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House Democrats Re-elect Same Leadership

By Ann Curley/CNN


WASHINGTON (CNN, Nov. 18) -- The House Democratic caucus voted today to return its entire leadership lineup to power in the next Congress, and the newly re-elected leaders exuded confidence as they described their goal of retaking control of the House in two years.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said, "The atmosphere in the caucus was very positive; people are up, people are excited about our win in 1996 and looking forward to winning the majority back in 1998." Democrats also outlined some of the hot-button issues that face the next Congress.

The House Democratic Caucus unanimously re-elected Missouri's Gephardt as House Democratic leader, Michigan Rep. David Bonior as House Democratic whip, and California Rep. Vic Fazio and Connecticut Rep. Barbara Kennelly as chairman and co-chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus.

Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "The House continues to be up for grabs in the next two years. There are 25 Republicans who won with 50 percent or less, and there were 46 Republican members who won by less than 10 percent. We're going to recruit strong candidates, we're going to run a strong aggressive race in 1998 and we fully expect to take the House back in the next election."


Gephardt was asked about Democratic legislative priorities, such as balancing the budget. He said, "If the Republicans had been willing to come to the middle and compromise and reach a consensus on the budget then we could have gotten the budget balanced last year, we could have done it the year before."

He said Democrats "remain ready to compromise, we remain ready to meet them in the middle -- it takes two to tango. And if they're ready to come to the middle and work toward a consensus, we'll achieve it."

Gephardt added, "I think the American people said very clearly -- they rejected the extremism of the Republicans. That's why we won seats in the House. So, if they got the message from the American people that we have, we can meet in the middle and get these things done."

Answering several questions about the budget process, which begins early next year, Gephardt said the process will be a test to see whether Republicans are serious about working with Democrats to achieve results. He said that Democrats and the president remain united in their values and principles that underline their position on the budget. "The president vetoed the budget that had deep cuts in Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, deep cuts in Head Start, school lunch and student loans," he said. Gephardt said he hopes the results of the election will cause Republicans to move toward the middle on such issues.


Bonior foreshadowed possible disputes between Republicans and Democrats regarding the number of Democrats who will be apportioned to sit on each committee. Democrats feel that because they have gained seats in the House, they should receive more seats on each committee. Bonior said, "We have not gotten the final word yet."

The subject of ethics and the resolution of impending charges against House Speaker Newt Gingrich was raised. Gephardt said that "the ethics committee is doing its work, it should complete its work, that's what it's trying to do, and then the Congress will decide the issue." Possible wrongdoing by House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to be a hot-button issue during the next session of Congress.

Gephardt emphasized that Democrats are pushing for campaign finance reform. "We think the system stinks and it ought to be changed," he said. He stressed that Democrats have tried three times -- unsuccessfully -- to pass campaign finance reform over the last six years, and that President Bill Clinton has made a big push for campaign finance reform.

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