- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The 111th Congress convened Tuesday afternoon for the first time, ushering in a surge of enthusiasm but also facing a daunting list of challenges that could make 2009 one of the most consequential years in congressional history.

A slumping economy, continued instability among global financial markets, and two wars is expected to quickly erase any feel-good bipartisan spirit that typically accompanies the opening days of a new Congress.

“We will hit the ground running,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Monday moments before a meeting with President-elect Barack Obama. “It’s a very exciting time. We pledged to work together in a bipartisan way, with great civility, with great fiscal discipline.”

The opening day of a two-year congressional session is typically more ceremony than substance, as members in the House and Senate are sworn in. Congress then often recesses until the new president takes office or after the State of the Union address at the end of January.

But this year, with the economy worsening, Democrats are promising swift action on an almost $800 billion economic recovery proposal that promises to be one of the most expensive spending packages in history. The as-yet unveiled package, which is a top priority of the Obama administration, has received tentative support from Republican leaders.

“We welcome the opportunity to be included in the discussion,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, after a meeting with Mr. Obama on Monday. “I’m convinced, as a result of listening to the president-elect, that he is interested in what Republican ideas might be offered.”

Mr. McConnell said Republicans would most enthusiastically support tax cuts that the Obama transition team says would comprise 40 percent of the expenditure, or about $300 billion.

Capitol Hill lawmakers say they expect to pass the $800 billion plan within six weeks, though details of the stimulus were still being worked out.

Tuesday also included a dramatic side-show that Democrats would just as soon do without, as Mr. Obama’s appointed successor to the Senate, Democrat Roland Burris, was turned away when he appeared at the U.S. Capitol to take his seat.

Democratic have pledged not to confirm anyone appointed by embattled Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich to fill the seat left vacant by Mr. Obama’s election as president.

Roland Burris has not been certified by the state of Illinois,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, on Monday. “When that takes place, we’ll of course review it. At this stage we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen in Illinois.”

Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, arrived at the Capitol Tuesday morning, greeted by a horde of reporters and photographers. He was escorted to the secretary of the Senate’s office for discussions on his political options.

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