Out With Old, In With the New Congress
"Good riddance" is what some might say as the 112th Congress officially comes to a close. After bitter battles over the so-called "fiscal cliff," the debt ceiling and nearly every piece of legislation that came before it, it has been labeled as the least productive, most dysfunctional and least compromising in recent history. Whether those descriptions, which are difficult to quantify, are true are not, one thing is factual - it ends today as the 113th Congress is sworn in today.
As the New Year brings with it new opportunity and a chance to start over, the 113th Congress is viewed in much the same way. With 84 new members of the House and 13 new Senators, fresh voices always bring a sense of excitement. While rarely freshman invoke a great deal of change in Congress with their lowly status and congressional learning curve, it might be more difficult this year as the newly-elected members are joining weary, battle-bruised members who worked until the last minute of the Congress fighting over taxes and spending.
The new members, however, will be forced to get right to work. On Friday, the House will vote on a small sliver of federal aid for Sandy victims. And soon the fight over the remainder of the so-called "fiscal cliff" items that had been put on hold, including the debt ceiling and automatic spending cuts, as well as funding bills to finish the second half of this fiscal year, will resume.
While they might not severely influence the depths of leadership, the new Congress is expected to bring new perspective, as it will be the most diverse in history. For the first time in the House, white males will be the minority in the Democratic Party. Some of those new members are receiving a lot of attention, including Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii Democrat comes from a small state but many say she will come with a big punch. The 31-year-old Gabbard is the first Hindu ever elected to Congress and is one of the first female combat veterans, having served a year in Iraq with the Hawaii National Guard and a second tour in Kuwait.
Gabbard will join fellow combat veteran and triple amputee Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. While domestic policy is sure to dominate Capitol Hill in 2013, Duckworth, an opponent of the Iraq War and a supporter of the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, is likely to be a strong voice in foreign policy, especially since she will sit on the Armed Services Committee.
Democrats also add to the largest number of Hispanics - 30 - including incoming congressman Raul Ruiz of California. His rags-to-riches story has caught the attention of people outside his southeast California district. He is the son of immigrant farm workers in the Coachella Valley outside Los Angeles who was unable to afford college. He asked local businesses to contribute to his college fund with the promise to return as a doctor. He returned from Harvard nearly two decades later as an ER doctor with a total of three degrees from the prestigious university.