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Congressional Rookies Set New Tone

The 42 new House members and 8 new senators over 50 boast of business and street savvy

Many are loath to change Social Security

But freshmen like Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., a former state legislator, says the newcomers have a clear message from voters. "They want government to spend less, stop government overreach and create an environment where the economy can get moving again."

Unekis says, though, that the freshmen don't seem inclined to tackle entitlements like Medicare and Social Security or other spending beyond domestic discretionary programs.

"If you're really serious, you go after the biggies or you increase taxes," Unekis says.

Many of the new lawmakers are loath to outline changes to the popular Social Security program, which has long-term funding imbalances. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., says benefits for current and near retirees need to be protected, but he's open to an "adult conversation" about the program.

There are some exceptions, including Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., who says Congress ought to consider increasing the retirement age for future generations because people are living and working longer now.

Some of the freshmen want the health care reform law thrown out entirely. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., says the current law is killing jobs. "Employers are fearful of it and hesitant to hire workers or to invest in their businesses because of the extra costs associated with this program."

Many of the Republican freshmen like Marino would like instead to tackle tort reform and allow people to buy insurance across state lines.

Sen. Robert Portman, R-Ohio, says that even though he would rather repeal the law, that idea is unlikely to get past the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House. Smaller, piecemeal changes to the law have a better chance of passing, he says.

Freshmen from both parties support a change that would reduce bookkeeping for small businesses affected by the health insurance requirements. But the larger question of repeal breaks down largely along party lines.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says it doesn't make sense "to throw out the good parts of this bill — like closing the prescription drug doughnut hole for seniors, requiring coverage for preexisting conditions and allowing adult children to remain on their parents' coverage."

Next: Surprised by partisanship. >>

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