, 2005

Fresh faces in Congress stress cooperation

"USA TODAY interviewed eight House and Senate freshmen at the beginning of their term in January and caught up with them last week as they headed into their sixth month in office.

"For some, it has been a baptism by fire. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who defeated Democratic leader Tom Daschle, is working with Democrats to force a review of a Pentagon decision to close an Air Force base in his state. Martinez cast the deciding vote to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, despite protests in his home state.

"And there have been trying personal moments. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., installed a webcam in her office, so she can have midweek face time with her husband and three young children in Florida. On nights when he returns to his apartment in a building mostly occupied by Georgetown law school students, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., misses his wife and two daughters back in Chicago. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, still can't get over how much his one-bedroom Capitol Hill condo cost." ...

"When it comes to naming their biggest disappointment, the freshmen are unanimous: 'The continuing rancor between Republicans and Democrats,' Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says."

"The freshmen say Congress is much more partisan than the legislatures where they served. 'The issues are polarizing,' Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., says.

"But others say the process deepens the partisan divide. Wasserman Schultz was stunned to learn that Democrats and Republicans sit on opposite sides of the dais during committee hearings. In Florida, she says, lawmakers took the first empty seat and often ended up striking up conversations with members of the opposite party.

"Obama says he's disappointed by the fact that "there very rarely is real debate" in the Senate. 'Each of us is speaking to an empty floor and to C-SPAN and giving stock speeches,' Obama says."

"What pleases the freshmen most is the ability to have an influence, despite their lack of seniority. McHenry, the youngest member of Congress at 29, says, 'You can still take on large issues and have an impact.'"

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