Congress Faces a Choice

Posted Sept. 15, 2010, at 5:33 p.m.

With the American public in a sour mood, and with congressional popularity slumped down to about the level of dogcatchers and proctologists, the lawmakers must decide between two alternative courses of action in the four weeks left before they head home to campaign for the Nov. 2 elections.

Republicans and Democrats can keep on snarling at each other over which party is to blame for the financial crash and the recession that keeps dragging on and for the two longest wars in our history (also dragging on). In other words, they can continue the gridlock that has lately been keeping much of anything important from being done.

Or, in their own political interest and to the surprised delight of all but the minority that feeds on public discontent, they can come together on the compromises that are needed to settle important pending issues right now. Here are some of them:

Taxes. Democrats and Republicans alike should have welcomed the compromise suggested by Rep. John Boehner, the Republican minority leader. He said he would grudgingly vote against the extension of the Bush administration’s tax cut for the rich if the package would include extension of the middle-class tax cuts for couples earning less than $250,000 a year. Both expire Dec. 31 unless Congress acts. Republican leaders quickly closed ranks and stuck to their plan of holding the middle-class cuts hostage for an extension of the cuts for the rich.

Alternative minimum tax. This tax was first devised to hit only the very rich to block tax evasion. It now threatens to hit the middle class. The tax should be terminated or at least halted for one year.

Federal estate tax. This tax, mistakenly allowed to lapse this year so that the rich can die tax-free, should be reimposed. The burden would fall only on the very rich, whose beneficiaries could bear the burden of helping reduce the deficit and shrinking the growing gap between rich and poor.

Gays in the military. Why wait to undo a terrible — and according to a recent court ruling, unconstitutional — mistake? The present plan of first surveying opinion among service people and their families is nonsense. Military service is not a democracy, and soldiers don’t vote on how and where to fight. Harry Truman had the guts to end racial segregation in the armed forces without taking a poll. Soldiers and sailors obeyed orders, and desegregation went ahead without any trouble.

Stem cell research. While right-to-life activists tie up promising human embryonic research in a long court fight, Congress should step in and authorize the research with new guidelines to ensure that it only use embryos that are freely given and would otherwise be discarded as surplus.

Nuclear arms reduction. Party leaders seem to be coming together on a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. We have far more nukes than ever could be used and without the treaty have little leverage on countries seeking to acquire such arms.

Action on such issues is needed and will show the American people that Congress really can accomplish things.

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