ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Vice President Dick Cheney gaveled the 110th Congress to order in the Senate just after noon and then swore in the newly elected and reelected members in groups of four. On of the highlights came when Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia was sworn into his 9th term, at 12:06, raised his violently shaking hands and said loudly, "so help me god" at the end of taking his oath.
Majority Leader Harry Reid then took to the Senate Floor to lay out the Democratic agenda (called "The First Ten Bills") in that body. It is similar to the 100 hours agenda on the House side, but accounts for more participation by the minority party and expects to last at least several months.
That said, it is ten top-priority bills for the 110th Congress and includes: ethics reform, raising minimum wage, Medicare Prescription Drug program reform, 9/11 Commission Recommendations, funding stem cell research, energy reform, college tuition, rebuilding the American military, comprehensive immigration reform, and pay-as-you-go legislation.
"Democrats may be in charge of this Congress, but we are committed to bipartisanship," Reid said. "We have found that a one-party town does not work. We know from experience that Majorities come and go. Majorities must work with the Minority to make lasting change. In this Body, nothing can be accomplished unless we reach across the aisle. It’s because—when our Founding Fathers created the Senate 219 years ago—they carved out a special place for the Minority. They created an institution that protects the Minority, and we will respect those protections."
Reid’s office has said they hope to get to the first four items on their checklist (ethics reform, minimum wage, Medicare prescription drug program reform and implementation of 9/11 Commission Recommendations) by February 16th.
He’ll have help in part because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signed on as a co-sponsor of the ethics reform bill, which comes up first. There is more space between them after that. On Democratic issue #2, the minimum wage, Democrats want to just raise the minimum wage to $7.25, while many Republicans want to tack on tax breaks for small businesses. Things get increasingly more disputed from there. The Finance committee will have hearings on minimum wage on January 10th.
For his part, speaking after Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke of bipartisanship, invoking the 1980s when Reagan worked with Democrats to pass tax cuts. At the same time, McConnell referred to what he, as minority leader, will not sacrifice in the spirit of bipartisanship: among them, national security and tax increases.
McConnell also implied that he would make sure, "terrorism must be fought at a distance, or it will be fought in our streets." He also said he would work to protect the rule of law with regard to immigration reform.
Any attempts at bipartisanship will get a tough test in the coming weeks when President Bush announces his new strategy in Iraq and Reid told Bush in his speech that strategy must include a path to removing U.S. troops from Iraq.
"The war in Iraq will cast a long shadow over the Senate’s work this year," Reid said. "No issue in our country is more important than finding an end to the intractable war. We will be listening very closely to President Bush when he comes forward with his new plan next week. The President’s new plan must ensure the Iraqi’s take responsibility for their own future, and it must remove our troops from a dangerous civil war. Completing the mission in Iraq is the President’s job, and we will do everything in our power to ensure he fulfills it."