Wilson, Altmire get ready to start jobs in U.S. House
The two legislators will be busy in the early days of the session, they say.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
Charlie Wilson and Jason Altmire will happily drop the "elect" part of their current U.S. Rep-elect titles today when they are sworn in as freshmen members of Congress.
"This is a unique experience and to know it's going to happen tomorrow is very exciting," Altmire said in a Wednesday telephone interview as he moved into his new congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building.
The location in Longworth is almost a homecoming for Altmire, D-4th, of McCandless, Pa. From 1991 to 1992, Altmire served as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Pete Peterson, a Florida Democrat. Peterson's old office in Longworth is next door to Altmire's new one.
On the other side of Altmire's office is the new office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who is assisting the freshman legislator.
Altmire's been on the House floor before while working for Peterson. But Altmire said being a congressman on the floor is completely different.
About 40 minutes after getting into his congressional office Wednesday in the Cannon House Office Building, Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, said in a telephone interview that he's eager to start his first term.
"I'm so excited with the opportunity," he said. "You can see the Capitol dome from far away. I see it and I'm in awe. I'm so honored to have this opportunity."
The U.S. House, in Democratic control for the first time since 1994, is going to be a busy place for the next few months, Wilson and Altmire said.
After the swearing in, House members will select Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, as speaker of the House.
Also, as part of the House Democratic Caucus' first 100 legislative hours plan, the House will immediately address new rules regarding ethics, lobbying and federal money Congress members give to projects and causes they support, the pair said.
House Democrats will also attempt to pass legislation to increase the national minimum wage, cut the interest rate of college student loans in half, eliminate restrictions President Bush placed on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, implement recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission and reduce the cost of Medicare prescription drug, Wilson and Altmire said.
"We're going to hit the ground running," Wilson said. "We'll come in on Mondays and work through Fridays for the first several months."
The two are hopeful House Republicans will be agreeable to the Democratic-sponsored legislation.
The two are also expected to get a second committee assignment each in the coming days.
Democrats last month appointed Wilson to the House Financial Services Committee and Altmire to the newly renamed House Education and Labor Committee. Labor replaces Workforce in the name of the committee.
"Workforce was a politically correct term for Republicans who don't like organized labor," Altmire said.
Finding a place to live in the Washington, D.C., area was an adventure for both men. They both opted for apartments that are walking distance to the Capitol.
Wilson is renting a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen that is 36 inches wide and boasts a built-in stove/oven and refrigerator.
"If you turn around too fast, you hit your nose on the other wall," he said about the kitchen. "When I think of palatial, this doesn't come to mind."
Altmire rented a 420-square-foot efficiency apartment.
And the cost of the "cozy" apartments? Altmire and Wilson say their monthly rent is about as much as the mortgage on their much-larger houses.
Wilson's congressional district includes all of Columbiana County and a portion of Mahoning. Altmire's district includes all of Lawrence County and a portion of Mercer.