Ethics and wage issues dominate the Democrats’ catchy “Hundred hours” of legislative initiatives (CSMonitor) in the 110th Congress, sworn in January 4. But significant proposals on homeland and energy security also are included, and how they fare could indicate how far the two parties are willing to cooperate on the country’s foreign policy challenges. The pledges of comity were quickly put to the test as Republicans said they were being bulldozed in the House of Representatives, where much of the initial action will take place. Democrats are also planning a series of oversight hearings (CSMonitor) beginning January 9 on a range of issues involving Iraq, including military strategy and reconstruction.
The Democrats quickly unveiled plans to implement the remaining recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. They are set to propose a sweeping homeland security package calling for billions of dollars to be spent on measures to screen cargo bound for the United States, as well as stepped-up efforts (BosGlobe) to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has also announced she will create a new panel in the House Appropriations Committee—whose members would come from intelligence and appropriations committees—to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies. Budgeting for intelligence, however, would still come under the scrutiny of separate committees. There have been fresh calls from agencies like the Government Accountability Office for stronger oversight (PDF) of homeland security matters. The previous Republican-run Congress had a mixed record enacting the 9/11 recommendations on matters ranging from transportation security to adding border patrol agents.
Another initiative with potentially significant repercussions on foreign policy is an energy package (WashPost) aimed at boosting renewable energy sources and funded in part through increased royalties from energy companies engaged in offshore gas and oil production. Increasing investment in new energy technologies was one of a series of recommendations from CFR’s recent Independent Task Force on energy. Beyond the initial legislative flurry, Democrats could find common cause (Newsday) with the Bush administration on immigration and have pivotal influence on the Bush trade agenda, as this Backgrounder outlines.
But some analysts believe the issue that will color all other bipartisan dealings is Iraq. Party leaders have said their sweep of both legislative houses in November was in part a reflection of Americans’ desire for an exit strategy from Iraq. Still, Democrats and the Republican White House did stress the importance of cooperation in the aftermath of the midterm elections and the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG). President Bush’s immediate rejection of some top ISG recommendations and his expected call on January 10 for a limited surge of troops in Iraq flies in the face of Democrats’ calls for a phased withdrawal.
The Bush administration stole some of the Democrats’ spotlight during the first week of Congress by signaling a reshuffle (BBC) of significant diplomatic and military posts responsible for Iraq policy. Bush began the process on Friday by nominating John Negroponte to be the number two official in the State Department and proposing Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell as his replacement as director of national intelligence. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, now chaired by a critic of administration policy, Joseph Biden (D-DE), holds a private intelligence briefing on Iraq on Tuesday. That will be followed by a public hearing Wednesday with a panel of experts describing the current situation in Iraq.