Alfonse D'Amato

Now that Mueller’s done, Congress should get to work

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Two years and $25 million later, the Mueller probe of Russian influence in the 2016 election concluded that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. In typical Washington fashion, Mueller’s report was met with partisan wrangling, with some Democrats clamoring for yet more investigations into whether President Trump somehow obstructed the Russia probe, even though it dragged on unimpeded for more than half of his term.

But some cooler heads in the Democratic Party seem to realize that harping on this fading issue isn’t a political winner, and they may even be willing to work with Republicans to get some work done on the challenges and opportunities America has. Recognizing that in the current environment of endless politicking and a 2020 presidential campaign that’s prematurely under way, and that the chance of getting anything done in Washington over the next two years is questionable, here’s a to-do list Congress should at least consider.

How about starting with something both parties claim to agree on, which is the need to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure? During the 2017 tax debate, much attention was focused on the idea of directing at least a portion of the revenue from repatriated overseas corporate accounts to help fund a major national infrastructure program. If the growing consensus of economists who predict the U.S. economy will slow down in the next two years is right, that’s another reason to revisit this idea.

The hang-up with moving ahead on infrastructure rebuilding naturally centers on how to fund it. Republicans have generally favored a public-private approach that would combine some federal funding with private investment. Democrats generally favor direct federal funding of these projects without private-sector financial involvement.

Meeting somewhere in the middle on this divide is possible. Some projects might better fit the public-private approach, and others might be better choices for direct federal funding. But every year Congress postpones decisions on how to start rebuilding only adds to the cost of these projects and impedes U.S. economic progress.

Take, for example, the proposal to build a rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey. It would be an enormously expensive project, but experts agree it’s badly needed, because the current 100-year-old tunnel system is beyond decrepit. The same goes for desperately needed improvements to New York’s subway system and the Long Island Rail Road. The economy of our entire region would benefit from these long-overdue transit system improvements.

Another area where the collision of partisan differences should be muted is in health care. Despite all the noise about this issue, the vast majority of working Americans have decent health coverage through their employers and the private health insurance system. Older Americans have Medicare, and the poor have Medicaid. Obamacare covered more of the previously uninsured, leaving about 10 percent of Americans without health insurance.

Upending the current system, as some Democrats want to do with a radical “Medicare for all” makeover, isn’t the answer. Likewise, the GOP endlessly relitigating Obamacare serves no useful purpose. Congress and the president should work to find a way to help this vulnerable group of uninsured Americans get basic health coverage. And taking some reasonable steps to restrain runaway health care costs and high drug prices should also be on the table. None of this is brain surgery, but it does require putting heads together to get it done.

A related issue that demands bipartisan attention is the opioid crisis, which now claims more lives each year than are lost in auto accidents or gun crimes. This is a national emergency that should be attacked at all levels, with both stepped-up enforcement against drug dealers and better treatment options for addicts. Every dollar spent on interdiction and prevention will save both lives and dollars. Trump should personally take the lead on this pressing issue, and Congress should work with him to address it.

And if Congress and the president want to help the next generation of Americans, they should focus on fixing the bloated, overpriced, underperforming U.S. higher education system. College costs today are absolutely obscene, and they are weighing down young graduates with crushing debt burdens that make it difficult to impossible for them to buy a home or even a new car. Maybe it’s time for a special counsel to look into how college got so ridiculously expensive.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.