A Good Report Card for Congress

The 107th Congress, split between a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, has left Washington on summer vacation, leaving behind a surprising legacy of good legislative work. Despite bipartisan bickering and an approaching November election, members of Congress by and large worked together. There is just one grade where Congress deserves an "F" and that is on the failure to pass a Homeland Security bill before its recess. The rest of the report card shows "A's" and "B's."

Congress, of course, gets an obvious "A" for its swift passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability law approved in late July. But it also deserves a high grade for the Trade Promotion Authority legislation signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 6. Fast track, as it is known, will make it easier for the U.S. to reach agreements that break down trade barriers around the world. It is now up to the President and his Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, to conclude long-planned deals with Chile, Singapore, Morocco, Australia, Central America, and Southern Africa.

Congress also merits an "A" for finally passing the McCain-Feingold campaign-reform bill, designed to reduce the role of special interest groups in elections. But the grade gets lowered to a "B" because both parties are trying to water the provisions down via the hapless Federal Election Commission.

Lastly, lawmakers deserve high marks for what they did not do. They didn't pass energy legislation proposed by Bush that was long on drilling and short on conserving. And they didn't make permanent long-term tax cuts that might better be reconfigured to boost growth sooner than later.

When Congress comes back in the fall, it has more work to do. Budget discipline is gone, and while fiscal stimulus is good for the economy in the short run, it could prove disastrous long-term. A reasonable compromise on prescription drugs is needed that doesn't bankrupt Medicare. A balanced energy bill is needed, especially as the Mideast seethes. And ideological disagreements over civil-service protection for employees of the new Homeland Security Dept. have to be resolved. Congress had a good year. It needs another.

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