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Incoming House leaders lay out committee priorities

The incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is promising an array of oversight investigations that could provoke sharp disagreement with Republicans and the White House.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., pledged that Democrats, swept to power in the Nov. 7 elections, would govern "in the middle" next year. But the veteran lawmaker has a reputation as one who has never avoided a fight, and he did not back away from that reputation on Sunday.

Among the investigations he said he wants the committee to undertake:

- The new Medicare drug benefit. "There are lots and lots and lots of scandals," he said, without citing specifics.

- Spending on government contractors in Iraq, including Halliburton Co., the Texas oil services conglomerate once led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

- An energy task force overseen by Cheney. It "was carefully cooked to provide only participation by oil companies and energy companies," Dingell said.

- A review of food and drug safety, particularly in the area of nutritional supplements.

Meanwhile, the incoming chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee said his committee would not take on contentious issues, such as extending expiring tax cuts or overhauling Social Security, at the beginning of the year. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Democrats do not want a fight with President Bush and want to prove they can govern.

"The first thing we're going to do is try to work together on things we know we can accomplish," Rangel said.

Rep. Barney Frank, set to lead the House Financial Services Committee, said issues such as raising the minimum wage will be popular, even thought the idea has been identified with liberals.

"In my own committee, the biggest difference you're going to see is we're going to return to try to help deal with the housing crisis that blights so many parts of our country socially and economically," said Frank, D-Mass.

Frank, who in 1987 became the first member of Congress to voluntarily make his homosexuality public, also said he wants to modify the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. It prohibits officials from inquiring about sex lives and requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.

"One of the things I do want to address, yes, is discrimination based on sexual orientation," Frank said.

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who will become the Senate's second-ranking GOP leader, said Republicans still have enough clout to block legislation "if it's really bad, not in the country's best interest." But he also said he wanted to find areas where the two sides can compromise.

The lawmakers appeared on Fox News Sunday.

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