The second session of the 109th Congress has begun! The Senate was in session for a portion of January to consider President Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court with the final vote to confirm him occurring on January 31st. Both the House and the Senate returned in earnest to legislative business that day which was also the day of the President’s State of the Union address. This week the President unveils his FY 2007 budget proposal which is likely to include new initiatives for energy independence and healthcare affordability.
First and foremost on the minds of House Republicans is the leadership contest for the position of House majority leader (following Congressman Tom DeLay’s stepping down last year from that position.) The election will be held February 2 with Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) as the likely frontrunner. The other candidates are Education and Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Shadegg (R-AZ). The major issues in this race are lobbying and ethics reforms and overhauling the budget and appropriations process.

We expect those issues to be at the top of the Republican congressional agenda given this is an election year and the Democrats will attempt to make the most of the recent lobbying scandals. Additionally, there is still much unfinished business from last year such as: the 2005 budget bill to trim the growth of entitlement programs and reduce the deficit by $39 billion over five years; a major tax bill that will extend the tax rate reduction on capital gains and dividends and extend tax relief from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for middle-class taxpayers; and, pension reform legislation.

New legislative business for 2006 includes “must-pass” FY07 appropriations bills, supplemental funding requests for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign aid and post-hurricane Gulf Coast rebuilding, a constitutional amendment on marriage, legislation to change asbestos litigation rules, immigration and border security bills as well as tax cuts, health care, national security and education measures.

This is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time! Both chambers have set a target adjournment date of Oct. 6, designed to give lawmakers a month to campaign before Election Day.