Outside editorial: Congress should act on critical to-do list

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star:

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett recently was heard lamenting to another senator the lame duck session was "rigged."

The Democrat's aide explained that he meant the period after the election and before the new Congress takes office is "rigged to prevent progress."

It shouldn't be. The United States is in need of decisive action right now, and futzing about in the coming weeks is not acceptable.

Consider the unemployment-benefit extension Congress appears ready to let languish. Despite some positive signs in the economy, the jobless rate remains above 9 percent, with about one available job for every five people seeking work - a statistic that isn't expected to change much in the near term. Congress has never failed to extend emergency benefits when unemployment is above 7.4 percent, and this would be a cruel time to start.

Cutting loose the millions of unemployed is a mistake, especially for the individuals who could face losing their homes to foreclosure and for the economy.

The $5 billion monthly unemployment benefits price tag is also $5 billion a month that will not be moving through the American economy. That means less money to grocers and gas stations and shops. Unemployment benefits keep cash flowing in bad times.

By some twisted logic, Congress is simultaneously considering extending the Bush tax cuts for all - including the wealthiest Americans - a move that will result in more than $5 billion a month in foregone revenue.

The 10-year cost in foregone revenue is $3.7 trillion, and far too much of that would accrue to the benefit of the super rich. Republicans are using the idea the wealthiest Americans will use their tax break extensions to create jobs, though they have no answer for why that hasn't been the case the last several years. Giving a hand to the wealthy while abandoning the desperate is indefensible.

On national security issues, Congress faces the matter of ratifying the third version of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.

This treaty is an extension of a process started by President George H.W. Bush, and advanced by President George W. Bush. Under it, the United States and Russia would reduce nuclear stockpiles by up to 30 percent, and continue to allow each nation to inspect and verify the other's progress, a process that lapsed last year.

Given that this treaty furthers the goals of the last two GOP presidents, it appears the opposition is now just a purely partisan effort led by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.

The treaty needs two-thirds Senate approval. Opponents are clearly trying to deny President Barack Obama a foreign policy victory.

Passing the continuation of START is the only responsible action, and GOP opposition is dangerous politics.

The agenda for this month should include repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Among active and reserve forces, a new Pentagon study showed 70 percent favor ending the policy of forcing gays who wish to serve this country to hide their sexuality.

That fit nicely with recent polls indicating more than three-quarters of all Americans favor dumping the 17-year-old policy.

As one service member told military researchers: "Gays and lesbians have been serving in the Armed Forces since the inception of our country. ... They love this country just as much as heterosexuals." This policy doesn't serve our national interests. It's time for gay Americans to be allowed to serve openly.

And finally, the Senate should adopt the DREAM Act, which allows the children of undocumented workers to become legal residents if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military.

The act is in the best interests of America and should be passed.

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