Reflections of the 109th Congress accomplishments

Published 3:37 pm Monday, December 18, 2006

By By Jo Bonner
At this time of year, we all pause to reflect on the events of the past twelve months, and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the legislative accomplishments of the 109th Congress.
During this Congress, the House led the way with a number of important bills, many of which made it to the president's desk for his signature. From immigration reform and tax relief, to providing direct response to Hurricane Katrina, the flurry of legislative activity included some of the following key accomplishments:
Katrina Victims Assistance: Some $66 billion in emergency relief funds was appropriated to the states and victims in the affected region. Congress also provided direct assistance to thousands of victims by waiving repayments of Pell Grants and other federal education assistance if students are attending a school affected by Katrina. Additionally, we approved a one year, 20percent increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, as well as enacted numerous individual tax relief measures, such as ensuring that the cancellation of a mortgage will not be taxed as personal debt relief.
Gulf Opportunity Zone Act: Signed by President Bush last December, this legislation has provided tax benefits for investment in the areas of the Gulf devastated by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. It benefits not only existing businesses in the First District – by encouraging expansion – but also helps to recruit future investment and new businesses to Alabama.
Class Action Fairness Act of 2005: This measure was intended to reform current law related to class action lawsuits, allowing such suits to be removed to federal courts and reducing the potential for abuse of settlement awards by attorneys.
Tax Relief: Fueled by the need to keep our economy strong, the House passed the Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005 last December. The purpose of this bill is to keep the capital gains rate from increasing to 20 percent and to keep the maximum tax rate on dividends from increasing to 35 percent. Failure to act on both measures could slow down an economy that has created 7 million new jobs since August 2003 and has seen the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 20 consecutive quarters. (The GDP grew by 2.2 percent for the third quarter of 2006.)
Energy Policy Act of 2005: The intent of this bill, signed into law on August 8, is to ensure a more secure, affordable and reliable energy supply by encouraging more domestic production of oil and gas. Additionally, through conservation and better environmental options, the goal is to help bring America's energy system into the 21st century.
The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005: The House passed the first leg of this important – and long overdue – legislation last December. Protecting our borders is just one part of this timely challenge. Penalizing all new illegal immigrants, as well as those who illegally aid them, is the second part of this complex puzzle. And keeping better track of immigrants who want to come here and play by the rules must also be a top priority in the 110th Congress.
Deficit Reduction Act: This legislation is estimated to save federal taxpayers an additional $40 billion over five years. Deficit reduction efforts and legislation passed by the House reform key government programs and achieves $50 billion in savings.
The REAL ID Act: By closing asylum loopholes, implementing driver's license reforms, strengthening deportation laws, and defending our borders, this measure completes the mission and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
The Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (known as TEA-LU): This measure returned $286.4 billion to taxpayers in funding for highway, bridge, and surface transportation projects across the United States. Alabama will receive in excess of $700 million a year from the federal government to address specific areas of concern to our transportation infrastructure. Several individual projects, which my colleagues and I requested, were included in the final version of the legislation. Two projects in particular for south Alabama are:
Highway 83, a north-south corridor located in Baldwin County, will receive a total of $26 million in funding to extend the road to Interstate 10.
Highway 84, a major east-west corridor running through the northern part of my district, is slated to receive a total of $8.8 million for four-laning that thoroughfare.
The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act: This historic piece of legislation, passed by both the House and Senate in the closing moments of the 109th Congress, would open 8.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas production. The tract of submerged land would be located 125 miles south of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Alabama and the producing Gulf Coast states would receive 37.5 percent of the federal revenues generated from these leases.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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