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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

Surprised by partisanship

Manchin (who was sworn in last November because he was filling a vacancy caused by a death) and the other freshmen have been in for many surprises during their first months in office. For Manchin, it has been how rarely senators talk with colleagues from the other party. He started hosting lunches with a Republican senator so they can get to know each other.

Liberal Democrat Bass chose a conservative Republican — Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn. — to work with on legislation to improve foster care, an issue important to many grandparents.

The lack of bipartisanship was a shock also to Rep. John Carney, a Democrat who served as lieutenant governor of Delaware. "Here in Washington, the hyper-partisanship is discouraging," he says.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., agrees. "I didn't even realize until last week that there are two entrances to committee hearings — one for Democrats and one for Republicans," she says. "It needs to stop. If we could refocus our efforts from fighting against each other to solving problems together, we would be able to solve the budget crisis."

For lawmakers like Bass, the "sticker shock" of Washington costs have been a surprise. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said the learning curve includes pedestrian challenges like navigating the maze-like tunnels under the Capitol complex between the Capitol building and the office buildings.

Other freshmen say the time demands of balancing votes, constituents and committee work have been daunting.

Gosar says it's like a hyped-up version of his old job: "It is like being a dentist, but with 100 more chairs."

Tamara Lytle is former Washington bureau chief for the Orlando Sentinel. Talia Schmidt is a graduate intern with the Center for Politics and Journalism.

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