WASHINGTON House Republicans intend to hold votes this summer and fall touching on abortion, guns, religion and other priority issues for social conservatives, part of an attempt to improve the party's prospects in the midterm elections.
The"American Values Agenda"also includes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage _ which already has failed in the Senate _ a prohibition on human cloning and possibly votes on several popular tax cuts.
"Radical courts have attempted to gut our religious freedom and redefine the value system on which America was built. We hope to restore some of those basic values through passing this legislative agenda and renewing our country's commitment to faith, freedom and life,"Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Tuesday.
The priorities are part of competing attempts by the two parties to appeal to target voters in the fall campaign, with control of the House and Senate at stake. It's unclear how many of these bills might clear Congress and reach President Bush's desk, given the controversy many will cause and the relatively short time remaining before the two-year Congress ends.
Still, political strategists argue that by bringing controversial issues to a vote, one party can broadly emphasize differences with the other on an issue such as abortion, and increase the determination of its own supporters to go to the polls. Several GOP aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Republicans were hoping to increase voter intensity among conservatives.
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At the same time, a vote on a controversial issue can occasionally present individual lawmakers in difficult races with a politically tough choice.
Democrats maneuvered successfully last week for a Senate vote on raising the minimum wage. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party's leader, said Tuesday they would"do everything within our power to stop a congressional pay raise from going through this year, and we're going to tie it to minimum wage."
On another issue, Democratic congressional leaders held a news conference during the day to unveil legislation calling for major changes in the new Medicare prescription drug program."We will put seniors and people with disabilities first by bringing affordability, simplicity and reliability to the benefit,"said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader.
The proposal would allow federal officials to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices, and Democrats said the resulting savings would allow the government to eliminate a gap in coverage for many beneficiaries.
House Republicans, who have the ability to dictate the floor schedule, got a head start on their agenda during the day, winning approval of legislation designed to guarantee members of condominium associations or similar groups the right to display the American flag. The measure cleared with no dissent.
"Family, faith, patriotism and hard work bind us together as Americans. Our laws should reflect those priorities, and House Republicans are committed to the American Values Agenda, policies that stress the core values on which our nation was built,"said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, third-ranking member of the leadership.
Other bills are certain to spark controversy.
One would to strip the Supreme Court and other federal courts of jurisdiction over cases challenging the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance. The legislation is a response to a 2002 Appeals Court ruling that held the pledge is unconstitutional because of the presence of the words"under God."A federal judge made a similar ruling last fall, citing the appeals court precedent.
Another measure would block the payment of attorney fees in challenges to the display of the Ten Commandments in public areas and other, similar church-state lawsuits.
An abortion-related proposal would require that some women seeking to end their pregnancies be informed the procedure"will cause the unborn child pain"and they have the option of receiving drugs to reduce or eliminate it. A separate measure would ban human cloning, a prohibition that cleared the House in the previous Congress.
Two measures relate to the rights of gun owners. One would prohibit the confiscation of legal firearms during national emergencies, barring practices such as the one that officials said arose in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit.
The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association, which has hailed the recent passage of a state law in Louisiana."The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina became the proving ground for what American gun owners have always feared: the day that government bureaucrats throw the Bill of Rights in the trash and declare freedom to be whatever they say it is,"Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, said in a statement posted on the organization's Web site.
House Republicans also said they would hold a vote on legislation to apply gambling laws to the Internet.
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