Republican Control of 108th Congress

Twenty-five months into George W. Bush's presidency, control of the government is back where he wants it: in Republican hands.

Today marks the first day of the 108th Congressional session and welcomes 52 freshman faces in the House of Representatives and 9 new senators to Washington; the historic midterm shift puts Republicans firmly in control of Congress and gives Bush a second chance to more easily push his domestic agenda.

Deterred momentarily by a Democratic win in Louisiana's Senate runoff race and, more significantly, by last month's controversy surrounding racist remarks uttered by then-Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., most experts now expect Republicans to bound out of the new Congress' gates with a slew of domestic proposals.

Though the tone and priority of such proposals will likely be set by the president's third State of the Union address later this month, several issues are more likely than not to surface in the GOP's Washington.


In 2002, Wall Street tumbled and accounting scandals scarred the summer, but make no mistake, this adminstration understands former President Bill Clinton's 1992 battle cry: "It's the economy, stupid."

On his ranch in Texas last Thursday, Bush insisted, "Now, I recognize there are some uncertainties. But one thing is certain — that the economy of the United States is resilient."

With Congress back in Republican hands, the president is expected to pursue an economic stimulus that aims to speed up 2001's tax cuts in all income brackets. White House aides also say that Bush may support eliminating taxes on stock dividends and a cut in certain business taxes as well as increasing child care tax credits.

Last week, Democrats pounced on the suggestion of a corporate tax cut.

In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., retorted, "The tax break the president is said to be proposing is the wrong idea at the wrong time to help the wrong people."

But even some Republicans appeared to give the president's initial ideas a lukewarm reception.

In a paper statement, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, incoming chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee through which any economic proposals must go, said, "I'm open-minded on his proposals. I'm interested in plans that will work quickly, that will do the most good for the most people, and that will pass in a bipartisan way, given the realities of working in a closely divided Senate."

Though Bush has the edge, even in a Republican-dominated Congress, it appears the president will have to sell his plan for economic recovery to members of both parties.


Last week, ABCNEWS reported that NARAL, a leading abortion rights group, plans to launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in preparation for what they see as the potential for one of the biggest battles over abortion in 30 years.

In an interview with ABCNEWS' Linda Douglass, Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood, agreed: "Women's rights to make our own childbearing decisions are at greater risk this year than they have been since the Roe v. Wade decision."

Abortion rights opponents are optimistic. Republicans, under the new leadership of Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in the Senate and with an expanded number of abortion rights opponents in the House, hope to push for a ban on late-term abortions and for tighter control over abortions for minors.

But perhaps the fiercest abortion battleground will be judicial appointments.

Ken Connor, President of the Family Research Council, said in an interview, "We expect to be able to confirm judges who respect and affirm the sanctity of human life."

But again, with only a slim 51-49 advantage in the Senate, each renewed effort will be a fight for every vote.

Medicare & Prescription Drugs

If there's a silver lining for the administration in the Lott debacle, it's the fact that president now has an on-call doctor in the Senate.

Incoming Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate's only doctor, a former thoracic surgeon who has performed over 200 heart and lung transplants, will likely be key to reviving Republican health care proposals.

As first reported by the New York Times, White House officials indicate that Bush, with Frist's strong support, plans to push for widespread changes in Medicare, including fostering competition between the pay service and private health plans.

A key component of any plan, according to White House officials, is prescription drugs. The White House promises to offer a plan that allows those content with their current plan to stay put and gives those receiving inadequate benefits an option.

Most likely, that option would come by encouraging Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or the revamped Medicare program.

In the last Congressional session, both parties failed to muster enough votes for competing prescription drug proposals and a compromise plan failed in negotiations.

White House officials indicate that Medicare and prescription drugs are likely to comprise a portion of the president's upcoming State of the Union address.

Several other legislative initiatives and appointments may breathe new life in the upcoming Congress including the following: a GOP-backed Energy bill, including the narrowly defeated ANWR drilling provision; a patients' bill of rights; and the judicial nomination of Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owens for the 5th Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals.

There is, however, one major uncertainty looming over the 108th Congress' legislative agenda: war with Iraq.

Experts almost universally agree that while war might not stop policy making, it will rightfully chill politics, and with it, quite possibly the momentum of the Republican-controlled domestic agenda.

ABCNEWS' Lisa Chinn and Linda Douglass in Washington contributed to this report.