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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 18:30 GMT
What the Democrats will do next
As the 110th Congress takes office in Washington, the BBC's Justin Webb looks at what the Democrats are likely to do now they control Capitol Hill.

Nancy Pelosi flanked by other Democratic Congressional members
Nancy Pelosi will not want to take ownership of the Iraq crisis
At last in American politics a woman is in charge. Not appointed and serving at the pleasure of the president, but actually elected in her own right to a top spot.

And it is not Hillary Clinton either.

The woman just two heartbeats from the presidency - she would get the job if President George W Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney fell under buses - is Nancy Pelosi, a California grandmother with a rather frightening smile and, her friends say, a spine of steel.

Ms Pelosi is where she is because of Iraq: it is as simple as that.

If the war had gone well, the Republicans would almost certainly still be in charge. But can she afford now to take ownership of the Iraq crisis?

Impeachment

The electors expect the Democrats to help sort out the mess. But the electors do not have the foggiest idea how and nor frankly do the Democrats.

On Iraq, look for attacks on the Bush administration mixed in with talk of co-operation

Some would like to pull out now, some would like to stay for a bit, some would like to split Iraq into sections, some would like to keep it whole.

So there will be committee hearings and administration figures will be royally slapped about, but the one thing the Democrats could do - cutting off the money - is unlikely to happen.

It would give them ownership of Iraq policy, and that they do not want.

In fact it could be that the biggest fights in the days ahead will be between the party bosses, and their talk of realism and bipartisanship, and the angry brigades of left-wing activists represented - albeit in tiny numbers - in protest mode on the steps of Capitol Hill on Thursday.

They remember what happened to Bill Clinton in a scandal in which at the end of the day nobody died - now they want this president tackled, taken on - in fact, impeached.

The Democratic leadership sniff that that is not serious and not in accordance with the will of the nation, and incidentally on that latter point they are probably right.

So on Iraq, look for attacks on the Bush administration mixed in with talk of co-operation. But if the Bush team are still messing up - look for the Democrats to let them do it alone.

Keeping busy

On domestic affairs though there will be real changes proposed by the Pelosi team - and here there might be some rather interesting areas where George and Nancy might do deals, even get pally.

Top of the list is the minimum wage. The Democrats want to raise it, and the president, never one to worry about the money, is happy to oblige.

On immigration, Mr Bush has always been a closet Democrat and now might be the time to step out of the closet and do a deal over the heads of his own supporters
Also immigration reform where Mr Bush's own party have blocked his efforts to accept that more than 10 million illegal immigrants already in America ought to be given some way of getting themselves legal and staying.

Mr Bush - it is sometimes said - likes Mexicans. He certainly does not have the visceral dislike of "illegals" that many in his own party have.

On this subject he has always been a closet Democrat and now might be the time to step out of the closet and do a deal over the heads of his own supporters. They will hate it but Mr Bush might prefer to focus on history's verdict.

The same could be true of healthcare - though for both sides this would be riskier.

American healthcare is ludicrously expensive and much of the burden is borne by private companies providing insurance for their workers. They cannot afford it any more and something has to be done.

That would be a big deal for the Bush legacy and a big deal for the Democrats' credentials. But powerful forces would oppose it and my bet has to be it will not happen until after 2008.

Still there will be plenty to keep Ms Pelosi busy. And that by all accounts is the way she likes to be.

Graphic showing balance of power in the US Senate




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