ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Election Day is three weeks away, and Democrats are increasingly hopeful they'll win control of at least one house of Congress. And what they will do if they do win has become an issue in the fall campaigns itself. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Veteran Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York tells a story on the campaign trail about what would happen if Democrats win a majority in the House.
Representative CHARLIE RANGEL (Democrat, New York): Back home in Lennox Avenue in Harlem, people are asking me - they say well, Charlie, when you become chairman of Ways and Means Committee, do we have to call you chairman?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rep. RANGEL: And I says no. When I become chairman of Ways and Means Committee, I really don't want to be treated any differently than any other world leader.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAYLOR: Rangel, of course, is poking fun at himself. But it's no secret that after more than a decade out of power, House Democrats relish the thought of being called Mister or Madam Chairman, and even more so of having an opportunity to actually shape legislation. Now Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would become the first female Speaker of the House. She says internal reforms would be at the top of her agenda.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): You have to first drain the swamp. So our first order of business in the House would be a package of - for reform, for civility and for fiscal discipline.
NAYLOR: Democrats say they would end the practice of deficit spending. They also promise to hold votes on raising the minimum wage, to make college tuition tax deductible and to cut in half interest rates on student loans. Republicans charge that the Democrats' real fiscal agenda is raising taxes. Here's President Bush at his news conference last week.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: And the Democrats will raise taxes. Now I know they say only on rich people, but that's - in my judgment, having been around here long enough to know, it's just codeword. You know, they're going to raise them on whoever they can raise them on.
NAYLOR: New York Democrat Rangel, in line to serve as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, says the president is wrong. Joking that at age 76, he doesn't even buy green bananas, Rangel says Mr. Bush is getting ahead of himself in talking about tax cuts that don't expire for four years.
Rep. RANGEL: We have no idea what the economy's going to look like now at 2010, so in answer to his question, that's just not so.
NAYLOR: What's more, even if Democrats win in November, the Republican president and his veto pen will remain in the White House. The biggest change a Democratic Congress is likely to bring is in the area of investigations and oversight. Democrats contend that under GOP leadership, Congress' role as a check on the White House and executive branch agencies has languished. They say Republicans' refusal to question the Bush administration on issues of war and spending has diminished Congress' standing as a co-equal branch of government. California Democrat Henry Waxman is in line to chair the House Government Reform Committee, with jurisdiction over virtually all government agencies. And he promises big changes.
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): The most fundamental issue that needs to be addressing by way of oversight is to watch out for the taxpayers' dollars to be sure they're not being squandered through waste, fraud and abuse.
NAYLOR: Waxman says there are a lot of issues for a Democratic Congress to look at, but one issue that Democrats insist they're not going to touch is impeachment. Michigan's John Conyers, the likely chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said he would not initiate impeachment proceedings against the president for his alleged misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But he has left the door open for future investigations of the matter. For her part, Democratic leader Pelosi says the issue is moot.
Rep. PELOSI: We have taken impeachment off the table. Frankly, impeachment lets the Republicans in Congress off the hook.
NAYLOR: Pelosi says House Republicans are, in her words, accomplices to all this. Republicans, such as Mississippi Congressman Roger Wicker, counter that a House led by speaker Pelosi would be a starkly different place from today.
Representative ROGER WICKER (Republican, Mississippi): If Nancy Pelosi sets the agenda, then spending will always be higher, taxes will always be higher, and the nation's defenses will be weaker. That's just the history of her vote and the history of the team that she intends to lead.
NAYLOR: Democrats, though, feel confident that voters this year aren't buying that message and are more interested in the biggest thing their party has to offer after 12 years of GOP rule in the House: change. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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