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Senate Republicans and Democrats set agenda

The first session of the 109th Congress is kicking into gear, with the first Senate Indian Affairs Committee meeting set for this week and members of both parties laying out their priorities.

The focus of the activity is on the Senate, which is now split in favor of Republicans by 55 to 45. The GOP's dominance did not go unnoticed yesterday as Democrats announced their top goals for the next two years.

"The first responsibility of anyone in the legislative scene is to know how to count," said Sen. Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, at a press conference. "And we can count."

The scene has indeed changed for the Indian committee, now under the leadership of Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The last time he held the post was a two-year stint a decade ago.

As the new chairman, the Republican maverick plans to continue the high-profile investigation into two Washington insiders accused of bilking six tribes of more than $66 million. But before he does that, he will preside over his first meeting tomorrow, when the committee's budget and rules will be adopted.

Thanks to the November election, the committee itself sees two new Republican faces: Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who supports the Lumbee Tribe's bid for federal recognition; and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who ran afoul of Cherokee leaders for claiming that they "aren't Indians."

The changes boost the Republican count on the panel to eight while the Democrats get knocked down to six seats. But in years past, the two parties have worked together to assure that no bill makes it the floor without the consent of both sides of the aisle and agreement among Indian Country.

With Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota as the vice-chair of the committee, Democrats plan to ensure that happens during the next session. "We need to find as much bipartisan cooperation as we possibly can," said Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota earlier this month.

Leaders of both parties gathered yesterday to announce their top 10 priorities. Neither group mentioned initiatives specific to Indian Country with the exception of energy policy, a goal of the GOP. Prior versions of the bill have included an Indian title and a section to authorize drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The GOP's priorities, labeled by bill number, are as follows:
S.1 - Social Security reform
S.2 - tax code reform
S.3 - war on terror
S.4 - health care
S.5 - class action reform
S.6 - Marriage Opportunity Relief and Empowerment Act (MORE)
S.7 - jobs and growth-tax relief
S.8 - Child Custody Protection Act
S.9 - Lifetime of Education Opportunities Act
S.10 - energy legislation

The Democrat's priorities, also by bill number, are:
S.11 - support for military
S.12 - war on terror
S.13 - veteran's care
S.14 - economic development
S.15 - education
S.16 - health care
S.17 - voting rights
S.18 - Medicaid reform
S.19 - federal budget spending
S.20 - family planning, women and teen health

Learn More:
GOP Priorities | Democrat Priorities

GOP Legislative Agenda | Democrats' Legislative Agenda

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