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Can Congress, Legislature rise to challenge?

Voters are not likely to be disappointed by the recently seated Illinois Legislature and U.S. Congress.

If only because so little is expected.

Previous sessions in Springfield and Washington have set the bar pretty low.

So it will be difficult for lawmakers to be less effective in 2013.

But never say never.

PESSIMISM IS UGLY, and the editor takes no pleasure in its expression.

He deplores the populist demagoguery he sees and hears among political pundits and newspaper columnists.

But its easy to understand why the approval rate for Congress was reported this week to be at 9 percent.

We cannot imagine the Illinois Legislature would score any higher.

In the wake of the “fiscal cliff” drama, Americans have little confidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress can put together a sensible plan to deal with the federal government’s revenue and spending problems. (Yes, it has both.)

And if you think that looks bad, just look at the Illinois General Assembly’s inability to put the state on a reasonable path toward fiscal sanity – and the Democrats don’t even need Republican cooperation.

The solutions, frankly, would not be that difficult to achieve if no one was worried about who wins the next election.

But that’s not how our two-party system works.

WIDE-EYED CHERI Bustos is approaching her new job as 17th District congresswoman from Illinois with great enthusiasm.

The freshman Democrat has even promised to “work day in and day out with a spirit of bipartisanship and Midwestern common sense. ...”

Well, that sounds good. We’ll see how it jibes with the needs of her Democratic bosses in the House.

In fact, she sounds a lot like one-term Republican Bobby Schilling did when he took office 2 years ago – before he pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist. How did that work out for him?

In the meantime, the National Republican Congressional Committee last week began its campaign to unseat Bustos on the day she was sworn in. The NRCC sent out a news release to award Bustos a “Nancy Pelosi Obedience School Official Lap Dog Kit.”

The NRCC sent a similar news release to news outlets in three other congressional districts in Illinois – the 10th, 11th and 12th – where Republicans expect newly elected Democrats (like Bustos) to be vulnerable during the 2014 campaign in the middle of President Obama’s second term.

Who said there was no optimism in politics?

WE MUST ASSUME that Schilling has no interest in trying to win back the 17th District seat.

Immediately after the election in November, he punished the press by cutting off the flow of news releases from his office.

That was a big deal. Because in his four decades of newspaper work, this editor has never seen more correspondence from a congressman than what Schilling and his party produced in the past year.

Then he punished his constituents by closing his congressional offices without notice sometime before his term expired.

And as a goodbye kiss, he voted against the bill that stopped a federal tax increase for 98 percent of Americans.

That’s a lot of bridge burning during a hasty retreat.

At least he made Grover Norquist happy.

“DYSFUNCTION” MIGHT be redefined during the current session of the Illinois Legislature.

With Democrats holding super majorities in the House and Senate, they can pass legislation without Republican input.

And with a Democratic governor, state government has no excuse for not being efficient in tackling the fiscal mess that Illinois has made for itself.

Problem is, the problems are tough, and the solutions even tougher.

Spending must be cut, but that will be painful for people (voters) throughout the state.

And spending cannot be cut enough in the short term to achieve a semblance of budgetary balance without unreasonably crippling many essential state programs and services.

So, some “revenue enhancement” will be needed through taxes and fees.

Major reform of the public pension system is necessary – not to solve the problem, but to keep it from getting worse.

The multi-faceted solution must have plenty for everybody to hate. There simply is no other way.

Everyone in Springfield knows what needs to be done. But it will require politicians on both sides to have a priority higher than mitigating their own political liability.

There’s an election next year, you know.

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