There is much to accomplish this year
I would like to begin this first weekly column of 2004 by wishing each of you a happy new year and by sharing my hopes for health and happiness for you and your families.
The year which just ended was remarkable in many respects. Our lives were impacted both directly and indirectly by many of the events which occurred around the world.
Throughout the course of 2003, I discussed at some length the more significant accomplishments of the House of Representatives and the administration, particularly those which will most benefit the residents of the First District.
These include the enactment of H.R. 1, the landmark Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003; passage by the House of the Energy Policy Act of 2003; and the completion of the Jobs and Growth Act of 2003.
The news was also dominated for almost the entire year by Operation Iraqi Freedom and the ongoing war on terrorism. Together we watched as American and coalition forces advanced from entering Baghdad faster than was thought possible to capturing Saddam Hussein in mid-December. And sadly, we mourned together the loss of nearly 500 of our finest men and women in uniform who were fighting and winning the war to liberate a people from the bonds of an oppressive regime.
But throughout the year, from the low points to the times that gladdened our hearts, there was a great deal of activity at home and abroad.
With the New Year upon us, the question now becomes where we go from here.
One of our primary goals for 2004 has to be bringing our involvement in Iraq to a successful conclusion and transferring control of that government back to the Iraqi people.
At the present time, tentative plans are in place for a transfer of power to a full transitional government by the end of June 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority which has governed since the conclusion of major combat operations will be dissolved at that time, and it is hoped that a working constitution and permanent government will be in place by June 2005.
It would be a mistake to think that the capture of Saddam guarantees that our job in Iraq will get any easier in the months ahead, at least not in the short term. This point has certainly been made clear to me during recent deployment ceremonies I attended throughout the First District for National Guard and reserve units activated for duty overseas.
However, we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I promise I will do all I can to ensure our men and women in uniform are brought home as quickly as possible.
There are also many challenges still before us in our nation's capital that need to be brought to a resolution. Among these are passage of a final comprehensive energy bill which can then be sent to the president for his consideration. As I mentioned earlier, the House has already passed a version of this legislation and we are now awaiting a final conference report containing the items agreed upon by both chambers of Congress. We must also continue our efforts at fiscal responsibility in the budget process. Last year, my colleagues on the House Budget Committee and I identified nearly $100 billion in wasteful spending by agencies and departments of the federal government during the past ten years.
And as always, our work on behalf of America's senior citizens and veterans continues. We have made tremendous strides in these areas with increased spending for veterans' health care and expanded concurrent receipt benefits.
There isn't room enough in this column to discuss the tremendous work -- and tremendous opportunities -- awaiting Congress when it returns to Washington later this month.
However, there is one other commitment I want to make as your congressman. As is the case every year, this is a time best known for making resolutions, from vowing to lose weight to promising to exercise more and work less. Right now, I want to offer a resolution from my staff and me for the coming year.
Our offices in Mobile, Foley, and Washington, D.C., are here to serve each of you and your families, and the fourteen people who work with me want to provide you with the best, most prompt and most courteous service possible.