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New Congress vows to clean up act

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties are trying to show they got the voters' message.

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The midterm elections that ended GOP control of both House and Senate turned on two overriding themes: the war in Iraq and corruption in Congress.

Now, beginning with leadership elections this week, both parties are out to show voters they got the message.

For Democrats, united in a keen desire not to slip back into the minority in 2008, a first step is the promise of a new style of leadership on Capitol Hill: open, bipartisan, and above reproach – and an agenda anchored in the needs of the average American family.

"Voters rejected the Bush agenda, but they haven't yet embraced us," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who was elevated Tuesday to No. 3 in the Democratic leadership after chairing the party's senatorial campaign committee to a victory few of his colleagues believed would happen. "What we have here could vanish if we don't do the job."

What's missing from Democrats' ambitious early agenda, critics say, is a quick, clean, anticorruption element. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi promised last January to enact an ethics package – including a ban on all gifts from lobbyists, disclosure of earmarks, and a two-year wait before lawmakers leaving office can work as lobbyists – if Democrats took back the House. Pelosi aides say the presumptive House speaker wants an "Honest Leadership Open Government" package – details to be disclosed – to go through the committee process in the new Congress.

Both the House and Senate later passed versions of lobby reform last spring, but GOP leaders have yet to agree on terms for a conference to work out differences between the two bills, which will die at the end of the 109th Congress in December.

Both ethics and the Iraq war are emerging as key issues in an unexpectedly bitter race for the new House majority leader, the Democrats' second in command behind Ms. Pelosi.


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