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Congressional priorities

No matter what your position, and we all must have one by now, everyone can agree the coverage of the Terri Schiavo case has continued ad nauseum. This intensely ideological debate recently saw Congress moving quickly from the time her feeding tube was removed on Friday until President Bush signed the legislation giving Terri’s case a look in federal court in the wee hours of Monday morning. If Congress acts on an issue affecting one family, a debatable proposition itself, it should find greater resolve to address domestic issues affecting millions.

In that vein, I didn’t have to think very hard to come up with a few issues that we can only hope would receive the same attention and action.

Immigration: According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center (PHC) study, there are upwards of 10.3 million illegal immigrants in this country, of which an estimated 850,000 live in Florida. With this study comes the alarming figure that the flow of illegal immigrants is increasing at a rate of about 485,000 a year since 2000, despite concerns of potential terrorists entering this country’s porous borders. President Bush’s Guest-Worker Program could further exacerbate the problem as illegal immigrants see vindication of illegal activity and others soon follow.

U.S. employers must also be held more accountable for this problem. Wal-Mart recently agreed to pay $11 million to the government to stem allegations that it knowingly utilized contract cleaning services that employed illegal immigrants. While this may seem like a stiff penalty, Wal-Mart reported a fourth-quarter profit of $3.16 billion, indicating the settlement was merely a slap on the wrist. The truth about illegal immigration is that it is not politically desirable in this country to address the issue because, for both parties, alienation of potential voting bases takes priority.

Healthcare: After completion of our education goals, we will enter a workforce where the American worker increasingly shoulders the burden of rising healthcare premiums. Coupled with skyrocketing prescription drug prices, it is easy to see why in August 2004 the Census Bureau reported that 45 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2003. For those on fixed incomes (and yes we will get there sooner than you think), difficult choices arise such as the rationing of medication and trips to other countries to get cheaper drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also needs to be restructured. While admittedly charged with a daunting mission, the FDA has failed to ensure transparency and instill confidence in the public of its independent oversight. It is true that phased drug studies cannot possibly detect all potential harmful side effects of medications, but the erosion in public confidence due to the perceived union between some drug company representatives and some FDA personnel is particularly disturbing.

Education: Despite evidence to the contrary, the problem of educating children to become productive members of society continues to be addressed through increased funding. Kirk A. Johnson, formerly of The Heritage Foundation, has done a great deal of research on academic success and, in 2001 reported that, inflation-adjusted, America is paying over 72 percent more on education than it did in 1980 but that “(achievement) scores have remained flat.”

Okay, so now that the education achievement in this country is not proportional to budget appropriations, what can Congress do? Certainly education really begins at home and continues during formal schooling. While it is unlikely Congress can do much in this arena, problems exist in the No Child Left Behind education reform. States need the flexibility to create programs uniquely effective for their particular socioeconomics. Finally, incessant standardized tests create a vacuum where eventually little else can be taught but the test.

The list of critical issues facing Americans is certainly larger than the three I have included but Congress is not as poised to act due to the tough choices, lobbyist’s pressure and politics. Realistically, I don’t expect any of these hot button issues to be solved during a Congressional recess or during the Sunday talk show circuit, but substantive efforts to address them would go far to placate an apathetic electorate.

Aaron Hill is a junior majoring in chemistry.