The newly chosen Senate Republican Leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, faces a tough legislative agenda as his party prepares to take control of the chamber in the new Congress. The 50-year-old Frist, elected by acclamation as leader on Dec. 23, replaces Trent Lott of Mississippi as the Republicans' Senate chief. Lott resigned after his comments at a party for Sen. Strom Thurmond sparked a controversy over what they may have indicated about Lott's views on African Americans.

Senator Frist at work in his Washington, D.C. Office (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Bill Frist)

Since his election to the Senate in 1994, Frist has not been on the major construction-related committees, such as Appropriations, Environment and Public Works and Finance, and thus hasn't built an extensive record on key industry issues. From the perspective of environmental groups, Frist has not been a major ally: The League of Conservation Voters gave him a grade of zero for his record in the 106th and 107th Congress.

In his speech after his election as leader, Frist didn't offer a detailed legislative priority list. But one of the first challenges he will face as majority leader will be unsnarling the 2003 appropriations bills. Since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, all the non-defense federal agencies have been operating under temporary spending measures at their 2002 budget levels. Senate Appropriators did get their bills out of committee earlier this year, but they must reduce those measures' total spending by about $9 billion to meet President Bush's overall non-defense funding target.

The biggest construction bill on the horizon is the successor to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which is expected to set federal highway and transit funding levels until at least 2008. Also on tap is an expected tax-cut package from the White House, a revived energy policy bill and reauthorization of federal aviation programs, including airport construction grants.