GOP prepares for fresh start in Washington after lame-duck session

Susan Milligan --- U.S. News and World Report 

It’s going to be different this time, promise. Yes, we’ve been through a painful series of fights; and yes, things were said that may have been regrettable. But this is a fresh start, a time when we all can put aside old divisions and look at each other with mutual respect. I know we’ve said this before, but this time it’s different.

That could be from a script about a troubled married couple in counseling. But it was actually the biparty line from members of Congress as they returned for a lame-duck session after an election that will give the Senate majority back to the Republicans in January and make the divide between the White House and Congress a clear Democratic-GOP faceoff. And as with the long-feuding married couple, the chances for a genuine rapprochement – no matter how sincere the wishes of individual lawmakers – are iffy.

Members of Congress came back to Washington after Veterans Day in a predictably mixed mood. Democrats tried to present an optimistic face. Republicans barely contained their glee after having picked up eight Senate seats. (The Associated Press declared Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan the winner over incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich a week after polls closed, adding to the seven seats the GOP won on Election Day.)

And freshmen senators wandered starry-eyed around the ornate Capitol for a welcome-newbies day, holding hands with their spouses. There was, to be sure, a sense of relief after a particularly bruising campaign season, as the pressure to meet another voter or to raise another dollar eased. But will things really be different when Republicans take the Senate reins in January?

“It’s going to be the ‘Age of Aquarius.’ Peace, love and understanding,” says Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and his party’s whip. “It’s going to be different. You’ll like it.” Asked what specifically might change, Cornyn adds, “I expect in January we’ll actually work five days a week, and we’ll actually have a different schedule. Hopefully, we’ll be more productive.”

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