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Senate GOP Backs Effort on Marriage

The Senate Republican leadership endorsed a bill Monday that would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but stopped short of placing it in the same category as Social Security reform and other top domestic priorities.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) claimed support from more than 20 of his colleagues for such a constitutional amendment on the same day Republican and Democratic leaders unveiled competing legislative agendas for the 109th Congress.

Despite lukewarm support for the Marriage Protection Act in 2004, Allard reintroduced the bill and said he believes the GOP leadership will schedule a vote on it this Congress.

“We fully expect to be able to have a vote on the floor, either this year or next year,” the Colorado Republican said.

While Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) did not commit to a specific date for consideration of the measure, he described Allard’s bill as “significant” and said the Senate would vote on it this Congress.

“I think it will show in a strong way that we will continue to defend marriage against activist judges in this Congress,” said Frist, who designated the bill S.J. Res. 1.

“We are going to try and move this constitutional amendment forward, and we believe we have the best chance of getting it passed,” added Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.).

But Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there is no need for a constitutional amendment unless the courts overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I think even people like myself who are opposed to gay marriage think it’s a mistake to amend the Constitution for the first time in history to restrict the rights of Americans,” Durbin said.

In the near term, it appears Republicans will put their emphasis on trying to marshal through Bush’s legislative goals, specifically reforms of the Social Security system and the tax code.

Flanked by his deputies and two committee chairmen, Frist introduced the GOP’s first 10 bills of the new Congress, assigning Social Security the first bill number followed in order by Tax Reform; Fighting the War on Terror; Healthy America; Class Action Reform; Marriage Opportunity, Relief and Empowerment; Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Package; Child Custody Protection Act; Opportunities through Education Act; and Keeping America Competitive and Secure through Energy Independence.

In turn, Democrats released their own top 10 bills with equally broad and similarly politically charged titles as their Republican counterparts. Standing With Our Troops headed the list of Democratic bills, followed by Targeting the Terrorists More Effectively; Fulfilling Our Duty to America’s Veterans; Expanding Economic Opportunity; Quality Education for All; Making Health Care More Affordable; Democracy Begins at Home; Meeting Our Responsibility to Medicare Beneficiaries; Fiscal Responsibility for a Sound Future; and Putting Prevention First.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized the Republican-led Congress and Bush administration for failing to focus on domestic issues such as education and health care, while at the same time “mismanaging” the Iraq war.

“We have a government that’s forgotten who it’s responsible to,” said Reid.

Democrats acknowledged action on their priorities was unlikely given that the GOP has a six-seat edge in the chamber, but claimed the American people will support their legislative goals when given a choice.

Still, Frist pointed to the elections and said it is clear the voters preferred the Republican agenda over the ideas promoted by Democrats.

“I do feel that the American people spoke pretty loudly in these elections in terms of their support for this president and this Republican Congress — Senate and House — in support of an agenda that is consistent with the one that we’ve laid out today,” Frist said.

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