WASHINGTON – After the bare-knuckle political fights of the 2004 election followed by a drawn-out battle over the intelligence reform bill, members of Congress may resolve to try to be more bipartisan in 2005, or they may find themselves fighting many of the same battles.
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping the 109th Congress will bring the best possible deals on the pressing issues of Social Security (search), taxes, lawsuit liability reform and judicial nominations — even the energy bill that wasn't passed in the last session.
“We want to look back at what we didn’t get finished last year and much of that were things that the House was able to get accomplished but the Senate didn’t. I don’t want to dump on the Senate — but we can build on that and work as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce (search) of Ohio, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
House Republicans are not asking for much, Pryce told FOXNews.com. A lot of the GOP wish list mirrors the goals desired by the White House.
For example, despite some competing visions and a few dissenters in the GOP, the majority of House Republicans appear on board to modify the current Social Security system to give people better retirement opportunities, including personal savings accounts. President Bush declared as much at his economic conference two weeks ago.
Some Republican leaders appear to be more comfortable with talking points than wish lists. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) of Illinois doesn't have a list per se, but his spokesman suggested that a recent speech delivered by the speaker summed up his hopes and goals for the next legislative session.
“From Social Security reform to legal reform to finishing up stuff we didn’t finish last time — like the energy bill and the highway bill,” said spokesman John Feehery. “He expects it to be a very active Congress.”
On the flip side, a spokesman for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (search) of Pennsylvania said Santorum has a narrow wish list for 2005.
“The senator has said on more than one occasion that he would not only like to see Social Security be the top issue next year but to pass Social Security in a bipartisan way,” said spokesman Robert Traynham.
Democrats also have their hopes for legislative accomplishments in the 109th Congress, but some Democratic leaders say that much of their energies this coming year will be directed toward ensuring that they don’t get railroaded by the majority into passing important legislation they don't like.
“My wishes for the next year are for the American people to remain safe, for success in the War on Terror (search) and for Congress to finally work in a bipartisan manner to tackle the Republican deficits and reform the tax code so that it is more simple and fair to the middle class,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip.
While Democrats also recognize the need to address the coming Social Security crisis, several say they consider the Republican-sponsored proposal for personal savings accounts (search) an unacceptable "privatization" scheme.
“Clearly, strengthening the Social Security system, guaranteeing the benefit and preserving the public trust America has had for people who are paying into the system … is a priority," said Dan Maffei, spokesman for Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Tax reform is also on the table, Maffei said. Rolling back some of the president’s tax cuts for the upper-income bracket to pay for increased spending and a ballooning national deficit is a top priority.
Maffei said going into debt while funding existing budget priorities — like homeland security and fully equipping military needs in Iraq — ought to be considered when talk of tax cuts re-emerges next year.
“Rolling back any tax cuts isn’t a goal, but it would be a way to fund things that are goals and Democrats wouldn’t be afraid of that,” said Maffei.
Not all holiday wishes are for domestic achievements either, Maffei said. Putting pressure on Sudan (search) to end its genocide is a priority for Rangel, and influencing Republicans to put words into action will be the challenge in 2005.
"It’s something where he has gotten a lot of moral support from Republicans, and clearly there is a desire, but the question is can they make it a priority with their leadership?” Maffei said.
Hopes Include Making It Happen
While hopes for the new year are filled with promise, feelings among Democrats and Republicans may be a little too raw right now for any warm and fuzzy talk about a renewed bipartisanship anytime soon.
“There will be at least an attempt at bipartisanship in the near future,” Santorum's spokesman Traynham said. However, “the senator thinks the Democrats realize this country is comfortable with a Republican president and Republican ideals.”
Pryce said that Democrats have largely pursued a “purely obstructionist strategy,” and the more conservative Democrats, particularly moderates from so-called “red states” have “seen the writing on the wall.”
“I think we are hearing some talk that they need to look inside themselves and decide whether what they’re doing is right or wrong,” she said.
“That’s illustrating where their attitude really is,” countered Maffei. “I think our members would be satisfied with basic fairness — allowing alternative bills, allowing minority views to be expressed, not leaving votes for bills for the middle of the night. I have a whole list of abuses of power.”
Feehery was blunt and not altogether assuring on the prospects for future bipartisanship.
"It takes two to tango," Feehery said. "The speaker is certainly hoping there will be increased bipartisanship in the next Congress. Let's put it that way."