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Democrats In A Fighting Mood

Congressional Democrats have returned to Washington vowing to battle President Bush on Iraq, Social Security, the federal budget deficit and other important issues.

The Republican election sweep again gave them the White House and strengthened the GOP hold on Congress, but members of the minority party do not appear to have lost their taste for combat with the GOP.

The party's defeated presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, appeared to be saying that the glass was just a little less than half full.

"Fifty-four-plus-million Americans voted for health care, they voted for energy independence, they voted for unity in America, they voted for stem cell research, they voted for protecting Social Security," Kerry said.

President Bush received 59.5 million votes to Kerry's 55.9 million in claiming a second term.

House Democratic leaders said they want to hold Republicans more accountable, starting with a vote on raising the $7.4 trillion ceiling.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said her party wants to highlight, when Congress reconvenes next week, how the legal limit on the national debt has risen $2.1 trillion under the Bush administration.

"The president won't be able to blame anybody" for this and other problems, the California Democrat said. "Because the Republicans have full control."

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said they would cooperate with the administration when possible, but would strongly oppose such White House proposals as imposing a national sales tax or allowing part of Social Security payments to be put into private accounts.

Pelosi led a meeting of Democratic House members to plot strategy in the wake of the election that saw them lose four seats, to 201. Republicans hold 231 with one Democratic-leaning independent and two Louisiana seats still undecided.

She also met with Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democrats' leader-designate following the election loss of Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and with Kerry.

Some observers believe the Democrats are well positioned to score some political points, despite their minority status.

Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said he's seen the Republican party all but written off in the past when Democrats simultaneously ruled the White House and Congress - only to come roaring back.

"Eventually, the party in power is going to screw up," Hess said.

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