Senate Democrats to Kick Off 111th With Focus on Economy

Posted January 7, 2009 at 2:48pm

Senate Democratic leaders unveiled their legislative agenda for the 111th Congress on Wednesday afternoon, with a heavy emphasis on the economy and a host of new and expanded tax credits to help the middle class.

“We have to talk about the economy and let the American people know that we know … that the economy is in a state of crisis,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a press conference.

To calm the economic crisis, Democrats are calling for a doubling of the child tax credit and expanding the child care tax credit that would offer relief to working and single-parent families. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who sponsored a middle-class tax relief bill last year, said the Senate also will make college more affordable and encourage savings by expanding individual retirement account funds.

“We can’t do that immediately, but we’re going to prepare legislation for the future,” the New York Democrat said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats also will look to take up measures designed to “restore accountability and oversight to the executive branch.” He added that the Senate will once again try its hand at reforming the country’s immigration system.

Expanding health care will also come up early in the year. Health, Environment, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) already is working on the bill, which Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has repeatedly said is an immediate priority.

Democrats also want to take on housing issues in the upcoming session, specifically targeting predatory lenders and stabilizing the credit market in the ongoing financial crisis.

Reid said earlier Wednesday that the Senate will be voting on a public lands package over the weekend, in what he hopes to be the first bill passed out of the chamber this year. Next up, the Senate would likely vote on legislation making it easier for women to sue over pay disparities based on their gender.

After passing through a handful of other bills from last year, including an omnibus spending bill and a full reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Senate will focus on the economic recovery bill proposed by the incoming Obama administration.