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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants to lose no time ushering in change at the Congress of which she became the first-ever female House speaker on Thursday, vowing to push though Democratic priorities via an accelerated legislative process during the first 100 hours of the new legislature.
Though none deals directly with Israel, several have implications for the Jewish state, among them efforts to further clamp down on black market nuclear transfers, to wean the US from foreign energy dependence and to axe congressional trips abroad sponsored by special interest groups.
The last issue was expected to be taken up almost immediately by the 110th Congress, which convened for the first time Thursday. It's part of a host of ethics reforms Democrats are pushing in the face of lobbying scandals in the last term.
The new rules would bar lobbyists from taking representatives on trips abroad. That has left many Jewish groups scrambling to find ways to continue visits to Israel, with some bemoaning that their most experienced staffer won't be able to accompany delegations.
Others, like AIPAC - which testified in favor of some travel reforms this summer - have already set up separate organizations to handle trips without running afoul of the ban.
The ethics reforms are part of a House rules package that applies only to representatives and needs no further authorization, as opposed to the other initiatives, which will need Senate and White House approval.
The Speaker's Office also provided a detailed list of changes recommended by the bipartisan commission examining the 9/11 attacks that Pelosi would like to see implemented.
Among them are creating the post of US coordinator for the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism, who would advise the president on weapons of mass destruction issues, and reinforcing efforts to eliminate nuclear black market networks by requiring the president to impose sanctions on foreigners who provide nuclear enrichment technology to a nonnuclear weapons state.
Those measures have the backing of many Jewish groups, who see WMD and nuclear proliferation as a threat to Israel and the US.
The 9/11 recommendations are scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, while energy reform is slated for two weeks from now - toward the end of the first 100 working hours of the new Congress. Its parameters still haven't clearly been defined, but new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) described the legislation at a press conference Wednesday as "repealing tax breaks for the big oil companies and taking the money that we garner from that and applying it to alternative energy sources."
He said the Democrats are seeking "energy independence." He explained, "I don't mean that we will not use any energy from any other sources, but that we will not be dependent upon foreign states for our economic well-being, our military security."
American Jewish Committee legislative director Richard Foltin welcomed the proposal as an "opening effort" in improving a situation whereby "far too much of the world's energy sources come from countries whose interests might be contrary to the United States," and certain Middle Eastern countries can try to wield oil as a foreign policy tool to the detriment of Israel.
Foltin said another bill Congress might take up in the near future was a $25 million-per-year plan to fund joint Israeli and American research on alternative energy sources. He noted that the plan had passed the House but didn't made it through the Senate by the time Congress adjourned. The bill would face a legislative process that continues beyond the first 100 hours, because it would almost certainly need to go though the lengthier traditional legislation process of sponsorship and committee hearings.
It should be smoother sailing for aid to Israel, as these appropriations are in the ninth year of a 10-year plan. Though the 109th Congress failed to pass a 2007 budget, aid has been flowing under a bill temporarily continuing Congressional spending through mid-February. Congress will likely officially endorse the $2.46 billion in aid at that point.
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