A few good measures

September 29, 2006

If the 109th Congress slinks off this weekend for its pre-election recess without accomplishing anything more than what now appears likely, many Americans may consider that cause for rejoicing.

So much of what the Republican-led Congress wanted to do was so bad: privatizing Social Security, building a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border, opening broad new Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas to oil and gas drilling, eliminating estate taxes on the richest Americans, requiring voters to prove citizenship - as though fraud even ranks compared with other voting problems.

Nor is it reassuring that Republican leaders promise to return after the elections to perform their essential budget duties and other unfinished business in a lame-duck session that will be hard to hold accountable.

Yet there is still time before the lawmakers leave town to get some important work done that members of both parties can be proud of. In a burst of optimism, we offer some suggestions:

Pass meaningful immigration reform. Yes, this is a high hurdle, but if done right, it could be among the most valuable contributions by any Congress in years. House and Senate GOP negotiators have deadlocked, failing to approve reasonable steps for tightening border security as well as practical measures for dealing with the nearly 12 million immigrants here illegally. But President Bush has pointed the way toward compromise.

Allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Wal-Mart is leading the way with a hard-nosed approach that could save billions for the floundering federal program and its beneficiaries.

Raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997 and extend expiring tax breaks for state and local sales taxes, college tuition and fees, and teachers who buy classroom supplies. These items were packaged with the ill-received estate tax repeal.

Resolve regional disputes that are holding up federal financing for AIDS care. With HIV-AIDS testing of all teens and adults recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, funds to help should not be held up by pork barrel politics.

Approve federal designation of Capt. John Smith's exploratory route through the Chesapeake Bay region as the first national water trail. This legislation has broad bipartisan support from Congress as well as the Bush administration. It would cost very little, but must be in place soon to be ready for the 400th anniversary next spring of Captain Smith's arrival in Jamestown.

Call us dreamers, but action on this list would at least ensure this Congress is remembered a little more fondly.

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