WASHINGTON - Even if the next two years end in congressional gridlock, Republicans hope to build a record that demonstrates to voters in 2012 that they can get it right.
The GOP is promising to use the new Congress that convenes Wednesday to cut spending, roll back President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and prevent unelected bureaucrats from expanding the government's role in society through regulations that tell people what they must or can't do.
Passing their top priorities may be easier in the House, where Republicans hold a 241-194 majority. It will be harder in the Senate, where Democrats still hold an edge, though smaller than the one Obama had during his first two years in the White House. But if the GOP agenda fails to change the lives of Americans, it could still prove to have a greater impact on next year's elections.
House Republicans also pledge to hold tough investigations and hearings on the president's programs and policies, ending the free pass that Democratic committee chairmen gave the Obama administration the past two years.
Republicans insist they'll bring key administration officials before congressional microphones and that the public can watch the webcasts. The friendly tone of inquiry from Democratic chairmen will be replaced by Republicans demanding answers to these questions: What's the purpose of this program? Is this the best use of the taxpayers' money?
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been especially critical of what he calls waste in Obama's economic stimulus spending. "The sooner the administration figures out that the enemy is the bureaucracy and the wasteful spending, not the other party, the better off we'll be," he told "Fox News Sunday."
The next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R- Mich.), says he'll work to stop overzealous government regulators. A big target for him is the Environmental Protection Agency, which is writing rules to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming after Obama's effort to get Congress to do it stalled in the Senate last year.
"Republicans need to make sure they bring forward solutions, even though it may be difficult to get them accomplished," Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) said in an interview.
In the Senate, there's a chance the Democrats will replace Republicans as the party of "no," assuming the House GOP passes much of its agenda. Democrats will control the Senate, 51-47, with two independents, and need only 41 votes to block initiatives that arrive from the House.