From South Florida's 29-year-old Patrick Murphy starting his first term to Michigan's 86-year-old John Dingell starting his 29th in a row, 433 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 100 members of the U.S. Senate were sworn in today, as the 113th session of Congress swung into action.
Coming almost immediately on the heels of all the New Year's Eve/Day fiscal cliff melodrama, there was no way this was simply going to be a ceremonial day celebrating the public-spirited and peaceful transition of power that characterizes our American Democracy.
Things went smoothly enough in the Senate, as Vice-President Joe Biden swore in a group with two more Democrats than in the 112th session. Along with two Independents who caucus with them (Bernie Sanders, Vermont & Angus King, Maine), Democrats now hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate.
But in the House of Representatives, the 113th session got going in a swirl of political melodrama indicative of the ongoing divisiveness and dysfunction likely to characterize the chamber for a long time to come.
While Democrats picked up 8 seats in the House in 2012, the Republican Party retains control by a 233-200 margin (with two recently vacated and still open seats). But the GOP new wave of Tea Party-inspired conservative extremists elected in 2010, sometimes in conflict but mostly in combination with less extreme but still conservative Republican colleagues, remains a force to be with reckoned with.
Although a minority of the overall Republican House contingent, that far right wing and its noisy grassroots activist base has made life miserable for House Speaker John Boehner, not to mention America's millions of working poor and middle class citizens, by delaying and defeating less extreme conservative legislative compromises - like Boehner's already infamous fiscal cliff "Plan B" failure of a couple of weeks ago. These are the "public servants" who forced a "final" fiscal cliff deal that rather than being final, is about to plunge President Obama, Congress and the nation right back into the thick of the debt ceiling debate, crisis and countdown to oblivion, all over again.
They spanked Boehner again today, making him sacrifice some face value before being reelected House Speaker. As votes were first being tallied, it seemed there might be enough anti-Boehner votes from within his own party to force a second round of voting - something that hasn't happened since 1923. In the end, Boehner passed the 214-vote threshold for victory with 220, as 10 Republicans voting against him and a few others protested by abstaining.
So now the real fun begins. Ha. Ha. Ha. Make that, the real trouble. Bad news is that even though the 112th Congress was the most unproductive and anti-middle class in many a decade, low-information voters in 2012 still left enough of the guilty party and parties in office to make positive progress terribly difficult in this 113th session.
But maybe there can still be a good news story here. If in this House so divided and driven by a right wing extremist minority, Speaker Boehner chooses to organize the more moderately conservative majority of his caucus in an all-out effort to respectfully and strategically marginalize those 60-80 extremists - then hell, maybe the socioeconomic focus in America could start shifting away from protecting the wealthiest corporations and individuals, and towards rebuilding the middle class. It wouldn't happen nearly as quickly or comprehensively as Democrats and progressives would like. Nor would it fail to happen at all, or happen only in one step forward-two steps back style, as so many Republicans and conservatives would prefer.
That's why it would be called, political compromise.
When Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi quoted Abraham Lincoln today in her introduction of Speaker Boehner after his reelection, every Republican on that House floor knew exactly what she meant, and who she was talking to.
"Surely, we can be touched by the better angels of our nature."
Boehner, for his part, then followed up with some wise words of his own.
"We're sent here not to be something, but to do something, or as I like to call it, to do the right thing."
Unfortunately for We The People of the United States of America - at least those of us who are not independently wealthy - the House Speaker then repeatedly sounded the trumpet of political war to be waged in coming months, as President Obama seeks to raise the debt ceiling and pay the nation's bills without giving in to Republican demands to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other services that so many working and middle class Americans of every political affiliation count on for their very survival.
In a spirit of New Year's realization and resolution, maybe there will finally come an outcry from middle class constituents of House Republicans, extremists and moderates alike; demanding an end to obstruction and political point-scoring as a form of government. It's time to prove to the entire nation that common sense and conservative values can still coexist, to prove that concrete, credible actions to grow and strengthen the middle class can be part of a conservative agenda, too.
No need for conservative working poor and middle class people to suffer in silence through two more years of economic double talk and back stabbing, left only to wait until 2014 to vote out all the do-nothing extremists. Now is the time for grassroots conservative voters nationwide to step up to the plate, making their representatives in this 113th session of U.S. House of Representatives live by those words of Speaker Boehner, and "do the right thing".