New Year's resolutions for Congress

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

For us average Joes, it's the perfect time to kick bad habits, do a few push-ups and shoot for the stars. For elected officials, there is a much greater opportunity.

The 110th Congress, which convenes Thursday, was elected to bring change. During the November election there was a powerful national sentiment that the 109th batch was a rival for ineptitude with Harry Truman's famous "do-nothing Congress" of 1948.

The country's message to its elected officials seemed to be "swallow your pride, work together and get it done."

So in my own humble way, I'd like to help guide the sure-to-be-wayward attention of this next Congress. The 110th, I contend, can be a resounding success by ignoring everything other than two major issues. Solve these problems, boys and girls, and you'll go down in history.

1. Health care

Let's face it. The employer-provided model failed. There are 46 million Americans and growing without health care.

The nation's largest employer, Wal-Mart, widely criticized for its bare-bones coverage, is privately saying it's become too expensive. Other historic giants like Ford and GM have been felled in part due to health-care costs of pensioners.

And if the big dogs are hurting, the little guys are gasping for air. In 2006, health-care claims for employees of the city of Cape Girardeau rose 23 percent to more than $2.3 million.

Nationwide, the United States is spending 16 percent of its GDP on health care because the current model that divides us into tiny purchasing groups is so darned inefficient. This can't go on.

Some kind of universal, nationalized health care is a must in the next two years. The only way to slow down the runaway train of hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies is to get the biggest dog out there into the fight. And for too long, that dog--the federal government--has been chained down.

2. The war in Iraq

This is a tough one because it will demand a lot of powerful people wiping egg off their faces.

First, those crying that the media "does not report the good things going on in Iraq," need to wake up. Perception is reality. Three thousand Iraqis are fleeing their country's borders each day. That doesn't sound like a place where a lot of good things are happening. Likewise, world opinion is that America has bungled the reconstruction. The world will demand ample proof to change this perception.

Second, for those in Congress advocating some version of "cut-and-run," it's time to forget that, too. Rightly or wrongly, this conflict will define a generation. If the United States leaves now, we will leave a blueprint for our defeat at the hands of future insurgent groups. We will also be sacrificing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children to be killed in the ensuing anarchy.

The United States morally cannot withdraw.

So what to do? This Congress and this president need to do something nobody in Washington has done in a while: ask the American people to make a sacrifice. It could mean a troop surge or instituting a draft or enlisting the help of other nations, but it must be done. America has an obligation to leave Iraq stable and doing so will likely mean a prolonged and difficult training and peacekeeping mission.

You can justify it as salvaging our standing around the world or as honoring the sacrifice already made by 3,000 soldiers, just do it and do it soon.

So there you have it. Two sizeable resolutions for the 110th Congress. My advice is forget everything else and keep your eyes on the prize.

TJ Greaney is a staff reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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