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Democrats poised to take Senate

November 9, 2006 By Emma Marris This article courtesy of Nature News.

Committees likely to focus more on climate change.

After storming the US House of Representatives in the 7 November elections, on 9 November the Democrats also took power in the Senate, when it was confirmed that they had won the last outstanding count in Virginia.

George Allen, the incumbent Republican senator in Virginia, conceded the race to his Democratic rival, James Webb, without demanding a recount. Webb’s majority was less than 10,000.

So when the new Congress begins in January the Democrats will head all the Senate committees introducing legislation, holding hearings, and undoubtedly enjoying themselves thoroughly from January through to the next election in 2008. Here's who will run what.

Committee: Commerce, Science and Transportation Prospective chair: Daniel Inouye, Hawaii This is a big juicy committee, with jurisdiction over the oceans, the atmosphere, space, research and development even the Panama Canal. Inouye, a senior senator, is not linked with any particular science issues, except perhaps the health of the oceans. Indeed, press releases from his office deal almost exclusively with the money that the Senator has managed to secure for his state. "Climate change is something he's interested in," says a spokesperson. "The integrity of science is another."

Committee: Energy and Natural Resources Prospective chair: Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico This committee covers energy policy and the national parks. Bingaman has worked with his fellow senator from New Mexico, Republican Pete Domenici on science issues. Together, they have proposed mandatory cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, looked out for the fortunes of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and introduced legislation on competitiveness initiatives to protect the United States' scientific strength. "Two things he has been talking about lately are global warming he believes it is one of the great failures of the Bush administration and clean energy," says a spokesperson.

Committee: Environment and Public Works Prospective chair: Barbara Boxer, California With James 'global warming is the greatest hoax perpetuated on the American people' Inhofe bumped, and ranking Democrat Jim Jeffords retiring, Boxer would take over this committee on all things related to the environment and transport. Boxer is liberal and green: opposed to drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, tough on standards at the Environmental Protection Agency, and interested in keeping toxins out of the environment. In the past she's supported legislation that would make mandatory labels indicating whether food was genetically engineered.

Committee: Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Prospective chair: Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts This committee has a smorgasbord of jurisdictions, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is overdue for reauthorization, an examination of the agency's whole organization and raison d'être. It is unclear what will happen to the reauthorization effort that began under Republican rule. It is possible that the bill, which recently passed in the House, might pass the Senate in the lame-duck session at the end of this year. Kennedy is a liberal fixture in Congress, and one of his priorities is reintroducing the stem-cell bill the president recently vetoed.

Committee: Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Prospective chair: Tom Harkin, Iowa Harkin, like the new agriculture committee chair in the House, Collin Peterson, is from a corn state and touts his credentials on ethanol. He's interested in putting together ethanol pipelines, and requiring cars to be ethanol-friendly.

Committee: Appropriations Prospective chair: Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia The 88-year-old Byrd is the longest-serving senator in US history. He's well known for sending money home, so it may be a good time to be from West Virginia.

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