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.
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 Iraq and Afghanistan wars 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.
Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, 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 whistleblower 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.”
House members list accomplishments
A list of the accomplishments of Missouri’s U.S. House delegation in 2007 and goals for next year:
- Republican Rep. Todd Akin, of suburban St. Louis, worked to include $2.5 billion in the annual blueprint for defense spending for eight more Boeing C-17 military cargo aircraft to be produced. The money helps prevent the entire assembly line for the C-17 and its contractors from shutting down for at least one more year.
- Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, of Springfield, worked as House minority whip to frustrate Democratic efforts that run contrary to GOP philosophy. “I think our response was effective in fighting numerous attempts to increase taxes, to pass energy bills that would not have addressed energy issues, and constant efforts to restrict Iraq policy,” Blunt said. Next year he’ll work on “what we need to do to return to our principles and allow us to close this relatively narrow gap between the two parties in the House and elect a Republican House in the next election,” he said.
- Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan, of St. Louis, included provisions in the water projects bill to improve outdated sewer systems in the St. Louis area and for new flood control projects in Festus and Crystal City. He said he also won passage of an amendment to keep adequate funding for Head Start programs. Carnahan said he will help force the Bush administration to end the Iraq war and work to secure U.S. borders and hold individuals and businesses accountable for encouraging illegal immigration.
- Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, of St. Louis, praised congressional passage of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and the energy bill that will reduce dependence on foreign oil. “Like an overwhelming majority of our nation, my top priority for 2008 is to do whatever I can to bring a safe and sane conclusion to the war in Iraq, and return our focus to the daunting challenges facing us at home,” Clay said.
- Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, of Kansas City, said he’s proud of his efforts to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and increase penalties on agencies that don’t comply. He also introduced a national organ donor registry bill and prepared for the upcoming 2010 census, which is overseen by the subcommittee he chairs.
- Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, of Cape Girardeau, succeeded in preventing the U.S. Interior Department from closing its mapping agency in Rolla. Next year she plans to continue her push for legislation to let the government negotiate Medicare drug prices.
- Republican Rep. Sam Graves, of Tarkio, co-authored legislation to help small businesses get investment capital. Next year, Graves faces a tough re-election challenge from former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, likely the only competitive U.S. House race in the state.
- Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof, of Columbia, said he will urge Congress to pass a new farm bill early next year “to provide the necessary safety net” for farmers. “I expect to spend much of my time on the Ways and Means Committee fighting the Democrat’s seemingly endless attempts to increase taxes.”
- Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, of Lexington, spent much of his time as head of the House Armed Services Committee leading oversight of the Iraq war and working to pass the annual Defense Authorization Bill. “The bill we passed is best we’ve ever had,” Skelton said. “It’s good for military readiness, refitting equipment, increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps and giving a pay raise for the troops.”