Bond, McCaskill claim legislative victories during 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Just a freshman in the Senate this year, Democrat Claire McCaskill made good on a pledge to curb fraud and abuse in defense contracting.

For veteran Republican Sen. Kit Bond, his top achievement was leading the effort to temporarily revise the nation's electronic surveillance laws.

In a politically divided Missouri congressional delegation, both lawmakers claimed those and other important legislative victories while their parties saw mixed success over the past year.

One of the most significant measures for Missouri was passage of a massive water projects bill that includes a $2 billion upgrade for locks and dams on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Midwestern farmers and the barge industry have spent years urging expansion of the locks to hasten passage of grain-laden barges to Southern ports.

Passed over President Bush's veto, the project will create thousands of new jobs in Missouri over the next 20 years. An additional $1.7 billion is designated for ecosystem restoration along the rivers.

"It keeps our farmers in the world marketplace where they can compete, get better revenue and provide help to our balance of trade problems," said Bond, a chief architect of the locks measure who voted with most lawmakers to override Bush's veto.

Democratic wins

Overall, Democrats who controlled Congress for the first time in more than a decade scored some major victories. They boosted the minimum wage, implemented key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, cut financial aid costs for college students and passed an energy bill that increases fuel economy standards in cars and requires refiners to use 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022 -- a six-fold increase over today.

Farm states such as Missouri, where ethanol can be made from corn, sorghum and switchgrass, will reap huge rewards from the ethanol provision.

But Democrats were forced to abandon some of their key goals in the face of stiff Republican opposition. In the party's most stinging defeat, Democrats sent President Bush $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timetable for withdrawal sought by the party's liberal base.

Congress also approved a last-minute fix to keep 20 million people from getting hit by a major tax increase. But in doing so, Democratic leaders broke their pledge to offset any tax cut or spending increase with other moves that would avoid adding to the deficit.

Playing defense

Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., deserves some of the credit for stymieing the Democrats on key initiatives.

"Part of being in the minority is to play defense," Blunt said. "In our case, it was shifting from being able to determine the topics we were talking about to having to respond."

Blunt said he will continue his agenda of returning his party to its core conservative principles and work on returning Republicans to a majority in the House next year, a goal he believes is "very possible."

McCaskill, a former state auditor, spearheaded an amendment to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate abuse and mismanagement in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's the thing I'm probably proudest of because it was the biggest long shot in terms of actually getting it done," McCaskill said.

She also secured whistle-blower protection for employees of government contractors, helped pass legislation to improve care for injured soldiers and brokered an agreement to get recall rights extended for hundreds of TWA fight attendants laid off after the merger with American Airlines in 2001.

Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his greatest success was bringing both parties together over the summer to amend the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The temporary fix allows intelligence officials to conduct electronic surveillance on international communications -- including phone calls and e-mails to and from the United States -- without first seeking court approval.

Bond also sponsored bills to make it harder for the military to discharge troops that suffer mental health problems and to give the National Guard more bureaucratic muscle when it comes to decisions about staffing and equipment.

Bond is now working on passage of a final fix early next year, when the temporary measure expires. Also in 2008, Bond wants the Intelligence Committee to have more input in the budget process.

McCaskill said she will continue to refuse to request any earmarks, or special pet projects, for the state because she believes they are not publicly vetted and detract from other worthy endeavors. Bond, on the other hand, said lawmakers do "a much better job of prioritizing money for Missouri than bureaucrat do."

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