Republicans ready their to-do lists as new session of Congress nears

    The Jet Star roller coaster was thrown into the ocean in Seaside Heights

    The Jet Star roller coaster was thrown into the ocean in Seaside Heights

    Republicans representing this region in Congress are looking forward to controlling the White House for the first time in eight years. As the 115th Congress gets ready to convene, several lawmakers have charted out their wish list for this legislative year.

    Many will recall photos of the iconic Jet Star Roller Coaster, tossed by Superstorm Sandy into the water off Seaside Heights, New Jersey. U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur represents that area. And while his re-election hinged more on big, hyperpartisan national issues than on local issues, MacArthur said — in his backyard — reauthorization of the national flood insurance program is on the top of his list for 2017.

    “I expect to be very involved in that process, and I want to make sure that we get a reauthorization that includes a federal backstop for the people that live in flood-prone zones like mine,” he said.

    President-elect Donald Trump was able to win rural parts of Pennsylvania with soaring promises of revitalizing coal and manufacturing, but now that the campaign rhetoric is meeting reality, Republicans are trying to tamp down those promises.

    Energy development could be part of the answer, said U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

    “I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to bring back integrated steel producers, like we had in my area, Bethlehem Steel for example, but if President-elect Trump plays the energy issue right and is as friendly to gas development as I think he will be, that will be a huge boon to domestic manufacturing of all types,” he said.

    One of the big debates that’s dividing the GOP is how to repeal Obamacare without incurring the wrath of the millions of people who could lose their insurance unless the law is properly replaced. Dent said the party has time to come up with a solution.

    “A lot of this depends on what the Trump administration wants to do,” he said. “We’re going to have to hear from the Trump administration on how they want to go about this.”

    Some in the GOP are angling to repeal the law and replace it in three or so years, while others want to swap it out at once. U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey said timing is less important than getting the policy right.

    “I don’t want to go back to the status quo that existed before its enactment, but I do think it needs significant revision because so many of my constituents are paying enormous increases in premiums,” he said.

    Changing the tax system is another big issue Lance wants to tackle. He said he hopes the GOP can alleviate the tax burden on individuals and on businesses during Trump’s first year in the White House.

    “I think that any president is most effective in his first year in office. This was true with President Reagan in 1981, and I hope it will also be true of President Trump in 2017,” he said.

    On the other side of the aisle

    Democrats don’t seem to have much to cheer about in the New Year. They’re in the minority in the House and Senate, which puts them on defense. They don’t have many options at their disposal.

    One of the first battles will likely will be over Trump’s Cabinet nominations, said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

    “President-elect Trump has nominated a wide range of people to fill different cabinet positions, some of whom bring a terrific reserve of relevant experience, others who seem largely or completely unqualified for the post to which they’ve nominated,” the Democrat said.

    Coons was a part of a younger group of Democratic senators who lobbied their leaders to lower the threshold for nominees from 60 votes to a mere simple majority of 51. That change may come back to haunt them because now they’re largely powerless to stop nominees they oppose.

    Still, Coons said he is hopeful.

    “If we get to a point that common sense says that a particular nominee just isn’t qualified for the job, my hope and expectation is that there will be Republicans who will join us in holding up a few confirmations,” he said.

    Coons said there is bipartisan agreement on one thing.

    “It’s going to be an interesting Congress,” he said.

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