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I look toward the 110th Congress with great hope and anxious anticipation, emotions I share with a great majority of the American people. Two weeks ago Americans voted to take this country in a new direction. They have asked the Democrats to lead this effort, and as a member of the House Democratic leadership team, I humbly accept the challenge.

In thinking about the new Congress and the promise it holds, I am drawn to Ecclesiastes’ often-quoted verse, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).”

Ecclesiastes, the preacher, tells us there is “a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” We have been through a difficult election and at times many stones were thrown, but the elections are over, and I am certain that the President and both parties in Congress believe it is time to gather together. The American people have sent the message that they want their government to be civil and effective. That means putting aside the condemnations and harsh rhetoric and start sowing seeds of cooperation and bi-partisanship.

The first and most urgent issue that the 110th Congress will address when we convene in January is the war in Iraq. Ecclesiastes also says there is, “a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

We have built up our presence in Iraq and have spent four years waging war and attempting reconstruction without significant involvement of the Iraqi people. The new direction must be about breaking down the perceptions of our role in Iraq and start the re-engagement of Iraqi troops and their people to defend their country and police their streets.

American forces should remain at the ready to step in when needed, but unless we begin to pull back, the Iraqi forces will never gain the confidence and experience to keep warring factions under control.

Secondly, Democrats are committed to enacting legislation that will help ease the burden on working families. Our first step will be to raise the minimum wage for the first time in almost ten years.

Next we will cut interest rates on student loans from the 8.4 percent that they currently are to 4.2 percent, and we will past legislation to make college tuition tax deductible. Both of these proposals would provide tremendous relief for students and their parents and make post secondary education attainable goals for many more Americans.

Democrats want to ensure that all Americans are cared for and protected. We will seek expanded health care coverage for all Americans, especially our children. We will ask the government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices to help our seniors meet the rising cost of their medications, and we will shore up Social Security and stop all efforts to privatize it.

Our next challenge we will take up will be to free America of our dependence on foreign oil. Ecclesiastes tells us there is, “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” America quite literally needs to grow our own energy independence.

Democrats want to invest in home-grown, American-owned energy alternatives like biofuels. Our plan will not only free us from foreign oil dependency in less than ten years, it will encourage investments in our rural communities and build a new economy in areas of our country that are currently struggling.

The verses of Ecclesiastes may be ancient, but they are especially appropriate today. This is a season of change in Washington. It is time for us to be thoughtful of all things under heaven as we approach the 110th Congress.

The Democrats are fully aware of the American people’s call for change and a desire for trust and accountability in their government. We stand ready to work with the President and the Republicans in Congress to become a more responsive and responsible government for all Americans. Together we will move America in a new direction.

Congressman James Clyburn, D-S.C., is chair of House Democratic Caucus and House Democratic Faith Working Group.

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