Congress Returns to Pre-Election Lawmaking
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Congress returns from its summer break tomorrow and with midterm elections just two months away the political season is heating up. There are several important issues on Congress' agenda. President Bush today urged lawmakers to make temporary tax cuts permanent, though with control of the House and Senate up for grabs in November, any real legislative progress seems unlikely.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
The president traveled to Piney Point in southern Maryland where he spoke at a training school run by the Seafarer's International Union. The president noted the 4.7 percent unemployment rate, which he said means, in his words, people are working in the United States. He said for the economy to remain strong, Congress should make tax cuts permanent.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We want people working. We want people to realize their dreams. And so the best thing to do is to keep pro-growth economic policies in place as the first step to making sure we're the most powerful economy in the world, and I think that means keeping those taxes low. Letting you keep more of the old money. See, when you have more money in your pocket you get to spend the money.
NAYLOR: The president also called for less reliance on imported oil and put in a plug for nuclear energy, which he said was safe, clean and renewable. Despite the president's comments today, Congress is expected to pay scant attention to issues such as energy or taxes. Rather, it's national security and defense that will dominate the agenda.
Republicans hope their traditional though narrowing edge over Democrats on those issues will allow them to hang on to their Congressional majority in the face of growing unease with the war in Iraq. There will be debates over spending on defense and homeland security. GOP leaders are also expected to schedule a vote to authorize the president's domestic wiretapping program, highlighting Democratic opposition to what the GOP considers a crucial tool in the war on terrorism.
One of the most endangered GOP Senate incumbents, Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has already tried to make it an issue in his race against Democrat Bob Casey, who opposes the surveillance program. The two appeared on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday. Here's Santorum.
Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): Your the one who's gone out and said that you have serious questions about our intelligence surveillance programs. What do you think has kept our people safe? What do you think stopped the British attack? You folks have been the party, as you have been the party, of making sure that we don't have the intelligence gathering capabilities that we need. And have joined in making sure -
Mr. BOB CASEY (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Rick, you're not debating the party. You're debating me right here.
Senator SANTORUM: I'm debating you.
Mr. CASEY: Yes.
Senator SANTORUM: And I've looked at your comments saying that you have serious concerns about our surveillance programs. I don't.
NAYLOR: Democrats are expected to counter with attacks on the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. They'll try to force a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Democrats will also be attempting to tie Republicans to the politically unpopular president, as Casey did to Santorum in yesterday's debate.
Mr. CASEY: When you have two politicians in Washington that agree 98 percent of the time, one of them is really not necessary. We could have a machine have that kind of vote. We need someone who's going to be truly independent, who has the character and the integrity to stand up to his party and his president, especially in a time of war.
NAYLOR: That's a line Democrats will be using often in Pennsylvania and other battleground states this fall.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.