(Reuters) - Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has listed the top five initiatives she would like to pursue with the next president, who will be sworn in on January 20, 2009.
Here are Pelosi’s priorities, given in an interview with Reuters and in the order she would like to see them move through Congress. She described some immediate steps that could be taken, as well as initiatives that could be started but would require work beyond 2009.
Ending the war in Iraq is the linchpin, Pelosi said. Setting timetables for withdrawing U.S. combat troops would free them up to focus on rooting out militants in Afghanistan and other places, while allowing the Pentagon to recover from the strains of the Iraq war, now in its sixth year.
Some of the money now being spent to fight in Iraq and rebuild that country could instead be used to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges in the United States and make other investments.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama favors withdrawal deadlines, while Republican candidate John McCain does not.
Some short-term fixes could move quickly, Pelosi said, including helping more children from lower-income families to get health insurance and expanding stem cell research to seek cures for diseases like Parkinson’s. The current Republican president, George W. Bush, has vetoed both proposals.
Longer term, Democrats and Republicans are looking at ways to make health insurance available to more workers, as well as how to lower health care costs and reform the government-run Medicare and Medicaid health plans for the elderly and poor.
Pelosi spoke generally of creating “good paying jobs” in the United States, tied to education and investments in science.
Pelosi said trillions of dollars in new funds were needed to rebuild roads, bridges, sewer and water systems, mass transit and even Internet broadband networks. But given huge U.S. budget deficits, she said ways must be found to finance the spending.
“We’re working on it to figure out whether we can create an infrastructure development bank” in a government partnership with the private sector, Pelosi said.
The bank, advocated by other prominent Democrats including Obama and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, could leverage tens of billions of dollars in seed money into hundreds of billions of dollars of projects, Pelosi said.
House and Senate Democrats want to pass a smaller measure next month, as part of a new economic stimulus bill, that would have the government pay for some public works projects while also quickly creating construction jobs.
The Bush administration says it is too early to go for another stimulus bill. Instead, it wants to take more time and measure the full impact of the $152 billion in economic stimulus being spent this year.
Pelosi has been resisting Republican calls for offshore oil drilling on protected areas. She says it will take a decade for such drilling to have an impact on supplies and would then only bring down high prices by a negligible amount.
Instead, in the near term, Pelosi wants to encourage oil companies to drill where they already are allowed, while also discouraging market speculation and releasing oil from a government-held emergency reserve.
In the longer term, Pelosi wants to encourage faster development of alternative energy sources and provide other incentives for controlling the use of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by John O'Callaghan