House begins its 100-hour legislative blitz

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — In the office of House majority leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the clock was ticking, the "legislative" clock, which measures time spent debating and voting on new laws during the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress. The Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives and the Senate, are seeking to enact several pieces of legislation during those first 100 hours, though debate over the war in Iraq has demanded its share of attention.

The House leadership made good its pledge to secure passage of H.R.1, an act that would require implementation of several recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission not heretofore acted upon, including physical inspection of all cargo put aboard passenger airplanes within three years and inspection for radiation at foreign ports of all U.S.-bound containers within five years. The bill passed easily by a vote of 299 to 128. It subsequently was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs under Chairman Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry associations questioned the feasibility and cost of some of the House bill’s provisions. And the Senate version of the bill could be subject to intense debate.

The House on Jan. 10 passed H.R.2 by a vote of 315 to 116 the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which calls for raising the minimum wage in increments to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15 after two years of enactment. It was expected the Senate version of the bill might contain measures for tax relief for restaurants and small businesses, as Senate Republicans could filibuster the wage bill in the absence of such provisions, and President Bush has suggested he’d support a raise in the minimum wage only if the legislation contained such tax relief.

"During the minimum wage debate, we will also likely consider giving small businesses some tax relief," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate majority leader.

Other legislation on the 100-hour agenda of the House leadership included the Stem Cell Research Enactment Act, a bill to allow federal officials to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices for those enrolled in the Medicare drug program and a proposal to cut the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans. In addition, an energy-related bill would require oil companies pay "adequate" royalties on disputed leases, roll back some industry subsidies from a recent energy bill and create a renewable energy reserve to try to spur investment in new technologies and conservation.

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