On the Clock: Democrats Close the 'First 100 Hours'

Jan. 18, 2007 — -- With passage of their energy bill this evening, Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives completed their "first 100 hours" of legislative work. The bill -- which passed by a vote of 264-163 and would roll back oil subsidies and invest the money into alternative energy programs -- marks the sixth of six bills House Democrats have promised to send to the Senate.

"In the November election the American people signaled their wish for change, their wish for our country to go in a new direction," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a celebratory press conference before the energy bill passed Thursday afternoon. "Democrats … have demonstrated that the Congress of the United States is not a place where good ideas, and the optimism of the American people, go to die."

Pelosi's hopes were nearly dashed in the late afternoon as Republicans attempted to throw up roadblocks in an apparent attempt to prevent the sixth item from passing before 6:30 p.m. ET, when the broadcast networks run their evening newscasts. The Republicans failed in this parliamentary hijinx, and the sixth item -- in the 42nd hour, with more than 57 hours to spare -- gaveled to a close at 6:09 p.m..

After some initial back-and-forth between Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., about when the 100 hours would begin counting down, the official clock started ticking Jan. 9, with the introduction of a bill to carry out some of the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. The clock, Democratic leaders decided, would only keep ticking during discussion of the six legislative items; time would stop when members addressed other matters.

Overshadowed by the Troop Surge

Much of the media coverage of the legislative action by the new Democratic House has been overshadowed by President Bush's plan for an escalation or surge in U.S. troops sent to Iraq and the congressional reaction to that proposal. But notably, not only have House Democrats managed to pass their "Six for '06" measures, they have done so with bipartisan majorities.

The 9/11 Commission recommendations, which include requirements that the government screen all cargo ships for nuclear materials before leaving ports bound for the United States, passed by a vote of 299-128, with the support of 68 Republicans.

The House's vote on Jan. 10 to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 over the next two years passed by a vote of 315 to 116. The next day, lifting Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research received the support of 253 members of Congress, with 174 voting against it. A bill to require the federal government to negotiate for better prices for pharmaceuticals as part of the Medicare prescription drug program passed 255 to 170.

Wednesday's vote to lower the rate on federal student loans from the current 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent enjoyed the most bipartisan support of all, passing 356 to 71, with 124 Republicans voting "yes."

That's not to say that every one of these measures will become law. The White House has vowed to veto both the stem cell and Medicare bills, and the House did not pass them with sufficient numbers to override a veto, which would require a two-thirds vote.

'Creative Clock-Keeping?'

And the cooling saucer of the Senate could prove downright chilly to other measures, at least in their pure House forms. The minimum wage increase, for example, will likely pass the Senate only with a provision of tax breaks for small businesses, which Hoyer denounced today. In addition, the more narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, along with that body's particular set of rules, requires that the bills go through debate in specific committees.

Nor does the bipartisan voting indicate GOP happiness. Republicans have accused Democrats of what Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., referred to in a speech as "creative clock-keeping." As of this morning, nine days after the 100 hours began, only 34 official hours have passed on Pelosi's clock. And though Democrats were gaveled into control on Jan. 4, it wasn't until five days later that the clock started, after other matters involving ethics and lobbying reform had been voted upon.

Republicans have also objected to the Democrats' refusal to allow the minority party the ability to offer competing bills.

"It's a very poor policy avenue to pursue to say, 'We will only listen to you after we have done what we want to do,'" said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House GOP caucus. "Their agenda is not like a gallon of milk. It won't expire in 100 hours."

In an interview with ABC News, Majority Leader Hoyer took issue with the Republicans' complaints, saying Democrats had outlined their six agenda items before the 2006 election.

"Very rarely are the six items that we're going to move discussed as openly and as extensively as these items have been discussed," he said. "We think that they offered their alternatives in the election. Their alternatives in many respects were 'no.'"

Z. Byron Wolf and Dean Norland contributed to this report.