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GOP Faces Balancing Act as New Congress Convenes

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers and President Obama return from their holiday vacations this week, and the New Year is already off to contentious start.

Congress doesn't officially convene until Wednesday, but incoming leaders of the new Republican-controlled House are already telling the White House that big changes are in store, reports CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.

The GOP takes over the House of Representatives with their biggest majority in 70 years. On Sunday they made it clear, they'll try to use their 49-vote majority to wipe out key Democratic legislation from 2010.

Their top priority, tearing apart the president's signature achievement: health care reform.

"We will look at these individual pieces to see if we can't have the thing crumble," Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said on "Fox News Sunday."

CBS News political analyst John Dickerson said that's not likely to happen, given Republicans do not control the Senate and do not have enough votes to override a presidential veto.

"For Republicans, the key is to link anything they do to health care to the economy," Dickerson said on CBS' "The Early Show." "That is still the central issue, and Republicans have to focus anything they want to do on health care and say, 'This is how this hurts the economy and that's why we're trying to get rid of it.'"

And the GOP won't won't be stopping there: The Republicans now have the power to launch investigations into the White House. On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, the incoming Chairman of the House Oversight Committee said they will hold hearings on everything from WikiLeaks to federal spending.

"Time and time again what we've seen [with] the Obama administration is they play fast-and-loose with the 'walking around' money Congress gave them," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Both parties say debt reduction is a top priority. But one of their first tests of bipartsanship will come this spring when Congress must vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion.

The vote is normally a routine matter, but the new Tea Party contingent might balk. The White House warned a "no" vote would be disastrous.

"The impact on the economy would be catastrophic. I mean, that would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008," White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Austan Goolsbee said on ABC's "This Week."

Cordes notes that 37 new House Members consider themselves aligned with the Tea Party, and they'll be looking to make their mark in ways that make both Democrats and the GOP a little uncomfortable.

Dickerson pointed out that there is agreement between the Obama administration and the Republican leadership that raising the debt ceiling is necessary. But the GOP will use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to mollify Tea Partiers.

"As they battle over maybe getting some spending reduction in order to raise that limit, what Republicans will try and do is say to their Tea Party backers, 'Look, we had to raise the debt limit it would have been catastrophic not to, but we got spending reductions as part of a deal to do so,'" Dickerson said. "And they'll just have to hope the spending reductions are good enough for their Tea Party supporters.

"Even in the moment of excitement when Republicans won that big victory in November, a lot of Tea Party activists and their leaders said Republicans are on probation, no time for celebration. Immediately they're on the hook," Dickerson said.

"And the thing that Tea Party backers will be looking at is spending. Will the reductions be real? And they're angry already that the GOP in agreement with the president in the lame duck session of the last Congress just spent a bunch of money and didn't behave in the way those Tea Party backers would like them to have behaved.

"So the question for Republican leaders will be to be able to say, 'Look, we're doing what you sent us here to do, but remember we only control one of two houses of Congress. We can't remake the city on a day.'"