Democratic Congress to redefine priorities

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Fresh off election day victories, many Congressional Democrats pledged to work closely with President Bush on a legislative agenda. But they quickly began demanding new directions on issues such as the minimum wage, Medicare drug coverage and stem cell research.

For providers, the results could be mixed. For example, embryonic research has the potential to unlock new cures for ailments such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has promised to immediately hike the minimum wage to $2.15 per hour to $7.25.
Democrats will consider filling Medicare's so-called "doughnut hole," the gap in prescription drug coverage that occurs when beneficiaries incur expenses between $2,250 and $5,100. Observers also anticipate a major push to let the federal government negotiate drug prices.
Insiders expect to see a significant increase in investigations and formal hearings from the new Congress. Armed with the power to subpoena witnesses – both from the administration as well as from the private sector – there will likely be more hearings and inquiries focused on the nation's healthcare sector, with expected emphasis on pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
At a news conference celebrating his party's return to control in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) vowed: "We can come together on a bipartisan basis to solve the real problems facing our country." But he also dismissed the president's plans for the lame-duck Congress.
Democrats might start by investigating the administration's handling of agency finances.