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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

I'm Steve Inskeep.

Congress starts work today with Democrats in control. Lawmakers have been making their way to Washington. And we've been heading for the same destination. We've been traveling along U.S. Route 50, that's the cross-country highway that begins in California. It passes through Washington, right by the nation's capital, on its way to the Atlantic Coast. Voters along that cross-country road have been telling us their views.

MONTAGNE: A northern California man said he's concerned about suburban sprawl.

INSKEEP: A Nevada magazine publisher warned against illegal immigration.

MONTAGNE: A Colorado family worried about healthcare costs for their real estate business and ranch.

INSKEEP: And a Kansas Republican says her party is losing touch with moderate voters.

MONTAGNE: We've found those views and more along Highway 50, including the man who said it's beautiful if you get off the interstates.

INSKEEP: And so today, after nearly 3,000 miles of phone calls, we approach the nation's capital - along with the new Congress and a new agenda. We're going to put three more people on the line, starting in West Virginia. Grafton, West Virginia, is the home of Lizz Holland. Welcome to the program.

Ms. LIZZ HOLLAND (Resident, Grafton, West Virginia): Hello. How are you?

INSKEEP: Doing fine. Thanks. What's Grafton like?

Ms. HOLLAND: Grafton, to me, is a lovely little town. It's very rural. An interesting point, Mother's Day started here.

INSKEEP: That's something to be proud of.

Ms. HOLLAND: Very.

INSKEEP: Are you a mother?

Ms. HOLLAND: Yes, of two.

INSKEEP: And do they take good care of you on Mother's Day?

Ms. HOLLAND: Yes, they do.

INSKEEP: They'd better.

Ms. HOLLAND: And my daughter tells me not to worry, she's got my nursing home all picked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Goodness.

Ms. HOLLAND: So there you go. And I just - I love my town.

INSKEEP: I understand you're a social worker?

Ms. HOLLAND: I am.

INSKEEP: You work with people who don't have jobs?

Ms. HOLLAND: No. Well, they don't have jobs because they're elderly.

INSKEEP: Hmm. How's the economy there?

Ms. HOLLAND: There's not a lot of jobs here, you know. A lot of people in this town have to drive out of town for work. Our main source of income is the hospital, the school. You know, a lot of people work at the mall, 20 miles away. But the railroad was the hub. Little by little, it moved out.

INSKEEP: Well, if you could demand one thing of the new Congress that's going to start this week, what would that one thing be?

Ms. HOLLAND: I think the economy and gasoline prices. For people that have low-paying wages and have to drive out of town for work - gas prices, home heating costs, all of that - you know, needs to get at a level where people can afford what they need to do.

INSKEEP: I wonder if gas prices are an even bigger issue in rural areas because you just have more people who are driving more miles to remote places?

Ms. HOLLAND: Yeah. Like, you know, you take somebody that's working a minimum wage job and they've got to drive 25-30 miles to work, that's a chunk out of their pocket.

INSKEEP: Well, Lizz Holland in Grafton, West Virginia, stay with us if you would. I want to continue east on Route 50, here, along this map that we've got - the blue line that we've used to mark out Route 50 - it crosses the West Virginia state line and ends up in Winchester, Virginia, which is where we found Jim Bryant.

Mr. Bryant, welcome to the program.

Professor JIM BRYANT (History, Shenandoah University): Thanks, Steve, good to be with you today.

INSKEEP: What do you for a living in Winchester?

Professor BRYANT: I am a professor of history at good old Shenandoah University. Go Hornets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay.

Professor BRYANT: And I also am active in our boys and girls club in northern Shenandoah Valley.

INSKEEP: Do you specialize in any particular kind of history?

Professor BRYANT: American History, primarily, in the 19th century, the early Republic period.

INSKEEP: Do you focus on African-American history?

Professor BRYANT: Yes, I do.

INSKEEP: Is that right?

Professor BRYANT: Yes, I do.

INSKEEP: Well, now, what is one thing that you would like Congress to do if it were up to you?

Professor BRYANT: Well, obviously, I'm an educator. I would love to expand educational opportunities for all of our young folks, from - in the public schools, from K through 12 - and also try to keep tuition costs for college and universities down and affordable for our students.

INSKEEP: So Lizz Holland in Grafton, West Virginia, says gas prices are among the top things on her list. You're saying education, tuition, that sort of thing, Mr. Bryant.

Professor BRYANT: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And stay on the line as we bring in yet another voice. Rich MacDowell is in Fairfax, Virginia. We're getting quite close to Washington now, as we move along Route 50. Mr. MacDowell, welcome.

Mr. RICH MacDOWELL (Resident, Fairfax, Virginia): Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing okay. Fairfax, Virginia, I've seen it. It's a growing pretty fast out there.

Mr. MacDOWELL: It is growing very fast. We're kind of one of the tech centers here on the East Coast. And I think Fairfax County has now reached a population of a million.

INSKEEP: How's the real estate market?

Mr. MacDOWELL: Well, it's dropped pretty appreciably, although, certainly there was inflation in housing prices that we saw over the last two years. We had stories of people actually bidding above the asking price for houses, when houses were going on the market about two years ago.

INSKEEP: So is there one thing that you would ask Congress to focus on if it were up to you?

Mr. MacDOWELL: There would, Steve, and that is stem-cell research. My son suffers from Type I diabetes, and we've gotten some of our senators here to support stem-cell research and turning back the ban that President Bush put into place a couple of years ago.

INSKEEP: Oh, while we have all three of you on the line, along the eastern stretches of U.S. Highway 50, I want to ask you about the Democratic agenda, for what they describe as their first hundred legislative hours - their first several days. They've got a list of promises they made - clean up Congress; they say they want to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; they want to raise the minimum wage; they want to improve healthcare and promote stem cell research; they want to cut interest rates for student loans; they want to go after oil subsidies for oil companies; and protect social security. That's their list of promises. How, if at all, does that match up with your concerns? Anybody?

Ms. HOLLAND: This is Lizz Holland from Grafton, West Virginia. And I think raising the minimum wage is a good thing, to put a little bit more money in everybody's pocket.

Mr. MacDOWELL: I have to say, Steve - and this is Rich MacDowell, from Fairfax, again - I think that we really need to focus on trying to get the budget back under control. Certainly some of these things like cutting oil subsidies, hopefully will head us in that direction.

Mr. BRYANT: This is Jim Bryant from Winchester. And yeah, things like dealing with the rising healthcare costs are also important. And we hope that - or at least I would hope that they can bring everyone to the table - even some of the Republican leadership - and try to build some bipartisan support to push forward some of these measures.

INSKEEP: Which raises the question of whether you think that Congress can actually accomplish the good sounding things that they promised?

Mr. MacDOWELL: Oh, that's a good point. This is Rich MacDowell again, from Fairfax. I think that cleaning up Congress really needs to be the focus. Hopefully, they have the political will to go the tough road, that I think we've been missing in the past four to six years in Congress. Everybody seems to take the easy way out, and we need to act for the best interest of the entire country at this point, and put aside our local parochial interest.

INSKEEP: One last question for all of you. Do you feel that the government really has much of an affect on your daily life?

Ms. HOLLAND: I think that the government does affect our everyday lives, just the way society runs - medicine, healthcare - and hopefully, this new Congress will nibble off a little bit at a time.

Mr. MacDOWELL: This is Rich. I think we all saw the kinds of changes that the government can have when the Bush administration took office, because so many things have changed now. I suppose a lot can be said that 9/11 maybe dictated those changes. But so much of what Washington does, does wind up affecting their daily life. It may not happen tomorrow, it maybe six months from now, but they're going to see a difference in their wallet and in various other ways throughout their life.

Mr. BRYANT: This is Jim from Winchester. I'm probably idealistic. I also think, you know, on the flipside, that we as voters, also can make an impact on what government does. You know, the recent results in November, I think, bear that out. We, as a country, can also affect what happens in Washington.

INSKEEP: Well, I've really enjoyed this trip along Route 50. I feel like I've dropped in at everybody's house over the last several days.

Ms. HOLLAND: Oh, you're welcome anytime.

Mr. BRYANT: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thank you all. Lizz Holland is in Grafton, West Virginia, Jim Bryant is in Winchester, Virginia, and Rich MacDowell is in Fairfax, Virginia.

Congress begins its new session today. And you can listen to our earlier conversations along Route 50 by going to npr.org.

Did we miss anything important that anybody wanted to say?

Ms. HOLLAND: Oh, you know what, I forgot a whole bunch of stuff - like the Mountaineers winning the Gator Bowl, and the first soldier of the civil war with killed here.

Mr. MacDOWELL: I thought that was Fairfax, had that honor.

Ms. HOLLAND: Hey, yeah. I know, and Philadelphia is trying to rob us of Mother's Day.

INSKEEP: I'll tell you what, if you guys want to all meet at the Triangle Diner in Winchester, you can duke this out. You can hash it out…

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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