Sen. Trent Lott, the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate hierarchy, announced yesterday that he would retire at end of the year after a 35-year career in Congress. “I have decided it’s time for us to do something else,” Lott, 66, said of himself and his wife Patricia at a press conference in Pascagoula, Miss. “I don’t know what the future holds for us. A lot of options, hopefully, will be available.” The junior Mississippi senator’s retirement will come just before new legislation goes into effect that would require former members to wait two years instead of the current one-year grace period before they can lobby Congress, raising speculation that Lott will become a lobbyist. Lott served in the House for 16 years after winning a seat in 1972. He was elected to the Senate in 1988. He stepped down as Senate majority leader in 2002 after making remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party that were interpreted as endorsing the late South Carolina Republican’s former segregationist policies. While in Congress, Lott — who was known for winning allies on both sides of the aisle with his garrulous demeanor — focused on improving infrastructure in his home state and around the nation, which he believes was underfunded. “One of the things that struck me when I started back in the ’70s as a congressman, and then as I went through north Mississippi in the ’80s and ’90s as a senator, was the poor quality of our infrastructure — our industrial sites, our roads, our airports, our ports and harbors,” Lott said. “And I really felt that we needed to do more in that area, and I focused on it.” Along with infrastructure, Lott also focused on improving higher education opportunities in Mississippi, as well as creating more and better job opportunities in the state. “I think we made a lot of progress in those areas, and I’ll keep working on that until the last day I serve in the Senate, and the last day I’m alive, because I am just so committed to this state and the people of this state and to having a better quality of life for all of our people,” Lott said. Currently Lott serves on two key Senate panels that oversee infrastructure policy, including the Senate Commerce Committee, where he is the ranking minority member of the panel’s aviation subcommittee, and the Senate Finance Committee. Among his most recent legislative initiatives, Lott, along with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., managed to attach a rail bond provision to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill approved by the Finance Committee in October. Under the provision, states would be able to issue up to $2.7 billion of taxable, tax-credit bonds over three years to fund passenger rail improvement projects. The provision is a scaled-down version of similar legislation Lott had introduced earlier in the year with Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., that would allow issuance of up to $7.8 billion tax-credit bonds over six years for rail projects. But the future of the FAA bill is unclear at best. The Finance Committee measure is substantially different than the bill approved by the Commerce Committee and must be reconciled before the full Senate takes take up the package. Once the two committees are on the same page and the Senate approves their measure, the legislation must then be squared with any differences with an FAA bill approved by the House in September. The laws authorizing and funding the FAA expired at the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, and are currently being funded under temporary spending legislation that expires Dec. 14. But lawmakers are working on legislation that would extend the stopgap funding measure for six months to allow more time to draft a compromise measure, sources said yesterday. Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi, will pick someone to replace Lott until a special election next November, when a new senator will be selected to finish Lott’s term, which ends in 2012. The leading contenders to replace Lott are Reps. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has indicated that he intends to stand for Lott’s current Senate minority whip post.
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