WASHINGTON — As the 111th Congress convened Tuesday with the biggest Democratic majorities since the early 1990s, the economy reeling and the vacant Illinois Senate seat commanding much of the attention, members were in a reserved, even somber mood.
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., set the tone in a brief speech after colleagues elected her to a second two-year term as the speaker of the House of Representatives. "As we take the oath of office today, we accept a level of responsibility as daunting and demanding as any that previous generations of leadership have faced," she said.
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed quick, bold action. "Some may fear the depth of the challenges we face, but I remind them that adversity is no stranger to our country," he said. "Yet in America and in this Senate chamber, we have never failed to persevere and prosper."
The absence of the partisan bitterness that's characterized Congress for years was notable.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, vowed, "Republicans will strive not to be the party of opposition, but the party of better solutions," a line that sparked widespread applause from Democratic members.
Democrats gained 21 House seats and at least seven Senate seats in the last election. Not since President Bill Clinton's first two years, 1993 and 1994, have the Democrats had such big majorities.
The economy is in a recession, and President-elect Obama has been talking about a stimulus plan that's expected to cost at least $775-billion, and House leaders plan a forum today to discuss alternatives.
Congressional Republicans have signaled that they like the potential $300-billion in tax cuts that Obama is proposing.