WASHINGTON _ Republicans assumed control of the U.S. Houseof Representatives and Senate on Wednesday with an agenda thatmay bring some relief to biotechnology industry executives who feelbeleaguered by government regulation.

The first order of business in the House will be voting on a packageof eight internal reforms _ including cutting the number of Housecommittees and staff and limiting committee chair terms _ thatRepublican leaders predicted would pass by the end of the first day'swork on Thursday. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) delivereda relatively conciliatory opening speech to his 435 colleagues (230Republicans, 204 Democrats, 1 Independent), predicting that thenext few months will be "the busiest early months since 1933."

Vice President Al Gore also swore in 34 senators (11 freshmen and23 re-elected) on Wednesday and Senate Majority leader RobertDole (R-Kan.) cautioned that major reforms might move moreslowly in the Senate. There are now 53 Republicans and 47Democrats in the Senate.

The major near-term goal of House Republicans in the 104thCongress is the introduction of all 10 bills included in the GOP's`Contract with America.' At least two of those bills, the Job Creationand Wage Enhancement Act (JCWE) and the Common Sense LegalReform Act, could impact the biotechnology industry.

The JCWE bill includes a 50 percent cut in the capital gains tax _ afiscal incentive that biotechnology executives and others have arguedwould aid industry. It also contains new restraints and requirementsfor federal agencies that seek to impose regulations. (See BioWorldToday, Dec. 15, 1994, p. 1.) In addition, the JCWE legislation wouldchange the way that the government calculates the risk of privatesector activities and would give regulators and lawmakers a"regulatory budget" that accounts for the cost of new regulations onbusinesses.

The Republicans' legal reform bill includes limits on damages inproduct liability and medical malpractice cases and could change theground rules for securities class action lawsuits. House committeehearings on the JCWE bill and the legal reform bill are slated tobegin in mid-January.

It remains unclear how funding for biomedical research, such as thebudget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will fare in the104th Congress. It is estimated that lawmakers will be need to trimabout $173 billion from nondefense discretionary spending over thenext five years to reach the Republican goal of a balanced budget by2002.

On the House side, the Appropriations Committee has jurisdictionover budgets for the Department of Health and Human Services, theFDA and the NIH. Rep. John Edward Porter (R-Ill.), incomingchairman of the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services(which has budgeting authority for the NIH), has been a champion ofthe NIH. Rep. Joe Skeen (R-N.M.) will head the Agriculture, RuralDevelopment, FDA & Related Agencies subcommittee, whichauthorizes FDA funding.

Republican leaders have designated the House CommerceCommittee to be headed by Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), as theprimary forum for health issues in the 104th Congress. As such, itwill be responsible for "biomedical research and developmentissues" and "health and health facilities, except health care supportedby payroll deductions."

Editor's note: Friday's BioWorld will include a listing of thelegislative leaders of House and Senate committees andsubcommittees relevant to biotechnology. n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.