Update - Hastert Unveils Agenda, Puts Tax Relief at Top

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

1st write-thru; includes further quotes from Hastert, Armey and Cox

Washington (CNSNews.com)
- Republicans leaders said Thursday that tax cuts remain a top priority when the 106th Congress re-convenes this month. Protecting Social Security and Medicare, bolstering the national defense, and helping students get a better education while keeping control of schools in local hands are also high on the agenda said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, (R-IL).

"We enacted the first tax cut in 16 years in the 104th Congress," Hastert told CNSNews.com. "This year, we will continue to fight for tax relief for working families."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, (R-TX), said the second session of the 106th Congress would first address what he called the "Three T's" - taxes, trade and technology. He pointed to the current economic boom and said that Congress has a mandate to keep it going.

"We didn't create it," Armey told CNSNews.com. "But we have a responsibility to protect it."

Hastert said that he first major vote in Congress after it convenes following President Clinton's State of the Union address on Jan. 27 will be on eliminating the marriage tax penalty that causes many couples to pay more taxes married than if each filed separately.

"We will follow by passing education savings accounts, which help parents save for their children's education," said Hastert.

Joining Hastert and Armey in announcing the GOP agenda was Republican Policy committee chairman Rep. Chris Cox of California, who added that Internet issues will also be debated in Congress, including e-commerce, taxation, and digital signatures.

"Nothing makes us more productive... than our high-tech entrepreneurial climate that we are nurturing here in America," Cox told CNSNews.com.

Hastert's announcements followed President Clinton's legislative outline yesterday at the White House, where he was joined by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, (D-MO), and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, (D-SD).

Clinton said that he will again push Congress to pass address several issues that they rejected in 1999, including gun control legislation, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a so-called patients' bill of rights, adding a voluntary prescription drug benefit to Medicare, and raising the minimum age.

Gephardt blamed the non-passage of those items and others on political acrimony between Democrats and Republicans.

"This unfinished agenda was a casualty of last year's raw partisan politics," said Gephardt. "We all hope this year can be different."

Cox said he believes election year politics may result in more work getting done in Congress, not less. He pointed out that in 1996, also a presidential election year, Congress and the President passed historic welfare reform legislation.

"That same dynamic this year will produce extraordinary results," said Cox.

Hastert added that he was looking forward to working with Clinton and the Democratic Minority.