New Year's Resolutions for Congress
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As the new millennium opens for real this time, here are some New Year's resolutions for Congress that would actually help the people of the United States and the world:
1. Pressure the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates immediately, before it's too late, to prevent a recession. The effect of the Fed's last six unnecessary interest rate hikes seems to have slowed the economy at a bad time, with the bubble in tech stocks bursting. Congress should lean on the Fed to undo its damage before the economy really tanks and millions of people are thrown out of work.
2. Leave Social Security alone. Social Security can pay all promised benefits for 37 years if left on automatic pilot. It will be fine indefinitely beyond that, with only minor additional revenues -- if any. The so-called crisis of Social Security is a false alarm, like the Y2K computer meltdown that never happened. Time to bury this urban legend and move on.
3. Provide universal national health insurance. With 42 million Americans uninsured, it's time we caught up with the rest of the developed world and treated our citizens as though their health mattered. Private health insurance premiums are now rising at three times the rate of inflation, and health care reform is going to make an urgent comeback soon. Democrats could carry this issue to victory in 2002 if the Republicans won't co-operate.
4. End the drug war and the incarceration explosion: It's a national disgrace -- two million people behind bars, the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, hundreds of thousands in jail for non-violent drug offenses. African Americans somehow end up with the majority of all drug convictions, despite being only about 15 percent of drug users nationally. First step: provide drug treatment instead of prison for all first-time non-violent drug offenders, and repeal of federal mandatory sentencing laws. Put an end to racial profiling in drug arrests.
5. Equal protection in the ballot booth: State-of-the-art voting machinery in every polling place, regardless of voters' income. Enough said.
6. Real campaign finance reform: A record three billion dollars in 2000 got us the best elections that money could buy. We could get much closer to real democracy with full public funding.
7. A tax cut for the people: Instead of yet another windfall for the rich, how about some relief for those who gained little during the economic boom but will certainly suffer the brunt of the bust? Cut federal income taxes for everyone below the median income, increase the earned income tax credit for low-wage workers, and raise the standard deduction.
8. Cancel the debt of the world's poorest countries: Congress should demand that the IMF and the World Bank cancel 100 percent of the poor countries' debts, from these institutions' own resources. There is no excuse for forcing the poorest countries in Africa to spend more on debt service than on health care.
9. Leave Colombia to the Colombians: Our tax dollars help finance the murder of thousands of civilians in Colombia each year and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The blank check from Uncle Sam for the Colombian government's military escalation is prolonging the civil war there. It's time to pull the plug.
10. New trade policy: Our old one hasn't worked -- it's given us a record trade deficit and stagnant real wages for the majority of employees over the last 27 years. First steps: scrap the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a bigger NAFTA in the making. And ban imports from Burma, which employs forced labor under a brutal dictatorship.
Mark Weisbrot ( email@example.com) is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis (2000, University of Chicago Press).