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In '08, a curtailed agenda for Congress

The economy and education are areas where lawmakers may break partisan gridlock.

'This is a unique bipartisan coalition that has some unique alliances.' – Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, on prospects for congressional reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Dennis Cook/AP

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Democrats swept into power in Congress last year with an ambitious agenda to end the war in Iraq, curb corruption, and do more to help the middle class.

But lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill this week are still drafting an agenda for 2008 that already is overshadowed by the presidential race – and by a pattern of partisan gridlock.

First up is unfinished business from last session.

Congress is under pressure to fix a glitch in the 2008 defense policy bill, which President Bush sent back to the House on Dec. 28. Armed services committees in the House and Senate have been working on a fix but are letting party leaders decide how far to press a confrontation with the White House over the issue.

Next, Congress has until Feb. 1 to renew a controversial terrorist-surveillance program, including whether to shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits alleging violations of privacy. The Senate, which returns next week, must reconcile two competing versions of the bill and then come to terms with the House.

In recognition of Americans' growing concerns about a slowing economy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid reached out to Mr. Bush and urged him to work with them to put together a bipartisan economic stimulus package that is "timely, targeted, and temporary," before unveiling his own plan.

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