The long anticipated “first 100 hours” of the Democratic-led 110th Congress is now officially underway. The new House Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), plans to pass six major pieces of legislation during this time; the first a bill which aims to implement recommendations made by the 9/11 commission nearly two-and-a-half years ago. The bill (H.R. 1), sponsored by the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), would require all air and shipping cargo entering the U.S. to be screened. In addition, it would change the formula by which homeland security funds are calculated and allotted to individual states, and also strengthen efforts to curb proliferation of materials used to build nuclear weapons or "dirty" bombs. While the measure falls short of implementing all of the remaining commission recommendations (it does not address a call for the reorganization of Congress's oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies), it has received support from the heads of the panel. Tom Kean, who served as chair of the commission, praised the bill's efforts to secure areas where radioactive material is stored, while former congressman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 panel Lee Hamilton stated, "If this bill ... is enacted, funded and implemented, then the American people will be safer...We are -- all of us on the 9/11 commission -- deeply pleased that the speaker and the leadership of the House have decided to put this bill forward with the No. 1 designation."
Following the security bill, the House plans to take up legislation expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (President Bush vetoed a similar measure last summer). Next on the list of priorities is a bill to raise the national minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. This is expected to be followed by a bill allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for those enrolled in the Medicare drug program, as well as a measure to cut interest rates from 6.8 to 3.4 percent on federally subsidized student loans. Finally, Democrats hope to complete the 100 hours with legislation to eliminate billions of dollars worth of oil drilling incentives, increase federal royalties paid by oil and gas companies for offshore production, and provide new tax breaks for renewable energy sources.