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Frist Uses Broad Strokes to Present Senate GOP Agenda

Senate Republican leaders jumped on the agenda-setting bandwagon Wednesday, outlining a list of priorities for the new Congress that was short on specifics.

Speaking about how the Senate under his command would be a “solution-oriented” and active body, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) gave few details about how he would accomplish that goal but pointed to an early example: the Senate’s quick passage of a bill to extend unemployment benefits.

While Democrats have already introduced a dozen bills designed to showcase their focus, Wednesday’s press conference provided the first glimpse of Republican Senate leaders’ mindset.

Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) listed five priorities: stimulating the economy; ensuring security at home and abroad, including addressing pressing international crises with Iraq and North Korea; enactment of a Medicare prescription drug program; education; and energy.

On the last point, Santorum acknowledged that Republicans believe allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is good policy and that they will try to lift the ban on it again this year.

As former Majority Leader Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) accolades of ex-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who once ran for president on a segregationist platform, still tarnish the GOP image, Republican leaders said little about what exactly they would do to address the concerns of minorities, especially blacks.

Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) did say a lot could be done for minorities and women through education initiatives, such as bolstering funding for historically black colleges.

Perhaps wary that the Lott controversy is not behind Republicans, Frist repeatedly refused to say whether he supports Charles Pickering, one of President Bush’s federal judicial nominees, despite repeated questioning from reporters.

Democrats, concerned about his civil rights record, did not bring Pickering’s nomination to the floor for approval last year.

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