January 4th, 2007 11:18 EST
Trade, Energy, Agriculture To Be Focus of Senate Economic Committees
Washington – The new leaders of the Senate committees charged with legislation on major domestic and international economic issues say that free-trade agreements, a new farm bill, improved energy efficiency and enhanced measures to stop terrorist financing will be their key international priorities in 2007.
The November 2006 elections gave majority control of the Senate to the Democratic Party, altering the leadership of the Senate and of the Senate committees. (See related article.)
USINFO drew on a variety of official documents and public statements to offer the following preview of some key issues facing Senate committees in the 110th Congress:
AGRICULTURE, NUTRITION AND FORESTRY
Under Tom Harkin, Iowa (and ranking minority member Saxby Chambliss, Georgia), the committee likely will take up a new multiyear farm bill that would provide an income safety net for U.S. farmers but reduce government subsidies that hurt farmers overseas, particularly in developing countries.
The committee is expected to urge the U.S. trade representative to pressure the World Trade Organization to improve enforcement of its rules banning programs that block U.S. agricultural exports for reasons not based on science. As part of the farm bill, Harkin likely will seek to promote further development of biofuels to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.
A Senate leader on ending abusive child labor practices throughout the world, Harkin is expected to push for a ban on the use of child labor in the international cocoa industry.
BANKING, HOUSING AND URBAN AFFAIRS
Under Christopher Dodd, Connecticut (and ranking minority member Richard Shelby, Alabama), the committee is expected to conduct oversight hearings and, if necessary, propose legislation to improve U.S. efforts to stop terrorist finance.
As part of that effort, Dodd plans to target drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations of narco-terrorists. He also hopes to pass legislation improving transit security. The committee will consider extending the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act, due to expire at the end of 2007, which helps protect companies from the economic repercussions from terrorist acts. The committee also will review foreign investment rules, particularly as they apply to issues like port security.
In addition, the committee is likely to continue its review of the Sarbanes-Oxley law, which overhauled corporate governance in 2002 by implementing new financial disclosure and public accounting practices. Under mounting pressure from small businesses, large corporations, foreign companies and recently Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the committee may decide to amend the law to make its internal control provisions less burdensome and costly for businesses. Both Dodd and Shelby have raised concerns about currency manipulation by China.
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Under Democrat Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico (and ranking minority member Pete Domenici from the same state), the committee is expected to examine ways to improve U.S. energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bingaman’s office said, however, that Democrats are not planning a big energy bill for 2007.
"We're going to have smaller, more manageable, more digestible" legislation, Bill Wicker, spokesman for Bingaman, said.
The biggest change in energy policy might come from a farm bill Congress hopes to consider that is likely to provide new incentives for the production of ethanol. Other possible legislation includes some kind of federal regulation on greenhouse gas emissions that also might become a priority for Barbara Boxer, the incoming chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. The two, joined by Senator Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, recently sent a letter to President Bush demanding mandatory limits on GHG emissions by the end of 2007 -- legislation to that effect failed to move in the 109th Congress.
Speaking in London in November 2006, Bingaman said that the “U.S. has got to do something credible [on global climate change] at the national level" before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and that the “ideal end result will be to get a cap-and-trade system that will be world-wide.”
In general, Democrats are expected to champion proposals that would boost production and use of biofuels and promote relevant infrastructure. They also might push a measure to require utilities to produce a percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Producers of solar power, wind power, geothermal power and other alternative technologies are expected to receive new tax benefits, according to news reports. Other possible legislation includes the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, the administration’s effort to develop technologies and an international mechanism to expand nuclear power worldwide.
Under Max Baucus, Montana (and ranking minority member Charles Grassley, Iowa), the committee will handle implementing legislation for free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and Peru (and later with South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand if and when the negotiations on the last three FTAs are concluded).
Baucus is known as a free trade supporter, who voted to implement previous FTA deals that other Democrats criticized. But he may have a difficult time winning over other Democrats, when, as expected, President Bush asks for renewal of his trade promotion authority (TPA), which expires in July. TPA gives the president power to submit trade deals to the Senate for an up-or-down vote without any amendments. Baucus supports TPA renewal but, as he wrote January 4, “with better trade enforcement capability and better environmental and labor provisions … As we address expiring fast trade authority, we must take on – head-on – globalization’s downsides, especially worker displacement and the unsustainable trade deficit.”
To help workers displaced because of imports, Baucus supports a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, due to expire in September. But he favors a broader program he calls Global Adjustment Assistance that would offer benefits to workers displaced not just by trade, but by all aspects of globalization. Baucus also would like to see a global free trade agreement on services. Like Banking Committee Chairman Dodd, Baucus is concerned about China meeting its international trade and financial obligations.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)