A Democratic aide on the hill passes along the first ten bills that Majority Leader Harry Reid will put in the hopper this evening to kick off the new session of Congress, as sent by leadership to various Senate Legislative Directors. Unfortunately for us, the bills are placeholders that only contain vague statements of purpose, not specific legislative language, so we can only get a sense of the basic priorities of the Senate Democrats. Here's the countdown:

  • S.1 -- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. "To create jobs, restore economic growth, and strengthen America’s middle class through measures that modernize the nation’s infrastructure, enhance America’s energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care, provide tax relief, and protect those in greatest need, and for other purposes." The stimulus bill; no surprises here.
  • S.2 -- Middle Class Opportunity Act of 2009. Sound familiar? This is a retread of a bill sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer in the last Congress that has a variety of tax reform goals; the additional descriptions in this bill include hints at union support ("ensuring workers can exercise their rights to freely choose to form a union without employer interference") and perhaps another go at the Ledbetter law ("removing barriers to fair pay for all workers").
  • S.3 -- Homeowner Protection and Wall Street Accountability Act of 2009. This bill will include a moratorium on foreclosures, Senator Dick Durbin's plan to allow for easier reworking of troubled mortgages by bankruptcy judges, new regulations for the credit card and financial industry, and investment in the Small Business Administration to provide loans for small businesses in need. It also makes TARP -- the Wall Street bailout -- a larger part of foreclosure reduction.
  • S.4 -- Comprehensive Health Reform Act of 2009. "It is the sense of Congress that Congress should enact, and the President should sign, legislation to guarantee health coverage, improve health care quality and disease prevention, and reduce health care costs for all Americans and the health care system." Paging Ezra!
  • S.5 -- Cleaner, Greener, and Smarter Act of 2009. This is a bill that focuses mainly on green investment and updating infrastructure to be more efficient and less polluting. But since a lot of those priorities are expected to be rolled into the stimulus package, one wonders if this is a vehicle for cap-and-trade and the Kyoto Protocols, given this provision: "requiring reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States and achieving reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases abroad."
  • S.6. -- Restoring America’s Power Act of 2009. This is basically the Democrats' '08 foreign policy consensus: Refocus on Afghanistan, transition in Iraq, strengthen alliances, WMD non-proliferation in Iran and North Korea... you get the idea. Most of this is in the executive branch's bailiwick so this legislation may just be a supportive resolution indicating that if Obama needs new authorities or resources to accomplish these goals, he'll get them. The bill also includes goals of providing proper training and equipment to the Armed Forces, and medical care when they return from duty.
  • S.7 -- Education Opportunity Act of 2009. "To expand educational opportunities for all Americans by increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and after school programs, advancing reform in elementary and secondary education, strengthening mathematics and science instruction, and ensuring that higher education is more affordable." An education omnibus bill that will no doubt be split up into separate pieces of legislation.
  • S.8 -- Returning Government to the American People Act. "To return the Government to the people by reviewing controversial 'midnight regulations' issued in the waning days of the Bush Administration." A sentiment we can all get behind, which promises to provide the new administration legislative authority, if it doesn't have it already, to review (and presumably deny) the last administration's late regulations.
  • S.9 -- Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009. Seems to be a placeholder for comprehensive immigration reform, including stronger border and employment security to crackdown on illegal immigration while "reforming and rationalizing avenues for legal immigration."
  • S.10 -- Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. Gosh, this one is interesting. It's one part congressional hand-wringing over the fact that "the Federal budget is on an unsustainable path of rising deficits and debt," and it calls for a study of this. It's one part fiscal hawkery, supporting "strong pay-as-you-go rules, to help block the approval of measures that would increase the deficit." And it's one part ... populist? "A review of the current system of taxation of the United States to ensure that burdens are borne fairly and equitably." That could be the justification for the Bush tax cut rollback in 2010.

Those are the top ten bills of your 111th Senate. A quick perusal of the 110th Senate's first ten bills suggests about half of that legislation was passed by Congress (it included ethics reform, the minimum wage increase, stem cell research, the 9/11 Commission reforms and legislation to increase higher ed access) though not all of it was signed by the President. We'll see if the Dems have better luck this year.

-- Tim Fernholz

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