By U.S. Senator Jon Kyl
When Republicans assumed the majority in the Senate this year, we inherited a lot of unfinished business. Last year, for example, the Senate failed to pass a budget plan for the first time in 28 years. Neither did it pass the 13 appropriations bill needed to fund the operations of the federal government. And scores of President Bush’s judicial nominees languished without committee hearings or confirmation votes.
The issue with judges still lingers - as Democrats undertake the unprecedented action of filibustering a Circuit Court nominee - but finally Congress passed a spending bill to fund 2003 government operations.
Now we can focus on an agenda for the coming year in a Senate under new management. Recently, I joined Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in presenting the top legislative priorities of our new leadership team. These include:
American Jobs and Economic Growth Package: The Senate will work to implement President Bush’s proposals to accelerate tax-rate reductions, increase opportunities for families to save and invest, and promote economic expansion by eliminating the double taxation of dividends. These proposals would help create 1.4 million new jobs by the end of 2004.
The tax relief components of this package would provide immediate, tangible benefits to more than 1.5 million Arizona taxpayers. Accelerating tax rate reductions, for example, would have benefited 429,000 Arizonans who filed taxes in 2001. Expediting the elimination of the marriage penalty would help more than 591,000 filers in our state, and increasing the child tax credit would benefit 431,000 filers.
Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors: As part of a comprehensive effort to improve and strengthen Medicare, Congress must include a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens who need it. The President’s budget has set aside an appropriate amount of money to cover the costs of this new program, which is expected to be at least $400 billion over 10 years.
Clean and Secure Energy Act: The Senate will pursue alternative energy strategies that will lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil. One component should be an environmentally-safe plan to recover oil reserves from areas such as the flat, frozen tundra of Alaska.
Death Tax Fairness Act: I have introduced legislation to make permanent the repeal of the federal death tax -- and am gratified it is one of the Senate leadership’s top priorities. This tax unfairly punishes success. It robs family farmers, ranchers, and small-business owners of their dream to pass on their life’s work to future generations, since many families have to sell businesses just to pay the federal tax.
Welfare Reform: This is an expansion of the successful welfare-reform legislation passed by Congress in the 1990’s. It includes President Bush’s proposal to allow faith-based organizations to gain federal funding to assist individuals seeking to move from government dependence to the workforce.
Education: The “Opportunity for Every Child Act” would expand on the President’s education reforms with a focus on strengthening local flexibility and increasing federal funding. I am also a strong advocate of parental choice programs giving vouchers to parents whose children are trapped in chronically failing schools.
Patients First Act / Liability Reform: Skyrocketing malpractice premiums have forced many hospitals to consider cutting back services or even shutting down. The Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Arizona, closed the town’s only maternity ward due to exorbitant liability premiums. Today, expectant mothers in Bisbee must drive more than a half hour to the nearest town to deliver their babies. We must craft legislation that will deter frivolous lawsuits that inflate the cost of insurance.
Partial Birth Abortion Ban: As Senator Frist, a medical doctor, noted at our press conference, most physicians consider this grisly late-term abortion procedure a “rogue procedure” that may even be dangerous to some pregnant women. A majority of the Senate has consistently supported banning partial birth abortion.
This is an ambitious list and, obviously, other issues are certain to arise and take momentary precedence. But these proposals demonstrate the new Senate majority’s determination to work hard and get results on behalf of the American people.