Rep. Brad Ellsworth says he has a lot of priorities from now until the end of the year.
But it's not his mine safety proposals that are consuming the time and attention of the U.S. Congress. It's not the bill the freshman District 8 lawmaker introduced early this summer that would require all manufactured homes to have weather radios, either.
No, the biggest issue on the lips of legislators as they returned from summer recess Tuesday was the war in Iraq.
And as Gen. David Petraeus prepares to testify next week in front of Congress, including the House Armed Services committee, of which Ellsworth is a member, the former Vanderburgh County Sheriff told the BannerGraphic in a phone interview from Washington he is anxious to hear what the Iraq war commander has to say.
Petaeus' assessment of the 30,000 U.S. troop surge will likely point to security improvements, particularly in the Anbar Province, the Associated Press reported. His testimony is expected to be aimed at moderates like Ellsworth, who said he was waiting to hear the general's report before deciding whether to oppose an extension of the bolstered deployment.
In July, Ellsworth was one of only 10 Democrats to vote against a bill that would require President George W. Bush to draw down U.S. forces to a limited presence by spring 2008. Ellsworth did not support the legislation because he is reserving judgment until Petreus' report next week, he said.
Ellsworth said he does not support a public, American-imposed timeline for troop withdrawal. Instead, he said, diplomats should negotiate a drawdown date with the Iraqi government.
But Ellsworth said he is concerned that Iraq is overshadowing other important issues.
In addition to the war, the congressman said, voters in this district approach him most often with concerns about illegal immigration and the rising cost of health care.
"Health care and illegal immigration, there's not enough chatter about that," he said. "I think people at home really want Congress to do something about that."
For his part, being only in his first term, Ellsworth said all he can really do is keep bringing the issues up in caucuses and meetings with the House leadership.
On the home front, Ellsworth said a bill he sponsored in June that would require all manufactured homes to come with weather radios installed has been well received. It is currently awaiting committee hearings.
"It's got good wheels underneath it," he said.
The bill, CJ's Home Protection Act of 2007, is named for a boy killed in the 2005 tornado that ripped through Evansville, claiming 22 lives and inuring hundreds.
Ellsworth said he will also introduce legislation to give tax credits and other incentives to mine companies that purchase safety equipment and training for rescue crews.
This comes after six miners were trapped, and presumed dead, in a Utah mine collapse and three construction workers were killed in a mine accident in Gibson County, which is in Ellsworth's district. Both disasters happened in August.
"We're probably never going to legislate mine accidents away but we can certainly do things to reduce the number and the casualties," he said.
The congressman made his last official visit to Putnam County in February when he discussed the Farm Bill with local farmers.
Ellsworth's office Terre Haute office can be reached by phone at 812-232-0523.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.