- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

My list of some important issues to be resolved by President Bush and Congress will probably simultaneously please and outrage most readers.

That is because my list does not fit into a neat Republican or Democratic agenda, nor does it fit into current conservative or liberal ideology.

The Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, and that places a lot of blame on them for not dealing with many of these issues, but the Democrats, with sufficient votes to block most initiatives, must share the blame.

Here is my list: First, elected officials are not facing the inescapable realities and future consequences of not fixing the Social Security system and the public/private pension fund systems. There are short-term political consequences to fixing these systems in the long-term, and most politicians choose to delay solutions to avoid likely criticism from interest groups.

On this issue, Mr. Bush has been much more right than wrong, although his Social Security privatization plan for younger Americans could be improved. Opponents to any such plan, however, are demogoguing the issue, especially with older voters who actually stand to lose nothing in the plan.

But this is only part of the problem. Private and public employee pension funds are even in more immediate trouble. Again, public officials, in the face of overwhelming evidence, are putting off the problem, which only makes the consequences worse.

Second, elected officials are procrastinating the reform of our health-care delivery system.

Most Democrats persist in calling for a so-called single-payer system which, while laudable in intent, is simply unworkable without new deficits that would dwarf the untenable deficits we now have. The inefficiency and waste of the present system, however, cannot be maintained.

Again, both sides are trying to intimidate the other with simplistic appeals to interest groups.

Third, the immigration issue has come to the forefront of this year’s midterm elections. Mr. Bush, Sen. John McCain and many Democrats have put forward the most realistic solutions, i.e., seal the border and find a long-term way for most “undocumented” workers to become legally part of their newly chosen home country. Certain conservatives have labeled the latter part of this program as “amnesty” and have contended that it is nothing less than rewarding illegal behavior. But these same conservatives found no “amnesty” in allowing refugees from Cuba into Florida. Nor did they object to millions of Eastern Europeans coming to America to flee from communism.

On the other hand, Mr. Bush has failed to confront the government of Mexico, which is gladly sending emigrants to the United States and welcoming the $20 billion these “undocumented” workers annually send back to Mexico. This is a complex issue. Each side has valid points, but neither side is fully facing resolutions that serve the long-term public interest of the country.

Fourth, the United Nations has become a caricature of itself. It no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended when it was founded. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s tenure has been perhaps the worst in the history of the United Nations and filled with unaccountability, corruptionandpolitical hypocrisy. His term will end in a few months, so it will be critical that there be dramatic change in attitude for the next secretary-general, or it will be necessary for the United States to withdraw from all but the most worthy and accountable humanitarian functions of this international organization. The United Nations is not a place where Third World countries should enjoy prolonged therapy sessions by attacking the United States, turn a blind eye to outrageous examples of violent human rights abuses and shame the developed world into an international welfare system.

Fifth, we continue to avoid solutions to our needs for energy and public transportation.

Mr. Bush is right in calling for public restraint in consumption of oil and gasoline. Nuclear power is not a major solution. The use of clean coal, gasification of coal and other long-term technological innovations are better.

The president is wrong is attempting to scrap Amtrak, our sole national passenger rail system, contending it has to pay for itself. No transportation system in the United States, or anywhere in the world, pays for itself. Air, bus and car travel are all significantly subsidized, although perhaps not so obviously as Amtrak. Rather than force Amtrak to diminish its services, the government should be encouraging it to modernize and improve. High-speed service should be greatly expanded. One important reform would be to have Amtrak own its own tracks wherever it goes.

Amtrak’s biggest problem has always been that it was forced to use track owned by the private freight industry.

This is only a partial list, but perhaps a good starting point. I am not sanguine, however, about elected officials doing anything about these issues. They are paralyzed in partisan and ideological inaction while the infrastructure of the nation declines. The price we will have to pay eventually only grows greater.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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