Maryland's newest member of the House of Representatives, Democrat John Delaney, was sworn into office Thursday amid a flurry of symbolism and celebration but also apprehension over issues left unresolved by the last Congress.
The Potomac banker, who ousted 10-term Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett in Western Maryland's 6th District in November, dashed from the House floor to receptions to his new office, navigating a Capitol Hill bursting with visitors who came to witness the opening day of the 113th Congress.
But the 82 freshmen House lawmakers and 13 new senators — including 55 Democrats, 39 Republicans and one independent — almost immediately confronted residual partisanship left over from 2012, including a deadline to avoid the next "fiscal cliff" and a vote on whether to provide disaster aid to victims of superstorm Sandy.
"I'm excited to get to work," said Delaney, 49, for the first time wearing the golden lapel pin that identifies members of Congress in the Capitol. "There's just a lot of running around and lot of ceremony. … I'm just taking it in."
Delaney's first vote was to pick a speaker of the House, a procedural matter that took on added significance this year as some conservative Republicans expressed frustration with the current speaker, John A. Boehner. Despite that, the Ohio Republican was elected to another term with only a handful of defections.
Like all but eight Democrats, Delaney voted for the current Democratic leader, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Baltimore County Rep. Andy Harris, the only remaining Republican in Maryland's 10-member delegation to Washington, voted for Boehner.
The mood was celebratory as members ushered their families and guests through the ornate halls and retired lawmakers returned in a show of support. Vice President Joe Biden, fresh off negotiating a delay of the "fiscal cliff," stood in the Old Senate Chamber, swearing in new senators one after another.
But the hobnobbing and talk of bipartisanship belied the partisan divisions that are certain to emerge as Congress faces a deadline in two months to strike a long-term deal on spending cuts and taxes that has proved elusive for two years. As part of that debate, Washington will once again face a decision over raising the nation's debt ceiling.
Delaney ran as a centrist Democrat in a district that had been redrawn by lawmakers in Annapolis as part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process. After upsetting state Sen. Rob Garagiola in the primary, Delaney trounced Bartlett in November, giving pause to Republicans who hope to reclaim the seat in the 2014 midterm election.
The district includes Western Maryland as well as the city of Frederick and portions of Montgomery County.
A longtime businessman who founded a Chevy Chase-based bank called CapitalSource, Delaney was appointed to the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees banking regulations. The committee is expected to be active in this Congress as Republicans look to roll back — and Democrats push to expand — provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street overall of 2010.
Delaney said he is eager to start work on an overhaul of government-sponsored entities — particularly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — that are seen as key to reforming the nation's housing market. In a meeting with reporters, Delaney said the country has long relied on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages as the bedrock of a stable housing market and that lawmakers should "push on [the] assumption" that that is the best approach.
"I'd also like to see the government not financing areas where the private sector is well equipped to do it," he said.
Harris, who represents the state's 1st Congressional District and is now in his second term, wished Delaney well.
"With his background, he has a lot of potential to bring a lot to the discussions," Harris said.