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Democrats gear up for 'first 100 hours'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington yesterday. Democrats pushed back until this week the start of votes on their agenda. (Mannie Garcia/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Notice to those tracking the progress of the new Democratic-led US House of Representatives: Get ready to start the clock -- but only after yesterday's big football game.

With some critics already jeering, Democrats today kick off their "first 100 legislative hours," during which they vow to pass much of the agenda that helped them win control of Congress from President Bush's Republicans in last year's elections.

The newly elected House convened Thursday with fanfare and the majority party vowing to put it on a five-day work week after ridiculing the Republicans for having worked just three days a week in the legislative chamber.

But Democrats pushed back until this week the start of votes on their much ballyhooed agenda. And everyone got yesterday off for the college football championship game between Ohio State and the University of Florida.

"When you're in control, it [the first 100 hours] starts when you say it starts, includes what you say it includes and ends when you say it ends," said the House minority whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, who with fellow Republicans had been in charge of the House the previous 12 years.

Democrats' "first 100 legislative hours" agenda includes measures to bolster national security, increase the minimum wage, cut the interest rate on student loans, reduce the price of prescription drugs, overturn Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and end some subsidies to big oil companies.

Democrats used much of last week to implement promised new rules on how lawmakers do business and help stop deficit spending. And with Bush expected to announce an increase in US troop levels in Iraq in a prime-time television address tomorrow , leaders moved up plans for oversight hearings on the war as they push their call for a phased withdrawal.

A Democratic aide said John Boehner of Ohio, House Republican leader, had asked that there be no votes until today .

"There is a very important event happening Monday night, particularly for those who live in Ohio and Florida," said Steny Hoyer, House Democratic leader.

"In the spirit of comity," Hoyer told colleagues, the House would not return to work until today .

"We all know the big national championship game is on Monday night," said Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican. "But taking an entire day to watch the game isn't what we should spend part of our five-day work week doing."

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