The 111th Session of Congress which convened on January 6th, was the first since 1993 in which the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress as well as the White House. With increased majorities in the Senate and the House, Democrats are enthusiastic about enacting what may be the most liberal leaning agenda since 1965. Among the issues that the Democratic Leadership would like to take up early in the new Congress are the following:
- Stimulus Package. The Democrats would like to have a significant economic stimulus package ready for President Obama's signature on or shortly after Inauguration Day. Rather than recessing after being sworn in until the Inauguration, as is usually the case, Congress plans to stay in session and take up a package which would spend in excess of $500 billion to generate economic activity. It is expected that the new Administration would support a package of approximately $800 billion or more, including $300 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Some believe such significant legislation could not be considered and passed in such a short time frame but may take additional weeks. Among the items to be included in the package are the largest expenditures on transportation infrastructure since the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s, aid for state and local governments, efforts to make public buildings more energy efficient, energy tax incentives, renovation of school buildings, increased spending for Medicaid and large investments in health information technology.
- Card Check. The Democrats would like to repay labor unions for their support in the recent elections by an early enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill would effectively eliminate secret ballot elections in union organizing elections and replace it with a system to allow workers to fill out a card to indicate their support for the union. If enacted, this measure would constitute the most significant change in the law governing union organization in 50 years.
- Prescription Drug Price Control. Many Democrats support legislation to give the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prescription drug prices for seniors who participate in the Medicare Part D program. Similar legislation passed the House in the 110th Congress but was defeated in the Senate.
- Statute of Limitations in Workplace Discrimination Suits. This bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to give workers more time to file suits alleging discrimination in the workplace. The legislation would amend the law in light of a recent Supreme Court decision which interpreted the Act to require that such suits be filed within six months of the alleged discrimination.
- Omnibus Appropriations Bill. This would fund the nine appropriation bills for FY2009 that the 110th Congress failed to pass.
- Child Health Insurance. The 110th Congress passed a $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) but it was vetoed by President Bush. President Obama would likely sign a similar bill into law.
- District of Columbia Voting Rights. The Democratic Leadership supports legislation to give the Delegate from the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives.
- Mortgages in Bankruptcy. It is possible that the Congress may take up legislation to allow for the renegotiation of the terms of a home mortgage which is subject to a bankruptcy proceeding.
- Senate Confirmations. Various Senate Committees will hold hearings on President-elect Obama's nominees to the Cabinet to allow for confirmation votes by the full Senate as soon as possible.
Once the Congress works its way through its initial agenda items, it is likely to continue to pursue an activist legislative course. Measures that the Democratic Leadership and the Obama Administration would like to pursue include health care reform, green energy legislation to encourage plug-in hybrids and a digital electricity grid, a cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, patent reform, reform of the financial regulatory system, an expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance to assist workers and communities negatively affected by trade agreements, as well as reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Democratic Leadership is aware that with their increased numbers in the Senate and the House, as well as control of the White House, voters have high expectations for some significant legislative accomplishments early in the Session. The Leadership hopes to be able to meet these expectations.