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As New Congress Opens, 'Austerity' And Investigations Are Atop Agenda

Good morning and welcome to 2011. We hope it will be a good year for everyone.

As the year kicks off, many eyes are on Washington -- where the new Congress convenes on Wednesday with Republicans in charge of the House and a narrower majority for the Democrats in the Senate.

On the NPR Newscast this morning, Craig Windham noted that "one of their [Republicans'] first showdowns with the White House may come over raising the federal debt ceiling." That's the upper limit on how much the government can borrow. Right now, the ceiling is set at $14.3 trillion -- and the debt is approaching $14 trillion.

Key Republicans, Craig reported, say they won't vote to raise the limit until they see steps taken to control federal spending. The White House warns that if the debt ceiling isn't raised, the U.S. would essentially be in default on its debts:

The Wall Street Journal writes that Republicans have put the federal budget in their "cross hairs." According to the Journal, "the Republican majority that takes over the House this week plans an ambitious drive to slash government spending by tens of billions of dollars in the next few months, a strategy that ensures that the capital soon will be consumed by intense debate over how and where to reduce the size of government."

Of course, there's a lot more on the Congressional agenda. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who's about to take charge of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is signalling that he'll be mounting some investigations of the Obama administration -- which he says is one of the most corrupt in recent history.

As NPR's Carrie Johnson reported on Morning Edition, the Justice Department is expecting to be the subject of some of that GOP oversight.

NPR's Tom Bowman this morning looked at whether the war in Afghanistan will this year resurface as an issue.

And another Congressional-preview story worth noting this morning is The Washington Post's piece headlined "Austerity Is First Order For Boehner's Installation As House Speaker." As the Post writes:

"Austerity is the theme of [Rep. John] Boehner's ascendancy to House speaker this week, placing the start of this new Congress in stark contrast to the more lavish festivities that accompanied Democrat Pelosi's swearing-in four years ago.

"On Wednesday, following a bipartisan prayer service at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Boehner will recite the oath and take the gavel from Pelosi with the attendant pomp and no more -- except, perhaps, a few tears."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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