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Seeing The House Through Freshmen Eyes

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: If all members-elect will raise their right hands. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you...


House Speaker John Boehner stood before the House of Representatives last week and asked a batch of newly-elected members to take the oath of office. There are, in all, 82 fresh faces.

BOEHNER: And that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of office on which you are about to enter, so help you God.


BOEHNER: Congratulations. You're now members of the 113th congress.


MARTIN: But it's a challenging time for the new Congress. Tough choices about federal spending cuts still linger and a fight over the federal debt ceiling promises to be contentious. To talk more about what we can expect from the 113th Congress, we have invited two members of the freshman class onto the program. Ami Bera - he's a Democrat from California and he joins us in our studio. Thanks for being with us.

REPRESENTATIVE AMI BERA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And Rodney Davis, he's a Republican from Illinois, on the line from his office. Thanks to you as well.

REPRESENTATIVE RODNEY DAVIS: Well, thank you. And thank you, Dr. Bera.

MARTIN: I would like to start by playing another clip of tape. Last week, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, just tore into Congress. He was furious that Congress had delayed passing an aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy. Let's take a listen.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: Everything is the subject of one-upmanship. Everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait for the political game. And it's just - it is why the American people hate Congress.

MARTIN: Governor Christie was articulating that a lot of Americans are feeling right now, as you two both are well aware. Polling has shown that only about 20 percent of Americans approve of Congress, which is dismal to say the least. So, why would you want to be part of this party, right now, a body that is held in such low esteem by the American public? I'll start with Congressman Bera.

BERA: Yeah. I think both Congressman Davis and myself have a deep love for this county. And we probably share the same frustration that we've got to start coming together and finding common ground and moving forward.

DAVIS: This is something that I talked about throughout my entire campaign. And Governor Christie's right. It seems like over the last couple of years every piece of legislation was used as a political hammer by one side or the other. And the American people spoke, and they like a divided government but they are not happy with the status quo.

MARTIN: So, let's talk a little bit about specifics. What would the two of you do differently as you move forward?

BERA: Well, I think we could all agree that our infrastructure needs rebuilding, that a great way to recreate jobs is to start investing in our infrastructure, rebuilding our roads, our highways. Then, you know, if we agree on the goal, then we can have vibrant dialogue and discussion about how we fund and move towards that goal. But let's say, yeah, this is something we want to accomplish. Now, let's talk about how we get there.

MARTIN: Congressman Davis, do you agree that rebuilding America's infrastructure is perhaps a place where there can be some common ground?

DAVIS: I absolutely do. It was one of the pillars of my campaign. I was one of the few Republican candidates in the nation to talk about the need for a new highway reauthorization bill. That is a true stimulus. We have to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. It's only costing Americans more.

MARTIN: That's also a big spending program, which your party has not been willing to embrace necessarily.

DAVIS: Well, and that's why we need folks who are like me who are willing to say let's not just go across the board and make cuts. And what we have to do is work together. And when we work together, we'll reprioritize the way Washington spends money. And when we do, we can begin to spend it on the things that we don't mind sending our tax dollars here for.

MARTIN: What about the Democrats? Do you see that there is an appetite for rethinking entitlement reform?

BERA: Absolutely. All through orientation and throughout the campaign, we talked about the importance of not burdening our children with the debt that we're incurring right now. There's no way to talk about that without actually looking at Medicare and looking at how we approach slowing down this rampant growth and the cost of Medicare. But there's a smart way to do that. For the listeners out there, I'm a physician who's worked in health care his whole professional life. There's places where if could actually start the conversation and actually listen to each other, I think there's lots of room for compromise here.

MARTIN: Congressman Davis, do you agree, especially when it comes to the health care policy, the new health care law?

DAVIS: We may have some differences in opinion on the Affordable Care Act. But, you know, I'm a realist, and although I campaigned saying I would rather have a health care plan that mirrors the one that we put forth during our efforts, I know that any effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is wasted time and wasted energy out there in Washington. It's not going to go anywhere. And I'll be one standing up in the Republican caucus saying let's quit wasting our time and let's start addressing some major issues that the American people want us to address. Because they're not only going to punish our party, they're going to punish everyone. And we need to ensure that we provide some solutions that we all talked about during our campaigns and that now we're here to begin the process to actually implement.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Rodney Davis, Republican from Illinois. Thanks for joining us.

DAVIS: Thank you.

MARTIN: And Congressman Ami Bera, Democrat from California. Thanks to you as well.

BERA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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