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Badly needed repairs 

A new to-do list for House Democrats

So far so good. House Democrats made good on their promises for their first 100 hours in power. Give them credit for passing bills to raise minimum wage and slow the pace of congressional pork barrel projects. Average Americans would benefit from the Dems to lower drug prices for Medicare patients, boost security at the nation's ports, increase federally funded stem cell research, and lower interest rates on student loans. So, congrats on a good start. But the problem Congress and all of us face is that even if those bills sailed through the Senate and Bush was politically pressured into signing them, the new laws would only be a drop in the bucket, as it will take years to repair the damage done by the disastrous Bush administration. Still, there are actions Congress can take in the next two years that would help ease the precarious position we've been placed in by BushCo.

Here are a half-dozen things Congressional Democrats could do between now and the next election. If Dubya vetoed any of them, it would merely give the Dems more fodder for the 2008 campaign. And in any case, passing these proposals would show a commitment to addressing the deep frustrations American voters expressed in the midterm elections.

1. Really Clean Up Congress

Don't just "tighten restrictions" on gifts from lobbyists -- do away with them, even if it means putting most Washington lobbyists out of business. Mandate that any member of Congress caught taking as much as a nickel from a lobbyist will be stripped of all committee assignments, effectively rendering him/her politically null and void. Forbid lawmakers from working as lobbyists after leaving Congress. Ever.

2. Bring 'Em Home

In Iraq, make it clear to Bush that he needs to call together leaders of all Middle Eastern nations, Europe and the United Nations to an international conference and negotiate a political settlement of the mess he created. If he doesn't convene a meeting within 30 days, gradually begin cutting off war funding, except for what's needed to get our troops home safely, until Bush gets the picture.

3. Department of Defense Housecleaning

The United States spends more on the military than all other countries combined, yet we can't scrounge up enough soldiers to fight in Iraq. Why? Because the DOD has become the largest pork barrel spending project in history, buying obscenely expensive weapons that are more suited for fighting a big war against the former Soviet Union than any current real-world enemies. Reputable studies show the United States could cut military-spending by half, still have more than we'll ever need to defend the country and double our troop strength to boot. Congress needs to read those studies and start cutting. Here's what we should spend the savings on:

4. Universal Health Care

It's been said before, but it bears repeating until it sinks in: We are the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't treat health care as a basic right rather than a privilege-for-sale. Health care finances in the United States are a very bad joke and will never change until insurance companies are taken out of the equation. Congress should adopt a single-payer health care system similar to those enjoyed by the Canadians or French which, conservative myths to the contrary, work wonderfully.

5. Kyoto Revisted/Alternative Energy

Global warming must be addressed immediately, and we have to wean ourselves from the oil teat. Congress should direct the executive branch to enforce the Kyoto Treaty, and begin offering generous tax breaks both to entrepreneurs who create viable, efficient systems for using alternative forms of energy, and to consumers who use them in their homes or automobiles. Public transportation vouchers should be studied as a way to cut down on auto traffic. Alt-energy could create a whole new generation of business opportunities that could solve our energy crunch and help clean the atmosphere, while pumping money into a revived, non-oil-based economy. Before that can happen, Congress must first break up oil monopolies like ExxonMobil.

6. Haves and Have-nots

The current rate of poverty in America, the richest society on earth, is unconscionable and a national shame. So far, the only national politician who is proposing any concrete steps to alleviate it is former N.C. senator, and presidential candidate, John Edwards. Among other ideas, Edwards wants to create a million temporary government-subsidized jobs over five years, overhaul the Department of Housing and Urban Development, give more kids a chance to attend college and offer tax credits for first-time home buyers.

Other issues await progressive Congressional action, too: ensuring that New Orleans' levees are rebuilt properly, a roll-back of Bush's tax cuts, national legislation setting up civil unions for gay/lesbian couples, and others. For now, though, any progressive should be happy if even half of the proposals listed above are passed. I'm not betting on it, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Please e-mail me with your own ideas.

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