Wicker Notes Key Initiatives in President's Final Year Agenda

February 4, 2008

President Bush gave his final State of the Union address last week in which he outlined a wide range of domestic and foreign policy objectives on the agenda for his last year in office.   I hope Congress will look for ways to work in a bipartisan manner on the issues he has advanced.

Chief among our priorities will be an effort to keep America’s economy strong.  The President and Congressional leaders are nearing agreement on a $150 billion growth package that would provide an immediate boost to American families and businesses.  It is imperative that we move quickly on this infusion of rebates and tax incentives to keep our economy on track.  We should also begin work on a longer-term goal of making the 2001 and 2003 tax relief provisions permanent.  If no action is taken, those tax breaks will expire in 2010, creating hardship for American families and businesses and hurting the economy.

The President reaffirmed his commitment to stand fast in the Global War on Terror and support U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.   It is clear that the surge strategy put into place in Iraq last year has worked and created conditions to allow Iraqis to work together in forming a stable government.   I share Mr. Bush’s view that we must continue to provide funding for our troops in order for them to complete their mission and begin the process of coming home.

I was also encouraged to hear the President talk about the importance of renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act quickly.   This law is a vital tool in helping protect Americans from future terrorist attacks.  I strongly support its renewal to give our intelligence agencies the ability to monitor terrorist communications while still protecting Americans’ privacy rights.

                           NEW MILITARY, VETERANS PROPOSALS
As a member of the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees, I look forward to working on the President’s initiatives to expand military families’ access to child care services and create new hiring preferences for military spouses seeking federal employment.   Another new proposal would allow military personnel to transfer unused portions of their education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill to spouses or children.

Making health care more affordable is a priority, and the President offered proposals to expand health savings accounts and make private health insurance more accessible.   He noted that the nation’s energy problems must also be addressed and urged Congress to fund wide-ranging new technologies, including ways to take advantage of our vast coal reserves as well as clean, safe nuclear power.  As we work to lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources, I believe we must continue responsible exploration of our domestic oil and natural gas reserves.

                        ‘GO ZONE’ TAX BREAK EXTENSION SOUGHT
The economy of the Gulf Coast could benefit from extending a tax break that allows accelerated depreciation for construction activities in the Gulf Opportunity Zone.  I wrote a letter, which my colleagues Thad Cochran and Louisiana Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu also signed, urging the Senate Finance Committee to add this provision to the economic stimulus plan.   Even if this extension is not included in the package, Sen. Cochran and I will continue fighting for its approval.

The original “Go Zone” legislation was created to spur rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina and required that construction projects begin by December 31, 2007, to benefit fully from this tax break.  But bureaucratic issues and other delays have prevented many projects from starting within that time frame.  Extending the deadline would encourage and expedite more construction activities.