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Freshman Members of Congress Attend Kennedy-School Orientation

For six days, they went to classes on the economy, cities, health care

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ATTIRED in blue jeans, sneakers, and business and jogging suits, some 80 new members of the House of Representatives wrapped up a six-day orientation program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government Dec. 15.

In informal classroom settings, members attended lectures on such subjects as the national economy, United States cities, global population, health care, and environmental policy.

The Kennedy School has conducted the orientation program since 1972. This year, however, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, held its own orientation starting on the same day as the Kennedy School orientation.

"We had some complaints from current members about how liberal Harvard's program was and we felt it was time to offer an alternative," says Matt Miller, director of congressional relations for the US House at the Heritage Foundation. No Democrats attended that session.

At the Kennedy School, freshman congressmen noted that their 110-member class is unusual. "We're unique in appearance because we're a lot more reflective of America," says Rep.-elect Melvin Watt (D) of North Carolina. "There are a lot more minorities and women."

Sporting a "Give 'em Mel" sweat shirt, Representative-elect Watt says: "It's been depressing because everybody is emphasizing the magnitude of all the problems we are facing."

"I think the priorities will be defined by what the president submits to Congress," he says. "[My job] is taking what Clinton proposes and then trying to sharpen and focus it for the benefit of my constituents."

A look at some new members of the 103rd Congress shows a diverse group. They are generally younger than their incumbent colleagues, and more than 70 percent of them have had previous experience in elective office.

Charles Royer, director of the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics, says that for the first time in many years the freshmen face an undivided government with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House. "They're big enough to feel they have some weight to make a difference, and they are trying to figure out how as newcomers they can," he says.


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