Lawmakers’ agendas include pet projects

Posted on September 5, 2006

WASHINGTON — Immigration reform and the Iraq war are expected to dominate national and congressional debates when lawmakers return here today. But most area lawmakers said they also will devote some time this fall to pushing pet projects that may not be on most lawmakers’ agendas. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he hopes the Senate will take up his $8 billion global competitiveness package. The effort to boost the nation’s science and math capa- bilities was mentioned in President Bush’s State of the Union address in January, and some of its elements have passed Senate committees. Senate leaders from both parties met about the bill before August, and staffs worked through August to draft a final version. Officials said that version would blend elements of Sen. Alexander’s bill with parts of other competitiveness legislation, including the president’s. Sen. Alexander said his package has 70 Senate co-sponsors, 35 from each party. "In the midst of all the partisanship up here, we are working in a quiet and very bipartisan way on a very significant piece of legislation," Sen. Alexander said. "Most senators of both parties feel like we are facing a challenge from India and China and the rest of the world." The measures seek to implement 20 recommendations made in 2005 by a National Academy of Science panel that warned about the nation’s dwindling technology advantage. The package seeks to boost federal funding for research, recruit more science teachers and revise the nation’s visa program for high-tech workers. Sen. Alexander said if a version of the bill passes the Senate by September, then it would give the House time to pass it before the end of the year. The major sticking point is the bill’s cost, he said. "It is a big investment in our future," Sen. Alexander said. Meanwhile, Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said he is on a quest for economic development in his largely rural district. That includes ensuring a smooth transition related to the realignment and closures of military bases that are expected to bring 4,700 new government jobs to his district from Virginia. This will require expanding infrastructure and recruiting new industry, said Rep. Davis, who in August hosted a summit on the relocation of government jobs to his district. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said he would spend the fall working to develop a new energy plan. He said he and three other lawmakers representing both parties are devoted to stimulating investment in renewable and alternative energy sources. The group wants to fuel marketplace competition for gas alternatives and hopes to introduce legislation early next year, he said. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., as chairman of a House Health Subcommittee, said he wants to stall a possible 5 percent cut in physician reimbursements from Medicare. He said he also wants to reform the way federal money to fight AIDS is distributed. The current formula favors states such as California and New York that were affected most heavily by the initial AIDS outbreak decades ago, he said. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., will look at corporate America’s role in accommodating the record number of National Guard and Reserve troops who must leave jobs behind to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has scheduled a hearing next month in a subcommittee he leads, spokeswoman Sheridan Watson said. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, will "fight to ensure all Tennesseans can access quality, affordable health care," spokesman Matt Lehigh said. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will battle to expand a defense contract for F-22 fighter jets, said spokeswoman Annie Laurie Walters. He wants to expand by four an existing Pentagon order of 56 jets to be made by a Georgia-based Lockheed Martin Corp. plant.