January 7th, 2007 04:18 EST
Energy, Trade Likely 2007 Priorities for House of Representatives
Washington – In her opening statement to the U.S. House of Representatives, newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for: “A new America that declares our energy independence, promotes domestic sources of renewable energy, and confronts climate change.”
In doing so, she signaled that the Democratic leadership sees energy policy as one of the front-and-center issues for legislative action for the 110th Congress.
The new leaders of the House of Representatives committees charged with legislation on major domestic and international economic issues also see free trade agreements, a new farm bill, export controls, and regulations on foreign investment in the United States as key priorities for the next year.
The November 2006 elections gave majority control of the House to the Democratic Party, altering the leadership of the House and of the House committees.
USINFO drew on a variety of official documents and public statements to offer the following preview of some key issues facing House committees in the 110th Congress:
Under Colin Peterson, Minnesota (and ranking minority member Robert Goodlatte, Virginia), the committee will push for a new multi-year farm bill that offers commodity support protections and market promotion opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers. The current farm bill was written in 2002 and many of its provisions will expire in September 2007. Peterson’s record shows that he has defended farm-support programs and promoted increased use of ethanol and biodiesel fuels.
The committee also is expected to ask for a new probe into the extent of corruption in dealings under the United Nation's oil-for-food program -- especially whether the kickbacks paid constituted unfair trade practices under U.S. law and World Trade Organization rules.
Energy and Commerce Committee
Under John Dingell, Michigan (and ranking minority member Joe Barton, Texas), House Democrats are preparing an energy package that would withdraw billions of dollars worth of oil-drilling incentives, raise billions more by boosting federal royalties paid by oil and gas companies for offshore production and use that money to pay for new tax breaks for renewable energy sources.
In contrast to Democrats on the Senate energy committee, Dingell has said that he is not convinced that the scientific consensus on climate change is exactly accurate, and is also not sure about the efficacy of many of the currently proposed solutions to global warming. He pushed fuel economy standards in the 1970s but has opposed raising them since then. In a December interview, he said he will be working on new vehicle efficiency standards that could be achieved “without destituting American industry.” He is a co-sponsor of a July 2006 Democratic energy independence bill that would promote fuel efficiency and modern vehicle technology through biofuels research and infrastructure development, transit and rail infrastructure development and the use of alternative fuels in federal and state fleets.
Under Barney Frank, Massachusetts (and ranking minority member Spencer Bachus, Alabama), the committee’s primary focus will be on domestic economic issues, including the expansion of funding for affordable housing and the empowerment of shareholders of U.S. businesses to restrain executive pay. Frank, whose committee has oversight over U.S. participation in international financial institutions, says he would condition U.S. cooperation on trade and financial issues on commitments by countries like China and India to implement core labor standards and better environmental policies.
Under Tom Lantos, California (and ranking minority member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida), the committee may tackle the Export Administration Act (EAA), which controls U.S. dual-use exports. Since the act expired in 2001, the U.S. dual-use export control system has depended on the president's emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. A renewal bill was introduced in 2005 but was never passed. The administration supports legislation to create a streamlined and strengthened export control system that effectively promotes both U.S. national security and U.S. economic interests. EAA renewal is particularly important to those companies that are investing in China and that seek to do business there.
Under James Oberstar, Minnesota (and ranking minority member John Mica, Florida), the committee will likely face White House efforts to ease restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. airlines. The European Union has put on hold an agreement with the United States to open up its market to greater U.S. access pending more movement on the investment issue. Oberstar, however, says allowing increased foreign airline ownership would compromise safety and threaten jobs.
Ways and Means
Under Charles Rangel, New York (and ranking minority member Jim McCrery, Louisiana), the committee charged with writing tax and trade legislation is expected to review a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) as well as the president’s authority to negotiate these accords on an expedited basis. Rangel has a mixed record in support of FTAs, but has supported some trade preference measures for sub-Saharan African countries, Andean countries and Haiti as means of aiding them in their development and of creating more market opportunities for American goods abroad.
Rangel and many other House Democrats have also vowed to strengthen labor and environmental laws in trade pacts, such as those with Peru and Colombia that have already been signed by the administration but are waiting for congressional approval, and a trade pact with Panama that has yet to be signed. The United States also is negotiating FTAs with South Korea and Malaysia. “Properly done, trade's a good thing,” Barney Frank, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, said January 3. “By ‘properly done,’ I mean trade which includes some requirement that the people who want to trade with us pay attention to the environment and work rules.”
In general, Rangel has been less supportive than Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus in support of trade pacts. Another major committee task will be the renewal of the president's fast-track negotiating authority that allows the president to send trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)