Congress members facing base closures, highway funding

Monday, January 3rd 2005, 11:35 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Military base closures, Social Security reform, highway funding and the war in Iraq face members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation when they return to work on Tuesday.

Swearing-in ceremonies will dominate when the 109th Congress convenes at noon Tuesday.

Republican freshman Tom Coburn is succeeding Sen. Don Nickles, who is retiring after 24 years, while Dan Boren will take the seat of Rep. Brad Carson, a two-term Congressman from the 2nd District who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate.

"I'm very excited," Boren, the only Democrat in the state's seven-member delegation, told The Oklahoman's Washington bureau.

Boren's father, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, plans to skip the Orange Bowl, where OU will be playing for the national championship, to see his son represent the third consecutive generation of Borens to serve the state in Congress.

Coburn, a former U.S. House member, is returning to Washington after a four-year hiatus from politics.

"It is a different atmosphere in terms of how things operate," Coburn said, comparing the House and Senate. "Before you can run, you have to learn how to walk."

Republicans will have larger majorities in both houses, and President Bush hopes to use the advantage to push through changes in Social Security and win confirmation of Cabinet nominees and federal judges.

"I think it's going to be one of the most significant congressional sessions in a generation," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., of the 4th District.

Other issues may dominate the term for Coburn and Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.

Coburn wants to continue practicing medicine part-time while serving in the Senate. He said he wants to meet his obligations to his current patients and maintain his skills.

Senate rules don't allow members to belong to a partnership or corporation to provide professional services for compensation. Coburn fought the same battle when he served in the House and was allowed to keep practicing.

A steering committee will decide if Istook, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation funding, can keep his chairmanship.

Istook angered some subcommittee members in November when he didn't include money for their home-state road projects because they had sought funding for Amtrak, the passenger rail service.

Istook had warned lawmakers that any request for Amtrak money would be treated as personal project requests, but those who lost road money were infuriated.

Istook downplayed the controversy and said he is not concerned he will lose his chairmanship, which he has used to secure millions for Oklahoma road projects.

"I don't expect any change," he said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is going to make another attempt at passing a long-term highway bill that stalled after lengthy negotiations among the Senate, House and White House.

Inhofe said he's confident an agreement will be reached this year.

Meanwhile, an independent commission will decide which domestic military bases should be closed.

House and Senate leaders nominate some of the commissioners and the Senate must confirm them. Congress must decide whether to accept, without changes, the commission's recommendations.

The Pentagon will release the list of recommended closures in May. If any Oklahoma installations are on it, Congress members will help communities plead the case to keep them open.

Inhofe and Cole, members of the Armed Services committees, said they expect the process to consume much of their time, even though they feel good about Oklahoma bases surviving the round.

As for committee assignments, Boren has yet to receive his but said his attention will be on his constituents.

"I'm really going to focus my energies on the district, building a relationship with my constituents," he said. "I think constituent work is always more important than any bill you pass in Congress."