As GOP takes charge, Congress will confront Obama early on energy, health care, immigration

Energy Associated Press

The new Republican-led Congress convenes Tuesday with GOP leaders eager to get President Barack Obama's signature on some bills and to confront him with others. Top items on their agenda include:

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— Energy: The Senate's first bill would approve construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to pump oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats call the project a job-creator, but Obama and other Democrats consider it a pathway to worsening global warming. The House seems likely to approve the measure quickly. The GOP also plans legislation expediting U.S. natural gas exports.

— Health care: Republicans want to weaken Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Leading off in the House: Legislation making it easier for smaller businesses to avoid providing health coverage to their workers by hiring veterans who already have government coverage. Another bill would exempt companies from covering employees who work under 40 hours weekly — up from the current 30-hour cutoff. Votes on a full repeal of the law are likely, but a certain Obama veto awaits if it reaches him.

— Immigration: A bill financing the Department of Homeland Security lapses in late February. Republicans would extend the agency's funding but want language blocking Obama's executive actions shielding from deportation as many as 4 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Republicans also want to beef up enforcement of immigration laws while easing restrictions on incoming farm and highly skilled workers.

— Budget: House Republicans want to balance the budget in 10 years. Senate Republicans haven't embraced that timeline, but GOP leaders agree that federal spending must be curbed. Republicans will likely use must-pass spending bills to challenge Obama on anti-pollution and business regulations.

— Taxes: The GOP wants to lower income tax rates for corporations and other businesses, with lost revenue recovered by plugging unspecified loopholes. Democrats might go along if extra money is raised for building highways.

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— Other votes: Speeding congressional approval of trade treaties; hindering Obama's outreach to Cuba and Iran; Obama's nominations of Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense secretary; renewing expired terrorism risk insurance; preventing expiration of the highway construction trust fund, the Export-Import Bank and federal borrowing authority.