The lame-duck Congress has been a major disappointment. Stuck in postelection bitterness but still trying to preen pre-election plumage, the House leadership has been unable to address urgent national issues from the farm bill to the "fiscal cliff."
We hope that will change when the new Congress is sworn in Thursday. Republicans still will have a majority in the House. But that majority will be smaller and have fewer rigidly ideological tea party- supported conservatives. The overall count: 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats.
And it will have a lot of new members 48 Democrats and 35 Republicans continuing the largest period of turnover in a half century. In 2010, 96 seats changed hands; this year, 84. That means 40 percent of the House has been elected in the past two- plus years. Between these new members and relative parity of the parties, U.S. residents can hope to see a new tone from the nation's capital.
The California delegation, with 11 new Democrats and three new Republicans, can play a role in setting that new tone. On health care, in particular, the new class in the House includes two Democratic doctors from California Ami Bera of Elk Grove and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.
With implementation of major parts of the Affordable Care Act coming, these two and 24-year veteran Jim McDermott, D-Washington, must step up as a counterweight to the 16 House Republicans in the GOP Doctors Caucus whose mission has been "complete repeal of Obamacare." Unfortunately, in the first round of committee appointments, neither Bera nor Ruiz got seats on the coveted Energy and Commerce Committee, whose health subcommittee oversees Obamacare.
Californians should contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to put a California doctor on that committee in the second round of assignments.
But regardless of their committee assignments, Bera and Ruiz should launch a bipartisan doctors caucus that aims to work constructively to carry out the new health law.
Our area will be represented in Congress by Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, representing the new 10th District, including all of Stanislaus and part of San Joaquin counties, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, whose new 16th District includes all of Merced County.
Denham ran a tough campaign claiming to be a representative willing to work with everyone. We hope to see him perform in that bipartisan manner, as he did in his early days in the state Senate. Denham has been named to the Agriculture Committee, placing him a good position to help move the farm bill.
Costa has a lot of years representing the Fresno area; we urge him to become more familiar with the issues in Merced County, especially the UC campus.
The 2011-12 House has been the least productive since World War II. In a complex country with 312 million people, it passed fewer than 200 bills by the end of November including must-pass bills to keep the country moving.
By comparison, the "do-nothing" Congress of 1947-48 passed more than 900 bills to address post-World War II issues.
The 48 Democrats and 35 Republicans in the freshman class will have to set a new tone for effectiveness or expect another big round of turnover in the election of 2014.