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Not-so-eager Dems take a flyer for football


WASHINGTON - If you heard about it at all, you heard right. Democrats in the House of Representatives, the same bunch that has been returned to majority power in Congress on a reform ticket, that has committed itself to an ambitious 100-hour agenda and whose majority leader has espoused the stern virtues of a five-day work week after scouring members of the last Congress who averaged only two working days a week - this same crew rolled up its sleeves and began its regime by taking Monday, Jan. 8, off for a football game. It was the national collegiate championship game, Florida v. Ohio State; but still, just a football game. A nationally televised, night-time football game, no less - one you could have worked all day and still found a way to watch from start to finish, unless you were an Ohio State fan.

So much for the hard work of reform. What's the memorable line from a recent lousy film? Something like, ''Before the Revolution, it was man against man. After the Revolution, it's just the opposite.''

Or as a wag in Washington put it, moving an ambitious legislative agenda in 100 hours, as the House Democrats have promised, won't be so impressive if it takes the House eight weeks to work 100 hours.

As for a full working week, it won't happen until the professional football season is over. The following Monday would also be taken off, but at least in honor of Martin Luther King. After that, according to a columnist for the inside-D.C. newspaper known as The Hill, both political parties go off on retreats. Democrats have scheduled a day after that for inspirational speeches to the party faithful. And, finally - Super Bowl! Perhaps the peoples' House will get some work done after that.

Predictably, the 100-hour agenda will not be accomplished absent some fancy clockwork, bogged down as it has been over debate on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats are determined not to cut off funding for troops now in Iraq and not to fall in line with a presidential request for supplemental funding of the wars in an amount possibly under $100 billion. The Democratic response to the dilemma of agreeing to fund present troop levels without funding the escalation President Bush and company keep calling a ''surge'' has been to schedule oversight hearings on the wars. The White House is concerned enough to have hired a new high-powered attorney.

What's left of the 100-hour Democratic agenda in the House isn't especially inspiring. Lobbying and ethics reform is being watered down, intelligence reforms from the 9/11 Commission Report are a little bolder but still show no sign of punching above their weight, the national minimum wage may rise but at the cost of tax breaks for employers, and the fate of federal negotiating powers in the Medicare drug benefit program is hard to call.

These and other proposals that pass the House have a fair chance of perishing in the Senate, or of being altered out of recognition.

A number of Indian-specific bills and amendments have been re-introduced from the last Congress, but more will be known on that score once the National Congress of American Indians delivers its State of the Indian Nations address Jan. 25 and the principle committees of Indian jurisdiction in each chamber, Senate Indian Affairs and House Resources, have gotten their agendas together. Indian country already met with one setback in the 110th Congress when House leadership decided against a permanent committee of the House on Indian affairs. Given that senior staff for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of Resources, maintains that Indian country's advocates on the issue of a separate committee never approached the chairman on the subject, another Capitol Hill staffer suggested the topic might be suited to an oversight hearing of the Resources Committee.

All in all, it's just as well the 110th Congress has already made history. When the House elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker of the House, she became the first woman in that post in more than 200 years of American history. No word on whether she was surprised to find herself the political equivalent of a football widow.