The U.S Chamber of Commerce said last Wednesday it plans to urge Republican lawmakers and the Bush White House to immediately tackle “unfinished business,” such as comprehensive energy legislation, in the new session before taking on hot-button issues like reform of the Social Security system.

“We have…urged the White House and congressional leaders to adopt a strategy that focuses on scoring some early successes and completing unfinished business from last year before turning to issues that will take more time, more debate and be more divisive,” Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber, said in prepared remarks.

He called for Congress to “act with dispatch” on comprehensive energy legislation, which stalled in the Senate last year, and legal reforms (class action, asbestos litigation, medical liability and bankruptcy abuses), as well as a surface transportation measure.

“We came very close to success [on an energy bill] last year. We need a plan that expands domestic production and allows exploration on a small portion” of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, he said. Donohue also urged Congress to take early action to revise clean air rules and ensure that tax cuts remain in place for small businesses.

In another development last week, Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last Tuesday picked Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) to be chairman of the powerful committee for the 109th Congress. He will start his third year as chairman when Senate returns from recess on Jan. 20.

In the new session, “we are going to make a push to develop our vast oil [and natural gas] resources in the Arctic [National Wildlife] Refuge in a way that leaves the environment pristine. I expected to receive instructions in the Budget Resolution to report ANWR language to the Budget Committee in early May. I will fight on the Senate floor to keep those instructions in the resolution,” he said.

Domenici said he was “pleased” by the strong support for an energy bill this year from the Bush White House and the House of Representatives. He noted that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) last Tuesday reaffirmed the House’s intention to deliver a comprehensive energy bill to President Bush this year.

“Energy will clearly be a priority and we have already begun serious discussions about how we will proceed,” Domenici said. This will be the fourth attempt by Congress to pass energy legislation.

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