WASHINGTON – The clock starts ticking on the Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda Tuesday afternoon as the new majority opens debate on a wave of legislation they say will prove they deserve to be in charge of the House of Representatives.
Democrats apparently are off to a slow start, however. The clock was supposed to start ticking at noon, when the House gaveled in with the resolution honoring late president Gerald R. Ford. But the clock on House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's leadership Web site did not start, and a note was sent out by House Majority Whip James Clyburn alerting members of the delay.
"The speaker's office has announced that the 100 hours clock will start at the beginning of debate on the "Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations" Act, not at noon. Therefore, the clock will begin ticking at approximately 1:30 p.m.," the note reads.
But, after the Ford resolution passed, Democrats gaveled in the start of debate at 12:57 p.m. EST. Nearly immediately, the majority leader's clock appeared to be off by about three of four minutes after it took Hoyer's staff some time to get it working on the Web site.
Asked by reporters prior to the start of the countdown who would be monitoring the majority leader's clock, Hoyer shook his head before pointing a finger at the congregated media and smiling. He said it's very clear that "everyone in this room is going to monitor that clock ... and if we go 100 hours and one minute you're going to excoriate us."
The first 100-hours agenda, which Democrats used to campaign on before the Nov. 7 election, aims to get passed quickly domestic priorities that Democrats say were held up by the Republican-led Congress. The six-prong platform includes a minimum wage hike; implementation of all the Sept. 11 commission recommendations; new negotiations on Medicare prescription drug prices; new interest rates on government loans to make college more affordable; expansions of stem cell research and an end to subsidies for oil companies and investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Even when the clock is rolling, it isn't operating according to any known rules of physics. The 100 hours aren't consecutive. They start and stop with each period of time the House is in session debating the legislation.
"For the remainder of the 100 hours agenda, the clock will begin each day at the start of legislative business and end with the termination of that day's legislative business (beginning of special orders)," Clyburns' memo explains.
"It will take weeks but it will conclude before the president's State of the Union address," scheduled for Jan. 23, said Newsweek columnist and FOX News contributor Eleanor Clift.
Clift said the 100 hours agenda is an improvement over the schedule set by Republicans who sought to pass their ambitious agenda in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress that began in 1995.
"One hundred days has been the classic and this is adding urgency. They don't have 100 days to show that they can do something," Clift said.
Asked whether 100 hours is still slow, considering that most Americans can get a lot done over 12 days of work, Clift said Democrats are moving as quickly as they possibly can.
"Any American who has sat on a board at a day care center or a hospital or anything where they try to decide anything will understand that it takes a long time to pass legislation when you have 435 members competing and two parties with very different views and issues that will affect the pocketbooks of some very important interest groups," Clift said.
Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, which works against corruption in Congress, said it's hard to measure the value of work in 100 hours, when a lot of what lawmakers do occurs off the House floor.
"Members do a lot of things that aren't on the floor so it's a little hard to just say these 100 hours are Congress' output for that time. At the same time ... members of Congress are paid a princely salary of $160,000 to $200,000 a year and we expect them to work hard for it," Ruskin said, adding that nothing is wrong with the 100 hours slogan itself since politics is about convincing other people of the strength of one's ideas.
Ruskin added that just like the Republicans did, Democrats will be able to accomplish a lot of what they said they would do during the first 100 hours because they are limiting debate on the issues.
"Part of why the Democrats will be able to do a lot in the first 100 hours is they are purposefully not allowing a lot of Republican amendments or participation in the legislative process, which is not what they promised," he said. "Real democracy requires real world deliberation and as open votes as possible on the House floor. So perhaps less might get done from the Democratic perspective but democracy will work better."
FOX News' Jim Mills and Molly Hooper contributed to this report.