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Congress returns to finish postelection session

WASHINGTON - Dejected Democrats and invigorated Republicans returned to the Capitol Monday to face a mountain of unfinished work and greet more than 100 mainly Republican freshman-elect lawmakers determined to change how they do business.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), in line to become speaker when the new Republican-led House convenes in January, told GOP newcomers Sunday evening that they may spend their next two years doing just two things: stopping what he called "job-killing policies" and the "spending binge.

"The American people are sick and tired of the 'Washington knows best' mentality," he said. "All the power in this town is on loan from the people."

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell met 12 of the 13 newly elected Republicans. He noted that two years ago there were only two freshman Republicans, and said the new class would bring a "huge improvement" to the Senate.

First, though, lawmakers must slog through the postelection session that, as with past lame ducks, is expected to be unpopular and largely unproductive.

High on the agenda for the lame-duck Congress: Lawmakers must act before year's end on expiring Bush-era tax cuts to protect millions of people from significant tax increases. Congress failed to pass a single annual spending bill this year, and funds are needed to keep federal agencies financed and avoid a government shutdown. Doctors, meanwhile, face a big cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Democrats still command sizable majorities in the House and Senate and have other ambitions for the lame-duck session, though most are expected to go unfulfilled.

There are efforts to give Social Security recipients a $250 check to make up for no cost-of-living increase next year; to extend unemployment benefits; to allow gays to serve openly in the military; to ratify a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia; and to extend government oversight of food safety.

Congress will be in session for a week, break for Thanksgiving week and return on Nov. 29. Lawmakers will continue until they complete their work or give up.

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