Despite gridlock, Connecticut delegation has big plans for this session of Congress

Washington — Partisanship and gridlock may have largely defined the 112th Congress, but Connecticut lawmakers still have extensive wish lists for the new session.

The lawmakers’ goals for the year range from turning the Coltsville site in Hartford into a national park to guarding against cuts in the Pentagon’s budget that would hurt the state’s defense industry.

The Connecticut delegation will try to reach their goals in a Congress with approval ratings that have dropped to historic lows, largely because of voter disgust with partisan feuding that barely averted a government shutdown last spring and a default on the national debt a few months later.

The House returns from a lengthy winter break this week and the Senate on Jan. 23. Expectations are that sniping and obstructionism will return to Washington with the lawmakers.

“I see this as a trench warfare year,” said Kyle Kondik, political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “I don’t see that they are going to get much done.”

House leaders, who are Republican, have already drawn up a list of bills that Senate leaders, who are Democrats, are certain to reject. Meanwhile, Senate leaders are expected to continue to press for President Obama’s agenda on jobs, taxes and other issues strongly opposed by House Republicans.

There will also be skirmishes over must-pass legislation, including a bill that would extend jobless benefits and a Social Security payroll tax cut.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who plans to retire at the end of the year, said he’s frustrated that his last session of Congress is going to be such a tough one.

“This is the least productive (period) in my 23 years in Congress,” Lieberman said. “Partisanship has got to stop, but the odds are it’s not going to stop in an election year.”

Despite expectations of escalating battles as elections near, Lieberman said he’d continue to seek federal help to fight pollution in Long Island Sound and to try to win approval for a bill that aims to protect sensitive and critical cyber infrastructures from attack.

Lieberman also said he’d continue to keep watch over the defense budget so Connecticut’s defense contractors are not hurt by budget cuts.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he’s going to try to get things done through stealth in what he calls a “dysfunctional” Congress.

“There’s great importance in carving out issues that may be below the marquee, to adopt a low profile and relentlessly pursue (your goals),” he said.

Blumenthal has a long wish list that includes winning approval for Coltsville to be declared a national park, seeking more federal money for Lyme disease research and better health care for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Tens of thousands of troops will be coming home and we need to be prepared,” Blumenthal said.

He also wants to seek more federal help for technical and vocational schools and push for approval of legislation that would spur development of new antibiotics to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition, he has spearheaded a campaign to fight drug shortages caused by distributors who hoard drugs to inflate their prices.

Blumenthal said he has Republican support for some of his proposals, which will help him in a fractured Congress.

Not a popular issue

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, who hopes to snare Lieberman’s Senate seat, said he’s going to work on legislation that would require the Pentagon to buy more U.S.-made goods. He also plans to spend more time promoting civility in Congress as a member of the Center Aisle Caucus.

“Civility is not always a popular issue in an election year, but I can’t let another year go by with the two sides yelling at each other,” Murphy said.

Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, may be focused on her party’s issues. DeLauro, who has served in the House since 1991, is co-chairwoman of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and is likely to rise in the House Democratic leadership.

She said she plans to work for approval of Obama’s jobs program this year, even as Republicans are sure to continue to block it.

DeLauro also wants to press for high-speed rail that would run from New Haven to Hartford to Springfield and for upgrades of other rail systems that run through Connecticut.

She said she will also promote legislation that would allow businesses to make tax-free contributions to work training programs.

While Connecticut’s Democratic House members will be working in a chamber controlled by Republicans, DeLauro remains optimistic.

“You can’t get frustrated,” she said.

Himes: Infrastructure bank

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is also a member of his party’s leadership as House Democratic Caucus chairman.

He thinks this session of Congress should address tax and campaign finance reforms to help burnish Capitol Hill’s image. He also plans to work with Blumenthal to try to win a National Historic Park designation for Coltsville.

“This project, over 10 years in the making, would be a boon to the Capital area, bringing new tourists to our local community and creating up to 1,000 new jobs,” he said.

For Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, fixing a flaw in Medicare that hurts elderly patients who have been hospitalized for observation instead of treatment is a priority. Those patients are not eligible for a Medicare benefit that provides home nursing care for up to 100 days.

Courtney also hopes for success on a bill that would give tax breaks to manufacturers who donate equipment to vocational schools.

“I’m looking for sweet spots of issues that can move forward,” he said this week.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, want to try to find support for one of the items on the president’s job agenda — an infrastructure bank that would help build roads and bridges that “would help the economy and certainly help Connecticut.”

Himes also said he hopes for the reauthorization of a federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

“But if you ask me if we’re going to make a lot of progress (this year) … I’m not sure I would bet on that,” he said.

Political realities may dash the hopes of the state’s lawmakers. A session shortened by lawmakers’ desire to campaign won’t help either.

Vincent G. Moscardelli, assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, noted that most bills introduced by lawmakers never become law, with only about 5 percent making it through Congress’ procedural hurdles.

He predicts even less action this year.

“All factors suggest gridlock,” Moscardelli said.