Democrats have given themselves a mere 100 hours to break the bonds between lobbyist and lawmaker, boost homeland security, raise the minimum wage, fund stem cell research, lower prescription drug prices, slash student loan interest rates and free the country from its dependence on international oil.
A hundred hours to pass at least eight significant pieces of legislation and rule changes -- 4.17 days! Heck, Republicans had all year to pass 11 routine spending bills and managed only two. But, hey, who's really counting?
The items the Democrats have chosen to take up in the early days of the new Congress are all worthy of passage and should enjoy strong, bi-partisan support. Raising the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.25 is long overdue, and cutting student loan interest rates will be a major benefit for recent college graduates overwhelmed by debt. Laying aside short-sighted, ideological considerations by providing funding for stem cell research is a good idea.
Correcting the biggest special interest sell-out in the GOP-led Congress--a provision of the Medicare prescription drug program which bars the federal government from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies--is extremely important. By requiring the federal government to negotiate drug prices for the Medicare program, the government could easily save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in the coming years. Also, eliminating wasted tax breaks for the oil and gas industries while providing tax breaks for the renewable energy producers will boost the ethanol industry and reduce our reliance on foreign oil. That change will be very good for Indiana's economy.
Equally as important as these other changes are important new ethics reforms the House Democrats intend to adopt to end the "culture of corruption". One of those changes would bar lawmakers from accepting travel on private jets. This big loophole has permitted lawmakers to travel on corporate jets for the price of a first-class airline ticket. The Democrats also plan to ban lobbyist-paid travel and gifts to lawmakers and restrict privately-funded travel. The ethics reforms don't go far enough in my opinion, but they are definitely a step in the right direction to help reduce the influence of lobbyists over lawmakers.