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The beginning of the first "100" hours agenda

By By Jo Bonner
The House Majority last week began its "First 100 Hours" agenda, and under the new House rules enacted by the majority party, much of this legislation will be moved under closed rules, skipping the entire Rules committee process, including hearings, markups, and amendment debate.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
H.R. 2, the Fair and Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, passed the House by a vote of 315-116. It increases the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 after sixty days of enactment, followed by an increase one year later to $6.55 an hour, and another increase one year later to $7.25.
Currently, the general minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, the last adjustment having taken place in 1997. I previously supported an increase in the minimum wage coupled with important tax incentives for small businesses to ensure American jobs would not be lost. Unfortunately, the Senate decided not to consider this legislation in the 109th Congress making it necessary to readdress this issue in the 110th Congress.
I voted in support of H.R. 2, but I am hopeful that when this legislation is addressed in the Senate they will incorporate relief for small businesses.
Broadening Stem Cell Research
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, H.R. 3, passed the House by a vote of 253-174. Legislation regarding stem cells has received a lot of attention in recent years. Proponents of embryonic stem cell research, such as Nancy Reagan, have helped push this issue to the forefront of our nation's domestic agenda.
However, at this time, I do not feel the need to enhance embryonic stem cell research above what the president has already authorized. For this reason, I voted against H.R. 3.
Just last week, a revolutionary new report regarding amniotic stem cells was made public. This study demonstrated that stem cells with enormous potential can be harvested from the amniotic fluid that surrounds a baby during pregnancy. This fluid is routinely drawn out by needle in amniocentesis.
Embryonic stem cell research is still at an early stage, and the promise of this new study provides increasing evidence that genuine alternatives to embryo-destructive research exist.
Negotiating Medicare Part D Drug Prices
On Friday, the House passed H.R. 4, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, which requires the federal government to negotiate drug prices, by a vote of 255-170.
On November 22, 2003, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (H.R. 1) passed the House, and on December 8, 2003, it was signed into law by President Bush. The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan went into effect on January 1, 2006.
This legislation established a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part D. It contained a portion referred to as the "Government Non-Interference Clause," which prevents the federal government from intervening and attempting to negotiate drug prices to ensure that various drug companies establish drug prices through competition in a free and open market.
On January 10, 2007, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a letter to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell stating that the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be "unable to negotiate prices across the broad range of covered Part D drugs that are more favorable than those obtained by Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs) under current law."
I voted against H.R. 4 because I don't think we should restrict seniors' access to the prescriptions they need and the pharmacies they use, especially on the heels of a nonpartisan report stating seniors would not save additional money with government interference.
The Way Forward in Iraq
Tuesday evening, in an address to the nation, President Bush presented his plan called "The Way Forward in Iraq." As part of an agreement with the Iraqi government, the president is preparing to send up to 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Baghdad and to the Anbar province.
There is vigorous debate in Washington about whether this injection of forces will be able to truly make a difference. The Iraqi government has asked for additional assistance to stabilize its country. The president's plan will provide that assistance but will demand the Iraqis meet specific benchmarks toward self-sufficiency.
I am hopeful the Iraqis can seize this opportunity at such a difficult stage in this conflict.
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 http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.