Congress in Its Own Crosswinds

The 108th Congress returned to work Tuesday after the longest recess for US lawmakers in more than 50 years, and with not much of a record to show after nearly two years of putting "gotcha" politics ahead of bipartisan legislating.

No wonder then that public disapproval of Congress has risen to 52 percent from 42 percent since the 2002 election. And with plans to adjourn again within a month, Congress is in a pell-mell mood to pass only those measures that could bring victory to incumbents or swing the power balance in the House and Senate.

Of 13 pending budget bills, only one (the Pentagon's) has passed. Only one other security measure - an increase in homeland security spending - is likely to be approved before the election. Incumbent candidates do not want to appear weak on 9/11 measures, or they want to make opponents look weak.

The most energetic political jockeying on security issues, however, will be the legislative recommendations made by the 9/11 commission in late July. The prime focus will be on reorganizing the intelligence agencies under one chief. But Congress's first task should be to streamline its own committees overseeing intelligence.

With politics hanging as thick over Capitol Hill as hurricane rain, Congress should make sure it passes wise, long-term solutions to the pre-9/11 mistakes, and not half-baked measures designed only to avoid finger-pointing. Let's hope cooler heads prevent ramming through these bills.

And as long as Congress is in a mood to safeguard Americans from harm, it should also extend the federal ban on assault rifles before the ban runs out this month.

Another needed step is to end a trade subsidy for US firms, which the World Trade Organization has ruled illegal. Without its repeal, the European Union will probably escalate WTO-approved duties on many American imports.

Not all of the deadlock in Congress is due to partisanship. Republicans, with majorities in both chambers, are divided on energy policies and highway spending, among other things.

Lawmakers can't fool many voters by merely trying to score political points against opponents while failing to pass substantial laws.

It's always better to actually get something done than merely try to get credit for getting something done.

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