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GOP Leaders Ready To Push Ambitious Agenda As Congress Returns

Jan 3, 2017
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The 115th Congress was sworn in today, marking the beginning of a transition of power in Washington. It will conclude later this month when President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath. When that happens, Republicans will have control over Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. They plan to waste no time in pushing through one of the most conservative agendas in years. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The first day of the new Congress is often likened to the first day back at school. There's a mix of giddiness and nerves. Members get to see faces they haven't seen on recess. But on this first day of school, the most popular guy on campus is learning he'll have to cede a lot of the limelight now.

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PAUL RYAN: You know, I have stood in this spot a very, very many times. It today, though, feels a whole lot different.

CHANG: Here's what's different for Paul Ryan, who was re-elected House speaker today. He was once seen as the only guy who could unify the Republican Party. But in the new world order, Ryan has become sidekick to Donald Trump and even seems to channel the president-elect now when he's talking about voters.

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RYAN: They've looked to Washington for leadership, and all they have gotten is condescension. For years, they've suffered quietly amid shuttered factories and shattered lives.

CHANG: So Ryan says Republicans should take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity under unified government to produce real results.

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RYAN: So I want to say to the American people, we hear you. We will do right by you, and we will deliver.

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CHANG: But deliver exactly what? Some tensions may lie ahead for Republicans. Trump seems receptive to passing a large infrastructure bill that may mean too much spending for fiscal hawks. And Trump doesn't seem as eager as traditional conservatives like Ryan to make sweeping changes to Medicare and Social Security. So Republicans will start on something they can all agree on, dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

TIM SCOTT: Well, when something's already failing, I think the best thing that you could do is replace it.

CHANG: That's Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

SCOTT: And repealing it is the first step in that process. I am very interested to see how my friends on the other side of the aisle will work with us on that replacement model.

CHANG: The years-long dream of gutting Obamacare is already getting a jump start this week 17 days before Trump even takes the oath of office. Senate Republicans introduced a budget resolution today that paves the way to repeal parts of the health care law, and the new Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is already taunting them for having nothing to replace it with.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: It is not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos and then leave the hard work for another day. Mr. President-elect, what is your plan to make sure all Americans can get affordable health care?

CHANG: Trump was nowhere inside the Capitol, but he was everywhere in these speeches. While Speaker Ryan seemed to be channeling Trump today, Schumer spent much of his first speech as minority leader talking directly to the president-elect.

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SCHUMER: If you abandon change and simply embrace the shopworn, hard-right, pro-corporate, pro-elite policies diametrically opposed to the many campaign themes that helped you win working-class votes and get you elected, your presidency will not succeed.

CHANG: Schumer says Democrats will keep tabs on how well Trump can fulfill campaign promises like boosting GDP, bringing down unemployment, getting tougher on China and protecting Social Security and Medicare.

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SCHUMER: We'll fight him tooth and nail when he appeals to the baser instincts that diminish America and its greatness, instincts that have too often plagued this country and too often plagued his campaign.

CHANG: Tomorrow, President Obama meets with House and Senate Democrats to talk about how to counter Republican efforts to undermine the health care law. To keep things even, Vice President-elect Mike Pence says he'll be here, too, meet with House Republicans. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.