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Congress Returns

Larger Republican majority faces many of last year's problems

by David J. Hanson
January 10, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 2

The 109th Congress convened last week to immediately face difficult work on budget deficits, Social Security reform, and the war in Iraq. Despite this full agenda, other legislative tasks also need to be completed.

Because of the election last year, lawmakers delayed a number of controversial bills. Those high-profile issues include air pollution legislation, tort reform, and a national energy policy. Legislation on all three issues will be introduced soon.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, has said he is ready to move on the Administration's Clear Skies Initiative for reducing emissions of several air pollutants. The legislation would not control carbon dioxide, an issue important to many environmental groups.

In the House, Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), new chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, has said he wants to move on clean air legislation, too.

Barton also is leading House action on an energy bill, while in the Senate, Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) is the lead player. Domenici plans to introduce a new energy bill this year, focusing on boosting U.S. energy production and improving electricity reliability. A fight is expected over oil drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the stronger Republican majority in the Senate might pass the measure this year.

In the health arena, Congress will be reviewing questions about FDA's oversight of drug safety, consumer importing of prescription drugs, and reform of the nation's Medicare system. In addition, NIH's budget is up for reauthorization this year.

Republicans also are interested in passing tort reform legislation, including limiting medical malpractice awards and shifting class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts. Establishing a fund to pay asbestos victims in lieu of court trials is also a priority.



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