As the new 108th Congress gets under way, there looks to be a full plate of issues to deal with over the next two years. The November election gave Republicans the majority in both the House and the Senate. With President Bush in the White House, I’m hopeful this Congress can finally enact legislation to address important issues such as a prescription drug benefit, a comprehensive energy policy, and an economic stimulus plan.
Many of the issues people in the 18th District discuss with me are the high profile issues we discuss in Washington. Prescription drugs, the war on terrorism, the conflict with Iraq, and the implementation of the Farm Bill are among the items I hear about most. Speaker Hastert said during his remarks on the opening day of the new session that “as we start this 108th Congress, we must all begin by listening to America…to the men and women who sent us here.” Our agenda will come from listening to the people.
Fighting the war on terrorism and protecting citizens from further attacks continues to dominate discussions in Washington. We must ensure the newly created Department of Homeland Security does its work as was designed, while also ensuring the privacy of citizens is protected. The Speaker created a new House committee charged with overseeing the new department and making sure homeland security is a priority for Congress.
Action on legislation to provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare will take shape early this year. The House passed good prescription drug legislation in the past, only to be stymied by a Senate that bottled up the issue. I believe Congress will pass a plan that will make prescription drugs affordable while also ensuring this program is flexible for all who wish to participate.
A comprehensive energy bill is something this Congress must enact, especially in the current world political climate that makes the price of oil very unstable. We must reduce our dependency on foreign sources of oil and implement a national policy for our energy needs, something that’s been lacking for the past decade. A key component of that energy policy must be our commitment to alternative fuels such at ethanol and bio-diesel. These fuels not only provide a cleaner source of energy, they contribute mightily to the economies of our farm states.
To help resuscitate the sagging economy, the President has made the passage of an economic stimulus package a priority for the new Congress. I believe vital components of this package must be the immediate elimination of the death tax and the marriage penalty, as well as the immediate reduction in all tax brackets. Tax relief in these areas will benefit every American who pays taxes and provide extra dollars for hard working families around the country.
Along with important national issues, I plan to continue my work on issues and projects for the 18th Congressional District.
I’ll continue to be an advocate for Illinois farm families. I believe we must take action to simplify the implementation of the new Farm Bill. I believe this is a good Farm Bill that provides planting flexibility, while also supplying a safety net for our farmers. I haven’t been pleased, though, with the paperwork burden that’s come with the new program. Regulations have made farmers afraid to enroll in the program because of questions and concerns about the new policy. At a time when the farm economy continues to be depressed, we must ensure our farmers can participate in a program in which they have confidence and which they can understand. I’m currently working with the Ag Department to streamline some of the new requirements so we can have a user friendly Farm Bill.
Transportation issues will take center stage in the 108th Congress, as the highway bill will be up for reauthorization. This legislation funds all the road and bridge projects throughout the country and is vitally important to the economic development of our area. I’ve convened a wide-ranging group of citizens and officials who will help develop the transportation priorities for our area. This group’s recommendations will serve as the basis for what I’ll try to get included in the new highway bill.
I’ll also continue our ongoing work in the Illinois River basin. Illinois Rivers 2020 is an important program for the future of this watershed, and I hope Gov. Blagojevich will make this a priority on the state level. Some tremendous work has been done on the Illinois over the past few years, but there’s much left to do. I’ll continue to work for the funding of important projects that have been identified, as well as continuing the highly successful Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
The 108th Congress promises to be busy, but I believe we’ll make some real progress on the issues that face our nation. I look forward to my continued service on behalf of the citizens of the 18th District, and I thank them for this opportunity. IBI