Ready, set, go! No, wait a minute!

Notice to those tracking the progress of the new Democratic-led House of Representatives: Get ready to start the clock — but only after Monday’s big football game.

With some critics already jeering, Democrats on Tuesday kick off their “first 100 legislative hours,” during which they vow to pass much of the agenda that helped them win control of Congress from President George W. Bush’s Republicans in last year’s elections.

The newly elected House convened on Thursday with plenty of fanfare and the majority party vowing to put it on a five-day work week after ridiculing the Republicans for having worked just three days a week in the legislative chamber.

But Democrats pushed back until this week the start of votes on their much ballyhooed agenda. And everyone got Monday off for the college football championship game between Ohio State and the University of Florida.

“When you’re in control, it (the first 100 hours) starts when you say it starts, includes what you say it includes and ends when you say it ends,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, who with fellow Republicans had been in charge of the House the previous 12 years.

Democrats’ “first 100 legislative hours” agenda includes measures to bolster national security, increase the minimum wage, cut the interest rate on student loans, reduce the price of prescription drugs, overturn Bush’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and end some subsidies to big oil companies.

Democrats used much of last week to implement promised new rules on how lawmakers do business and help stop deficit spending.


And with Bush expected to announce an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq in a prime-time television address on Wednesday, leaders moved up plans for oversight hearings on the war as they push their call for a phased withdrawal.

A Democratic aide said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio had asked that there be no votes until Tuesday.

“There is a very important event happening Monday night, particularly for those who live in Ohio and Florida,” said House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

“In the spirit of comity,” Hoyer told colleagues, the House would not return to work until Tuesday. While many appreciated the move, some criticized Democrats.

“We all know the big national championship game is on Monday night,” said Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican. “But taking an entire day to watch the game isn’t what we should spend part of our five-day work week doing.”

House Democrats have also been accused of backing off their promise to give Republicans more of a voice in the legislative process than Republicans had given them.

Republicans complain the initial legislation is being brought up for votes without first being subjected to committee consideration and possible amendments.

Hoyer brushed off the suggestion.

“We view the first 100 hours essentially as a mandate from the American people,” Hoyer said.

“We said to the American people, ‘if you elect us, if you put us in charge, this is what we are going to do and we are going to do it in the first 100 hours,’ which is essentially two weeks if you have a 40-hour working week, and that is what we are going to do,” he added.

© Reuters 2007

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