- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

Senate Republicans yesterday introduced their top 10 priorities for the 109th Congress, including President Bush’s campaign promises on Social Security and taxes and continuing last year’s fights over energy and tort reform, as Senate Democrats presented their own 10-bill platform that reflected many of the policies of their presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry.

“These 10 bills are aimed at what the American people expect and what they deserve, and that is for us to govern with meaningful solutions,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as he introduced the Republican package.

“The bills reflect the aims of the Republican Conference. They are bills that will directly improve the lives of Americans across this great country in meaningful ways,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, said they understand that Republicans control the chamber with 55 seats, but said their package better matches the agenda of Americans.

“When I was campaigning, people didn’t tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Senator Schumer, what about private accounts for Social Security? Senator Schumer, what about bringing democracy to the far corners of the world? Senator Schumer, what about reforming the tax code?’” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

“I heard about good-paying jobs, good health care, good education and keeping our country safe and secure. That is what we are talking about today,” he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans included bills to expand access to health care, and though both parties target education, Republicans want to advance the No Child Left Behind education law Mr. Bush pushed through in 2001, while Democrats are calling for more education funding and a re-examination of the measure.

Both parties also focused on abortion, with Republicans wanting penalties to prevent adults from transporting pregnant minors across state lines to avoid a state’s parental-notification law. Democrats, meanwhile, called for reducing the number of abortions by expanding access to family planning and contraception, and including information about contraception in school sex education.

Despite the president’s call for an immigration bill this year, it did not make either party’s top 10 list.

Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, said that a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman didn’t make the list because it is a resolution rather than a bill, but he said it will be the first resolution introduced and he promised to hold a vote on it in the next two years.

Neither side had a cost estimate for its package, partly because most of the bills haven’t been written yet.

But Democrats did include a bill in their package to impose rules on the Senate that would control the deficit by making it harder to enact new spending or new tax cuts.

Many of the ideas behind the Democrats’ package, from the increases in active-duty troop strength and 2,000 new Special Forces troops, to cracking down on companies moving jobs overseas, to college-tuition tax credits, were raised by Mr. Kerry during the presidential campaign.

Democrats said Mr. Kerry’s defeat did not mean those weren’t good ideas, nor did Mr. Bush’s election mean he will win his legislative package.

“Let’s not get carried away with the mandate of President Bush,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, adding that the Democrats had a net gain of 74 seats in state legislatures in the last election, balancing their losses at the national level. “We did fine around the country. So there is no mandate.”

Mr. Reid also said they stand by much of what Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, ran on in his campaign.

“The issues that Senator Kerry ran on … are good issues, and we’re going to carry those forward. These are important issues, important to the American people,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Frist said he didn’t want to claim a mandate.

“I stay away from the word, specific word ‘mandate’ because it suggests in too many people’s minds that we’re just going to be trying to railroad things through,” he said, adding that he wants these bills to go through the regular give-and-take of the committee process.

Still, he said, “I do feel that the American people spoke pretty loudly in these elections in terms of their support for this president and this Republican Congress.”

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