Imagine what could be accomplished if voters stay awake and in touch with Congress

Despite this column's dire predictions several weeks ago, the election earlier this month witnessed the Democrats win not only the House, but in a stunning victory, the Senate as well. It's as if the electorate, soporific from the administration's "lie-llabies," woke from its stupor and, in a long-overdue move, reclaimed the country from the rubber-stamp, Republican Congress. Now it's time to get to work.

Unlike our favorite fast-food restaurant, Congress does not come equipped with a suggestion box. But if it did, we have a few items we'd like to see the newly elected representatives make their top priorities. Call it our wish list.

The war in Iraq, with its endless bloodshed and escalating sectarian violence, tops the list. Among the many missteps made by the administration after claiming a premature victory in Iraq was dismantling the Iraqi army.

These seasoned troops were a disciplined and effective force that could now be put to good use quelling disturbances and helping the country get a more secure foothold on the road to some semblance of peace.

Reinstating the army and placing it in the hands of Iraqi commanders would be a good first step in disentangling us from a no-win situation and placing the fate of Iraq in the hands of Iraqis. This measure would help get our own troops out of harm's way and home sooner.

Another area needing attention is the Medicare prescription-drug plan. Some senior citizens are paying more for their medications than they did before the plan was instituted. This is not only unfair but especially burdensome for those elders getting by on a limited income. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are reaping the profits from an ill-thought-out, bureaucratic nightmare. It's time the system was streamlined and revised so that no senior is forced to choose between food and medicine.

It's also time--past time--that universal health care, including dental and vision, is made available to every American family. It is inexcusable that the largest industrialized nation in the world has millions of men and women, not to mention children, with limited recourse in the case of illness. Hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed, because too may people have no other option.

A vital part of any health care system should be an emphasis on preventive medicine. Not only would this result in a more health-conscious population, but by encouraging sound eating habits, exercise and regular checkups, costs could be contained.

There is little point in promoting healthy lifestyles if the environment continues to deteriorate. Stricter emission standards; increased taxes on gasoline and better fuel efficiency for automobiles; more stringent anti-pollution requirements for manufacturers and coal-fired plants; and increased development of alternative fuel sources are among the measures that would help our beleaguered Earth.

Large swaths of green zones serving to curb air pollution could be established in all metropolitan areas. Rainwater-collection systems, especially in arid climates such as ours, might be required in all new housing. Innovative building materials that make use of recyclables could be expanded and their use required in government buildings.

The nation's education system needs reform if the Bush administration and Congress are genuinely concerned about leaving no child behind. Limiting class size to 25 students; ensuring that each classroom is provided with materials and textbooks needed for each student; giving teachers more latitude in what they teach so that instruction is geared to the children rather than to a test; and making free, quality after-school programs available to all should be minimum requirements. In addition, art, music and physical education programs should be made a part of the curriculum.

Preschool programs such as Head Start are an important first step in socialization and provide the learning process with an early boost. No parent should be required to place their child on a waiting list for these programs; they should be expanded and made available to those who need them.

This list is far from comprehensive. There are many more issues that need the attention of Congress, among them nuclear proliferation, Katrina reconstruction, low-cost housing, tax reform, border security and immigration, repeal of the Patriot Act, the treatment of enemy combatants, foreign policy--including the Middle East--and, perhaps the most challenging domestic problem, Social Security reform.

Make up your own list. Send it to your representative. There is no limit to what an awakened electorate can accomplish.

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