Congressional Observer: February 2005
• The 108th Congress became history at the end of last year and its pending legislation died on the vine. Legislators in the 109th Congress, which was due to convene after the January 20 presidential inauguration, may consider which of the dead bills merit reconsideration and reintroduction. Legislator benefit by way of pleasing constituents comes first, and doing what is best for the country has a somewhat lower priority. The leftover list is impressive and includes such major items as energy, welfare reform, incentives to charities and highway funding. Many of the bills were debated and even passed by both the House and the Senate, but lawmakers were apparently unable to resolve bill differences by way of conference reports and those bills stalled and crashed short of enactment.
• For the 109th Congress, President Bush has a number of domestic issues on his agenda, including Social Security reform, changes in the tax code, energy legislation (drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife refuge, for one), welfare reform, tort reform, medical malpractice, bankruptcy reform and so on. Some of these issues are on the administration’s leftover list. Although the President has called for bipartisanship and has the benefit of Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House, he may find the going rough. Democrats, apparently still smarting from the election outcome, have indicated publicly that Bush’s domestic agenda provides the opportunity to divide the Republicans and recapture voters lost last fall. Democrats who have been blocking Bush’s judicial nominations think that Bush’s renomination of those individuals is indicative of the President’s ideological agenda and plan to continue their opposition.
Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has replaced the ousted Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and, considered an obstructionist, may be a larger thorn in Bush’s side. He has voted against Bush’s tax cuts, the confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General and a proposal to drill for oil in Alaska.
• As for aviation, it will be a wait-and-see proposition as to what bills will be introduced in the 109th Congress. Legislation that would recompense aviation businesses in the Washington, D.C. area for their losses since 9/11 might find sponsors but enactment might be difficult. The feisty self-proclaimed “persistent bastard,” Rep. John Mica, (R-Fla.), vowed last year to have Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, closed to general aviation operations since 9/11, opened to general aviation use but did not introduce any legislation to make that happen. Calls to his office brought the response that the congressman was still working on the problem. In addition, several bills introduced last year for aviation changes in the Chicago area may be dusted off.
• Looking for a job? There are several vacancies in the Department of Homeland Security, but if you apply be prepared for a thorough vetting by Congress and other security agencies. Security Secretary Tom Ridge has turned in his resignation, as has Admiral James Loy, the number-two man and former head of the Transportation Security Administration. Loy will remain on duty through the end of this month or until the Senate confirms a successor. Leaving on February 1 is Frank Libutti, the undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection. Libutti, a Vietnam combat veteran and retired Marine Corps general, said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. Sue Mencer, who oversees the department’s grants programs and its relations to first responders and state and local governments, will leave on March 1. Undersecretary for border and transportation security Asa Hutchinson, whom many expected to be nominated for Ridge’s job, is planning to resign and make a run to be governor of Arkansas. This decision came after Bush chose former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik for the post. Kerik withdrew after dirty linen allegations.
• Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has been scouring the Omnibus bill that funded appropriations for nine government agencies and was loaded with earmarked amendments, or “pork.” CAGW noted as examples of pork $1.5 million for a demonstration project to transport naturally chilled water from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga and $1 million for alternative salmon products research, $443,000 of which was for research into and development of baby food containing salmon. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a critic of earmarked amendments, said, “Earmarks have no scrutiny, no competition, no nothing except a testimony to the influence of some member of the Appropriations Committee.”