Work to do: Congress must address vital issues before a break

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As Congress begins the few days it intends to work in Washington before the end of the year, it is important that it and the electorate keep a few matters in mind.

One of them is that all 535 members, including those who are retiring or who lost their seats and won't be returning for the next Congress in January, continue to be paid by taxpayers. Many of them are only in Washington from Tuesday morning to Thursday night anyway in what for them is a normal "working" week. They have also given themselves many holiday days between now and the end of the year, leaving only 14 days in session scheduled.

The elements that comprise the so-called "fiscal cliff" should be Congress' highest priority since it includes matters that touch directly on Americans' pocketbooks, not to mention the economic well-being and standing of the nation. Pieces in it include the expiry at the end of the year of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, the expiry of the employee payroll 2 percent tax cut and government spending reduction, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, to be shared by military and domestic recipients. No Social Security, federal pensions or veterans' benefits would be affected by these cuts.

Another debt ceiling drama also approaches before the end of the year. The limit is now set at $16.4 trillion. The national debt currently stands at above $16.2 trillion. Congress will be tempted to kick this can further down the road in yet another display of incompetence. What that means is continued growth in the national debt and more spending of money the federal government has to borrow and pay interest on to meet its $1 trillion-plus budget deficits.

Members of Congress must address other critical matters before gathering around their holiday trees. One is the farm bill. It seems unimaginable that in a year when America's farmers across much of the country have been tormented by relentless drought that their legislators did not manage to address their problems before the elections. But that was the case.

Another critical pending item is the cybersecurity bill, which seeks to remedy America's vulnerability to cyberattacks against its critical infrastructure.

The vision of members of Congress holding hearings and obsessing about why they were not informed earlier of alleged sexual adventures in the top ranks of the military does not fill Americans with optimism that work will be completed on the really important matters before wrapping up the session.

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