With the President’s second inauguration now history, Congress finally gets down to business for its 109th Session - and the agenda is full. Here are just some of the most pressing items we will address:
National Security: The need to continue to fight the war on terror will be front and center. To provide the legal tools and financial resources required, we will reauthorize the Patriot Act. We’ll also pass appropriations to ensure our troops have what they need to win.
The Economy: Our economy continues to show robust growth, partly because of the tax cuts President Bush signed into law during his first term. These cuts are only temporary, however; should they expire, we will face a series of tax hikes totaling more than $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years! If we are serious about promoting economic and job growth, we must lock current tax rates into place.
Social Security Reform: President Bush has the courage to tell the painful truth about Social Security: the current system simply cannot be sustained. According to the 2004 Social Security Trustees’ Report, beginning in 2018, Social Security’s scheduled benefits will exceed the amount of payroll taxes collected. The Senate, therefore, will work to strengthen the system so that when younger workers retire after 2018, they will receive their Social Security benefits. This can best be done not by taxing workers more, but by raising the needed money through voluntary personal investment accounts just like federal employees have.
Tort Reform: Congress has attempted to reform our broken lawsuit system for several years, and we’ll try again. One of the first areas we’ll tackle is the abuse of class-action suits by a small number of plaintiffs’ attorneys. People who don’t even know they’ve been made plaintiffs in these mega cases are used by trial lawyers to collect huge fees. The plaintiffs frequently receive nothing of value. This year we’ll work to pass legislation that restores the fundamental fairness of the civil justice system.
Immigration Reform: Secure borders are vital to our national security, and we must continue working to relieve the burden that illegal immigrants place on our society (and on taxpayers). Congress will be asked to formulate a solution that can be legally enforced and that extends temporary work opportunities to immigrants - without conferring amnesty or citizenship on those who have broken our laws. Such reform is especially important to Arizonans.
Budget Reform: Members of Congress must write a disciplined budget that holds the line on discretionary, non-defense spending while meeting our commitments to win the war on terror, protect the homeland, and ensure economic growth. If Congress disciplines itself by acting responsibly with Americans’ tax dollars, and stays within the President’s guidelines, we just might be able to meet the President’s goal of cutting the deficit in half over the next four years.
Confirming the President’s Judicial Nominees: The Senate has a responsibility to confirm (or reject) the President’s judicial nominees; and this may include one or more new nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is my hope that this new Congress will see the end of Senate Democrats’ unprecedented use of the filibuster to prevent nominees from receiving up-or-down votes.
These are but a few of the priorities that await the new Congress. Other issues on the horizon include: simplification of our byzantine tax code, an energy bill, education reauthorizations and improvements, health-insurance availability, implementing the intelligence reorganization passed last year, and various homeland security initiatives.
I welcome your input on these and any other issues of interest to you.
My best wishes are with you and your family in this New Year.