Newly empowered Democratic leaders are aiming for a blockbuster agenda in 2009 as they look to jump-start an economy in recession, overturn a host of Republican policies and enact universal health care. And save the planet, to boot.
President-elect Barack Obama will enter office with a trove of political capital and a large agenda on which to spend it. But the measures that he has teed up for early action might make it difficult to fulfill two major campaign promises that have helped win him so much goodwill: to limit the role of lobbyists and to govern in an amicable spirit with the help of Republicans.
Here is a rundown of five of the most urgent issues facing Congress when lawmakers return in January.
This years historic election brought great optimism about what Congress, working with a new administration, can accomplish to protect the health of every American. Health care was a critical issue to voters in November. By overwhelmingly supporting President-elect Barack Obama and strengthening the Democratic majority in Congress, Americans demanded that our dysfunctional health care system be reformed.
If Benjamin Rush had known as much about statins and antibiotics as he did about bleeding and purging, perhaps we would see reference to health care in the Constitution. So alongside freedom of speech and freedom of the press we might see freedom to practice medicine, and freedom to elect medical treatment, similarly enshrined.
Economic recovery will be the first priority for the 111th Congress. We will work with President-elect Barack Obama to craft a bold economic plan that invests in infrastructure and job creation, provides middle-class tax relief and helps struggling families weather the storm.
In weighing further measures to bolster the U.S. economy, Congress must recognize that real, sustained growth comes from the work, savings and investment of American families and businesses not from the federal government.
We have a real opportunity to make progress on comprehensive and forward-looking energy policy in the 111th Congress. We have just elected a new president, Barack Obama, who campaigned on a strong platform of energy efficiency, energy security and renewable energy. That gives us the ability to harness his strong interest in energy to build an effective bipartisan strategy in Congress.
Not long ago, a woman in Fort Worth, Texas, sent this question to a New York Times Magazine column called the Ethicist: Natural-gas companies in our area can drill in one spot and extract gas more than a mile away by using horizontal drilling. These companies offered to lease homeowners mineral rights about $4,000 for my partner and me. For environmental reasons, we strongly oppose this drilling. ... What should we do?
On Nov. 25, I filled up my Chrysler Town and Country minivan with gas. The cost to fill my van was $27.91. Is this good or bad? It is hard to believe that this is a debating point in Washington, D.C., but it is. At the height of the gasoline price spike, I would have paid upward of $70. Since I paid less now, where does this $42.09 in savings go?
Earlier this year I introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act (H.R. 6258). Supported by a broad, bipartisan group of co-sponsors, this bill will lay the foundation for Congress to design an economically sustainable climate-change-control program.
Until the 1890s, it was common for doctors to bleed their patients. The belief was that draining blood removed toxins from the body. Of course, this practice was based on bad science and incomplete knowledge. The loss of blood weakened the patient, often resulting in death. One-dimensional policy proposals aimed only at reducing man-made greenhouse gases, based on what we know now, may well turn out to be the modern-day equivalent of bloodletting. In this case, America is the patient, and the poorest among us will suffer most.
On election night, President-elect Barack Obama said, This is a defining moment in our history. If that is so and I believe it is then putting our country back on a sound economic footing is our defining challenge. Our economic crisis is the center of gravity to which all our other problems are being pulled.