US & Canada

US Congress: John Boehner re-elected as House speaker

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Media captionThe first day of term for members of the 113th Congress was an occasion for oaths and applause

The US Congress has begun its new term, with House Speaker John Boehner re-elected amid the prospect of more budget battles with the White House.

The 113th Congress began two days after the 112th passed an 11th-hour law to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff".

Thirteen new senators and 82 new representatives were sworn-in at noon.

Democrats made slight gains in the November elections, increasing their majority in the Senate, while Republicans still control the House.

In an address, Mr Boehner alluded to forthcoming discussions over government spending.

"The American dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt.

"Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home. Confidence will come back," the Ohio congressman said.

'Voice of the people'

He also addressed the new lawmakers, saying: "If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place."

In the first major legislative battles of the new session, lawmakers in the coming weeks will seek to head off a raft of automatic spending cuts and debate legislation to raise the US government's borrowing ability - known as the debt ceiling.

Shortly after the House was gavelled into session, Ohio Republican John Boehner was re-elected as speaker by a roll-call vote.

Mr Boehner overcame dissatisfaction among fellow Republicans over his handling of this week's fiscal cliff vote, as well as a decision to delay a vote on an aid package for victims of December's "superstorm" Sandy.

The 220 to 192 vote saw several Republicans vote against him or abstain, but not enough to derail his re-election bid. No Republican stood against him, but Democrats voted for their party leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Mr Boehner calmed cries from East Coast politicians after promising to vote on the full $60bn (£37bn) package in two parts by 15 January.

A vote on $9bn in immediate aid will be among the lower chamber's first substantive business on Friday, Mr Boehner has said.

'Fresh ideas'

The last Congress, criticised as the least productive in 60 years, finished business late on Tuesday.

Image caption House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi poses for a photo with female House members

In the final hours of the session it approved a measure to avoid the fiscal cliff - a series of tax rises and automatic spending cuts that were due to begin on 1 January.

The deal prevented tax rises on the first $400,000 of income but suspended the spending cuts for two months. That postponement leaves it to the new Congress to negotiate a replacement package.

In addition, the US federal government is expected soon to reach the limit on its borrowing authority, known as the debt ceiling. Congressional Republicans have pledged to seek spending cuts in return for an increase in the debt ceiling.

Some lawmakers expressed cautious optimism the new Congress would work more smoothly and efficiently than the previous.

"Any time you have new members arriving, you have that expectation of bringing fresh ideas and kind of a vitality that is needed," West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said.

"We hope that they're coming eager to work hard and make some difficult decisions and put the country first and not be bogged down ideologically."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned President Barack Obama and the Democrats not to seek new tax revenue, noting they had won tax concessions in the recent fiscal cliff deal.

"Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programmes that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance," he wrote on the Yahoo! News website.

"The upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion."

The two largest credit rating agencies have urged US politicians to do more to sort out the budget.

Black senator

The 113th Congress officially begins at mid-day on Thursday with swearing-in ceremonies.

A record 20 female senators will be seated in the 100-member body. Three Hispanic senators and 28 congressmen constitute a record number in Congress.

The Senate will also have its first black Republican in decades: Tim Scott, appointed by South Carolina's governor to replace retiring Senator Jim DeMint.

The Democrats will have a 55 to 45 majority in the Senate; The Republicans control the House with a 235 to 199 majority. Eighty-two representatives from both parties take their seats for the first time.

The composition of the 113th Congress will not stay the same for long. Senator John Kerry, nominated to become the next secretary of state, is expected to resign in a few weeks, launching a special election for his seat.

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