Keith Ellison, the Minnesota representative, was sworn in using a Quran, published in London in 1764 and once owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president.

 

Down to business

   

The first item on the House and senate agendas in the coming days will be ethics reforms.

   

They will essentially put some new barriers between congressmen and lobbyists after ethics breaches that led to four House Republicans resigning last year.

   

"There are a lot of things that need to be accomplished and we're going to work on those in spite of Iraq"

Harry Reid,

Democrat congressman

Harry Reid, the senate majority leader, said he and Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky congressman, would try to craft a bipartisan bill to raise the minimum wage.

 

A simple $2.10-an-hour increase over two years will first be passed by the House. Senate Republicans and Bush want new small business tax breaks added.

   

But the new spirit of bipartisanship that was on display on the first day will be tested by the Iraq war.

   

Iraq

 

George Bush, the president, will soon unveil an Iraq strategy that may include increasing combat troop levels, which is opposed by most Democrats.

   

Reid said senators would try to work together on Iraq but he acknowledged the difficulty.

   

"There are a lot of things that need to be accomplished and we're going to work on those in spite of Iraq," Reid said on Thursday, referring to his party's domestic agenda, which is aimed at closing the growing gap between America's rich and poor.

   

Challenges   

 

Democrats also plan to challenge Bush again on expanding stem cell medical research, a measure the president vetoed last year.

   

In an attempt to ease the financial burden on middle-class families and the elderly, Democrats also want to cut interest rates on loans for college tuition and allow the federal government to negotiate with companies for cheaper prescription drugs for senior citizens.

   

Democrats say they will take on the powerful US oil companies by proposing an end to some federal subsidies and investing the savings in renewable energy.