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Job gets tough in hour 101

A Times Editorial
Published January 23, 2007


Congratulations to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other House Democrats for keeping their promise to pass six issue-specific bills in the first 100 hours of the session. Some will say it was a gimmick, and maybe it was. But the fact that a politician makes a promise and then keeps it is reason enough for kudos. Now comes the hard part of leadership.

With a significant majority, Democrats easily passed bills boosting port security, the minimum wage, embryonic stem cell research funding, government involvement in Medicare drug pricing, cheaper student loans and tax revenues from oil drilling. True, some of those measures may not survive the Senate or a presidential veto, but that's still not the toughest challenge ahead.

Congressional Democrats will prove their mettle when they resolve some of the really intractable threats to the nation's future. One of those was spelled out the other day by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

An aging population and rapidly rising health care costs make the nation's two large entitlement programs - Social Security and Medicare - unsustainable, particularly while maintaining budget deficits. If Congress fails to curb entitlement spending and national debt, "a vicious cycle may develop in which large deficits lead to rapid growth in debt and interest payments, which in turn adds to subsequent deficits," Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee. "Addressing the country's fiscal problems will take persistence and a willingness to make difficult choices."

What are some of those choices? Tax increases, benefit cuts, more savings by individual Americans and their government. Republicans had 12 years of congressional dominance and failed to fix Social Security, Medicare or the national debt. It was easy for Democrats, in the minority, to potshot the Republicans' proposed solutions.

Now it's the Democrats' turn to lead the way. A fix will take more than 100 days and threaten to fracture the party's feel-good unanimity of purpose. It will give the Republicans political openings and force Americans to face an unflattering truth about their wasteful ways. Are you up to it, Democrats?