A day of firsts: Female members of the House posed on Thursday. The record number of women and minorities elected mean that for the first time, white men are a minority among House Democrats. And the new Senate has a record number of women with 20.

Cliff Owen, Associated Press

Members of the 113th Congress, many accompanied by family members, on Thursday took the oath of office in the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Keeping a pledge he made last spring, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk climbed the Capitol steps on Thursday to mark his return almost a year after suffering a major stroke.

Luke Sharrett, New York Times

Battles brew in new Congress

  • Article by: JONATHAN WEISMAN
  • New York Times
  • January 3, 2013 - 11:16 PM

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was narrowly re-elected speaker of the House on Thursday amid open dissent from conservatives that signaled that the turmoil and division of the 112th Congress is likely to spill into the newly constituted 113th.

Boehner, in his opening address to the new House, indicated that the Republican majority would make the federal debt and deficit its singular focus. He also delivered a blunt message to those he sees as more interested in stirring dissension and scoring political points than in being constructive.

"If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place," an emotional Boehner said, calling for the House to focus on results. "The door is behind you."

In the Senate as well, hard feelings from the old Congress were reverberating in the new.

'Better angels of our nature'

The Democratic leadership said it would hold off on efforts to limit the filibuster while negotiations with Republicans about procedural changes continued. But more junior Democrats signaled they are not done pressing to diminish the power of the filibuster, even if that means taking the extraordinary step of changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote -- an approach dubbed "the nuclear option."

"The Senate is broken," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

As the 113th Congress convened, leaders of both parties in both chambers tried to strike a note of comity after the struggles of a Congress marred by acrimony almost to its final minutes. The children and grandchildren of members romped through the House chamber, and lawmakers clapped one another on the back.

"I hope with all my heart that we will find common ground that is a higher, better place for our country," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, said before she handed the gavel to Boehner. "Surely we can be touched by the better angels of our nature."

New House rules adopted

The agenda laid out by Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell jibed well with the demands of small-government conservatives. Both said cutting spending would be front and center, putting them on a collision course with President Obama and Democratic leaders. And neither was taking seriously Obama's pledge not to bargain over raising the debt ceiling.

Battles also are brewing on issues beyond the budget, from same-sex marriage and gun control to welfare programs. Among the new rules that the House adopted, one requires committees to identify potentially duplicative programs when considering the creation of programs or reauthorizing existing ones. Another will require annual budget resolutions to contain information about the growth of entitlement programs, like food stamps, a GOP aide said.

They also authorize House lawyers to continue to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That angered Democrats who saw it as a frivolous expenditure of tax dollars when the Justice Department has declined to defend the law's constitutionality.

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