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High Hopes for the 109th Congress

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High Hopes for the 109th Congress
By Tom Cole

January 10, 2005

With the swearing in of the members on January 4, the 109th Congress has officially begun. Most members, including me, have very high aspirations for the new Congress. The United States has a unique opportunity both domestically and internationally to make some positive changes that will surely make an impact on future generations. My new position on the Rules Committee will allow me to have a voice in shaping the contents and debate of legislation on every issue in the House. This will give me increased opportunities to advance Oklahoma interests and values. It also will allow me to play an even greater role in military and national security issues. I will retain my seniority on the Armed Services Committee while I maximize this opportunity to help my constituents and our troops.

On the domestic front, the President has already outlined many important items for this year's agenda-improving Social Security, tort reform and tax simplification will be at the top of the list. I also believe during this Congress we will pass energy legislation and the highway reauthorization bill. Both of these pieces of legislation are vital to our economic security. Internationally, the War on Terror and peace in Iraq are still the top priorities. The President and Congress have pledged bi-partisanship in our efforts over the next two years. I believe with determination the 109th Congress could be one of the most significant in recent history.

For 65 years, Social Security has provided retirement security for tens of millions of Americans. As demographics change and costs increase, we must make fundamental changes to the system to ensure future retirees will receive the benefits promised to them. Although there is not a specific plan for these types of improvements-a good plan would ensure the same coverage for retirees and near-retirees and expanded options for those years away from retirement. I do not support any changes that force current retirees, or those nearing retirement age, into private accounts. Social Security is responsible for a tremendous increase in the living standards of senior citizens. America has made a solemn promise to our seniors and I will help ensure Congress keeps its word. Yet, we must do something to ensure protection for our children and our grandchildren.

America has a growing, dynamic, and changing economy - but the economy remains handicapped by unnecessary tax and regulatory burdens. In addition, the tax code's complexity is an obstacle to job creation and economic recovery. By simplifying our tax structure and making current tax relief permanent we can inspire long-term economic growth. Raising taxes on families and small businesses will hurt economic growth and job creation.

The cost of lawsuits in the United States has also had a tremendous effect on the economy. The litigation explosion is clogging America's civil courts and threatening jobs across America. Litigation costs small businesses, on average, about $150,000 per year. Frivolous lawsuits are also driving many health care providers out of communities and forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine. Common-sense medical liability reform is necessary to make health care more affordable for all Americans. And, common sense class action and tort reform will help grow our economy and create more jobs.

During the 109th Congress, we hope to make even greater improvements to the security of our nation. Before Congress adjourned the 108th Congress, we passed the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act. This legislation doubles the current number of border patrol officers to 10,000 over the next five years and provides 40,000 new detention beds to prevent potential terrorists from being released onto the streets, but still this legislation falls short on protecting our borders and terrorist travel protection measures. I hope to take this issue up early in the 109th Congress.

This Congress we also have the challenge of ensuring success in Iraq during the elections and during the continuing transition to a more peaceful country and hopefully a more peaceful Middle East. This change will benefit our country and peaceful countries around the world for many generations to come. This process includes paying close attention to the needs of our troops and providing them with the tools they need to be successful. It also includes the modernizing and strengthening our military. This could include expanding the size of the regular Army and Marine Corps to meet the nation's needs. Also this year, we will be debating another round of Base Relocation and Closures. I will be paying close attention to the BRAC process to ensure critical military instillations, particularly Fort Sill, Tinker Air Force Base, and the other facilities in Oklahoma, are not forced to close their doors during a time where we have increased obligations overseas.

These are some of the important issues facing our country. I look forward to working with my colleagues on these issues and challenges during the 109th Congress. It will prove to be an eventful session.

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