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1. Social Welfare Policy, Veterans medical benefits: Current and retired military people are covered by medical insurance programs much like those offered by private employers. Veterans are also covered by benefits for service-related conditions under Veterans Administration programs that are funded by taxes. Some members of Congress have questioned this expensive dual-track system and sought to eliminate duplication and reduce government spending. Is this a good idea? What are the costs and benefits of these proposals?

2. Economic Policy, Communications Deregulation and Competition: Local phone companies want to offer long distance and cable TV service. Cable TV companies want to offer local telephone and electronic networking services. Long distance and cellular phone companies want to offer cable TV, local phone service, and electronic networking. All of them are lobbying Congress to deregulate the communications industry and take measures to facilitate competition. Isn’t the industry already deregulated? Isn’t there already competition? Are deregulation and competition really good ideas? What are the costs and benefits? What should Congress do?

3. Social Welfare Policy, People without health insurance: Nearly everyone agrees that the US has a problem when over 42 million people don’t have health care insurance. The conservative Heritage Foundation asserts, “Although the United States continues to be a world leader in providing quality and innovation in medical products and services, the challenge of developing a more rational and equitable way to finance health care for America's working families persists. Despite more than a decade of intense effort by federal and state policy makers, the problems are getting worse, not better.” The big questions surround proposals for solutions.

What approaches seem most reasonable? What seems most likely to work? Which ideas are most politically palatable?

4. Civil Liberties Policy, Data Privacy: Congress enacted an overhaul of privacy within the financial services industry in November 1999. As part of this legislation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued final rules to heavily restrict the business of selling names, addresses and Social Security numbers by giving consumers the option to stop such transactions. Hitherto, credit bureaus consistently sold the personal details at the top of every credit report of approximately 200 million US citizens. Buyers use the information for marketing, fraud prevention, and people locator programs.

Data merchants are in opposition and argue that the FTC has overstepped its authority by changing the definition of financial information. They claim the rule will have a negative affect on the free flow of information. However, the House Banking Committee maintains that the FTC’s ruling holds to the intentions of the bill’s authors. The legislation also restricts financial firms from sharing customers’ financial information with unaffiliated companies but allowed them to share the data with subsidiary firms. In Minnesota, at least two large bank corporations have had conflicts with the Attorney General over their data sharing practices. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue are in regular contact with Banking Committee members.

Are there too many restrictions on personal data commerce? Or are there so many loopholes that privacy is really not protected?

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5. Social Welfare Policy, Ergonomics: In June, President Bush signed a bill to block a proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to set up repetitive-motion injury prevention programs. "There needs to be a balance between and an understanding of the costs and benefits associated with federal regulations," Mr. Bush said in a statement. "The ergonomics rule would have cost both large and small employers billions of dollars and presented employers with overwhelming compliance challenges."

Most of the companies that would have to comply with the rule also happen to oppose it. The proposed program compels companies to identify and correct problems and compensate workers for injuries related to the design of the workplace.

"We have a new rule that's been promulgated that would cause extreme damage to our workplace," Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., said during House debate. "We heard the same voices … when they opposed the OSHA program," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "Well, I'll tell you this: It's reduced the number of deaths in the workplace by half."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated the rules would cost businesses about $4.5 billion in compliance costs but would result in $9 billion in savings by reducing injuries. Business groups put the cost of compliance much higher, at more than $90 billion a year. OSHA officials say 1.8 million workers in the United States have injuries related to ergonomics, with 600,000 missing work each year as a result.

Can you determine indisputable facts? If the problem is as big as described, are there cost-effective solutions? This issue seems driven by partisan politics. Is there any likelihood of compromise? What would that look like?

6. Environmental Policy, hydropower/free rivers: Hundreds of dams on American rivers are up for relicensing. Most of these rivers are in the west and southeast of the USA, however some are in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Rivers Unplugged Campaign of American Rivers advocates removing dams from rivers to improve biodiversity, fisheries, recreation, and flood protection As an alternative to removing dams, the group advocates renovating necessary hydropower dams with new technology so they are less damaging to the environment. The National Hydropower Association urges Congress to ensure unrestricted relicensing of existing dams and building of new ones to help solve the country’s energy problems. Both sides argue about the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the process.

How should Congress get involved? Should the Corps of Engineers be reformed? Should hydropower production be encouraged and facilitated? Should more dams be removed to protect species and habitats?

7. Environmental Policy, Endangered and Threatened Species: The controversies over the preservation of species (wolves in Yellowstone, owls in Washington, or dwarf trout lilies in Minnesota) never seem to end. (The Wyoming Farm Bureau sued the federal government to force the removal of wolves from Yellowstone National Park in order to reduce predation on cattle grazing on National Forest land adjacent to the park.) Is present government policy too restrictive of private property and economic rights or not protective enough of endangered and threatened species? Does the law and policy hamstring our efforts to produce more energy? Or have the laws been successful and are no longer needed? How will the most recent Supreme Court ruling limit the ability of Congress to legislate in this area?

8. Military/Economic Policy, Facilitating the transition of the American aircraft industry from a primarily military industry to a civilian industry: The market has promoted consolidation of the industry as military spending has declined, but US government policies and unfair restrictions by other countries stand in the path of this transition. What can Congress do to ensure the survival and health of this vital industry in our manufacturing sector? What can Congress do to help the industry be more competitive on the world market? Or is this one of those cases where the government ought to simply get out of the way and allow the markets and the private sector operate?

9. Social Welfare Policy, Highway worker safety: We’ve all seen the signs. “Fines Double in Work Zones.” In spite of the laws and public awareness campaigns, the number of deaths and injuries annually in highway work zones are increasing. Workers’ unions, construction companies, and OSHA are all arguing for Congressional action to create safer highway construction work areas. With interest groups all lined up on the same side of an issue, action can be expected. What can Congress do? What will be effective? What will be acceptable?

10. Environmental/Economic Policy, Preserving commercial fisheries: Scientific findings reported in July indicate that many , fish species in U.S. waters are at risk of extinction. The Fisheries Recovery Act of 2001 aiming to conserve ocean resources has been introduced. Is this bill a good one? Should anyone but Representatives of coastal states be concerned? Or is this just another example of special interest legislation?

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11. Economic Policy, Taxes on Internet Commerce: Internet developers convinced Congress to exempt sales made over the Internet from state and local sales taxes in order to give the new industry a boost as it began. Now, traditional (“bricks and mortar” and mail order) merchants argue that the exemption provides an unfair advantage to Internet merchants. In addition, state and local governments complain that lost revenues have made the funding of local services more difficult. Is there good reason to remove the exemption? Is it unfair? Does it threaten business? Do consumers really benefit? Do states and local governments really suffer?

12. Economic/Environmental Policies, Repeal federal excise tax on gasoline?: The energy crisis, regardless of the causes, is expensive. There has been a Federal tax on gasoline since the 1930s. It is currently set at 18.4¢ a gallon. Many voices have quietly began urging Congress to repeal the tax and reduce the cost of driving. This would in theory offer some economic support to construction, automobile, and travel industries. Other voices have been heard arguing for increases in the excise tax to discourage use of gasoline. Would the repeal or reduction of this tax offer significant advantages to these industries? Would an increase have a salutary effect on the use of gasoline? Where could Congress come up with the funds to compensate for the loss of revenue? Would a repeal or reduction only lead to increases of state and local taxes? Would a reduction lead to an increase in demand for gasoline? What should Congress do?

13. Energy/Economic/Environmental Policy: What role should alternative energy sources or new technologies have in energy production? The Vice President said that conservation and non-traditional energy sources are such a small part of our energy potential that they’re nearly irrelevant. A month later, after large-scale negative reaction to his comments, he said (in Minnesota) that alternative energy sources must be developed. Which sources should be encouraged? How? At what cost? How does the cost of encouraging solar and wind power compare to the cost of developing new oil, gas, and coal sources? Is promoting conservation politically palatable and practically important?

14. Energy/Environmental Policy, Nuclear Power and Nuclear Wastes: The Bush Administration touts nuclear energy as a safe, clean solution to much of our energy shortage. The opposition to nuclear power production is fierce. Many people remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Has technology made nuclear power safer? Nuclear power plants may not pollute the air, but they produce wastes for which we have no safe, permanent disposal. In Goodhue County, Minnesota, nuclear wastes are temporarily stored on an island in the Mississippi River. Efforts to create a national, permanent waste disposal site have been thwarted by unhappy state governments (notably Nevada and New Mexico). And what about the huge amounts of water needed for nuclear power production? What should federal policy and actions be on the issues of nuclear power and nuclear waste? Should Congress act to change the regulations, speed up the establishment of a permanent waste disposal site, or create incentives for more production?

15. Military/Foreign Policy, Missile defense system: The Bush Administration is adamant and united that we need a missile defense system. They cite dangers from missiles launched by nations like North Korea and Iraq. Critics begin by saying the technology is unreliable, continue with arguments about international treaties and politics. Many analysts also suggest that nuclear terrorism with small weapons on boats or in cars is a more realistic threat. Is a missile defense system a good idea? Is it worth the diplomatic and economic costs? Will it work?

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16. Foreign Policy, Fast Track Authority: For most of the past 35 years, Presidents have received from Congress so called "fast track authority" to negotiate international trade agreements. This authority means that Congress, when presented with an agreement to consider, can only approve or disapprove the whole thing (no amendments allowed). The controversy over recent trade pacts (especially NAFTA and the proposed FTAA) has generated opposition in Congress to fast track authority from conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Congress did not renew its authorization for this authority to President Clifton. Now President Bush is asking for fast track authority to negotiate an expansion of NAFTA. Is fast track a good idea? If so, how do we convince its opponents? If not, what are the alternatives and how do we advance them?

17. Environmental Policy, Hazardous and Toxic Wastes and Brownfields: Businesses and individuals continue to produce dangerous wastes. How do we dispose of them? Old disposal sites need to be cleaned up. In addition, former industrial sites, often polluted simply by the industrial activity, need to be cleaned up before reuse. Critics have attacked the Superfund law as too expensive for businesses. Others have praised Superfund’s successes. Any truth to either set of comments? Who should pay for the clean up? Are our present policies adequate to deal with the problem in the future? Native Americans have asked that a former military facility in Arden Hills, Minnesota, be made into a reservation (so they can build a casino close to the metropolitan area), but there is so much pollution there that some people say it will take fifty years to clean it all up. Entrepreneurs have suggested giving the polluted land to anyone willing to clean it up (sort of a modern version of The Homestead Act). Should Congress continue to pursue the policies of the Superfund legislation? Are alternative funding mechanisms necessary?

18. Social Welfare Policy, Prescription Drug Costs: Proposals abound for extending Medicare to cover the costs of prescription drugs. Such an extension of benefits will be quite costly. What are the options for making drug costs universally covered (they are covered in some states)? It’s politically popular, but is it really such a good idea?What are the likely costs? What would be the most likely and acceptable source of the money to make this change?

19. Social Welfare Policy, Standardized Testing in Schools: There is a popular demand that schools be accountable for the tax money they receive. One argument suggests that schools must prove their students are progressing in terms of educational achievement and that standardized tests are the best way to prove that. How should standardized testing be implemented? Can national standards be mandated in the face of the tradition of local control of schools? Can states be allowed to decide when and whether their schools have met national standards? Are test the best way to demonstrate learning? Do the percentages of students with learning disabilities and from poor families have any place in the process of judging educational progress?

20. Agricultural Policy, the New England dairy compact: The 1996 farm bill passed by Congress allowed the formation of a compact among New England states to set the price of milk sold in those states. The stated purposes of the compact were to assure an adequate milk supply for consumers, preserve dairy farming’s cultural and economic benefits, and to recognizing that the ability of states to regulate milk prices collectively is in the public interest. The New England dairy industry has been stimulated. Milk production has increased. But milk from New England competes with milk from states like Minnesota and Wisconsin whose farmers do not benefit from the price guarantees in New England. Should Congress renew the legislation that allows the existence of the NEDC? Should dairy farmers in other parts of the country be granted the same benefits as New England farmers? Or should the federal and state governments just get out of the way and let the markets deal with milk production?

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21. Social Welfare Policy, Impediments to transitions from welfare to work: As the deadline for eligibility for welfare payments nears for some people, the difficulty of “getting off welfare” for some is greater than anyone expected. Things from child care to wardrobe to education to medical insurance to transportation stand in the way of the transition. Were things overlooked in the welfare reform of 1996? Are there things Congress needs to do to make these transitions more possible? Should the deadlines be relaxed for people?

22. Social Welfare/Economic Policy: Affordable Housing: The boom in the real estate markets has been wonderful for people who own property. The rising prices of housing has been less wonderful for people trying to find housing, especially those average and low income people who have benefited least from the economic boom of the past decade. Markets seem unable to deal with the problem since the biggest profits (i.e. incentives) are in high end housing. Should Congress act to encourage more affordable housing? Are subsidies to developers more efficient that support for individual consumers? Or should incentives be aimed at local governments? Should these incentives be offered through the existing FHA structure or are more innovative programs needed?

23. Civil Rights Policy, Voting Standards: Last November’s election demonstrated flaws in the electoral system that threaten the legitimacy of government. States jealously guard their prerogatives when it comes to running elections. A recent Presidential Commission made several recommendations, including scheduling elections on a national holiday. Can Congress take steps to ensure that elections will attract more voters and reflect public sentiment less questionably without infringing on state’s rights? Which of the Commission’s recommendations are most feasible?

24. Foreign/Drug Policy: Colombia: The problems associated with illegal drugs continue to plague the US. One of the fronts for dealing with these problems is to disrupt the source of drugs. Colombia has become a literal battleground in this aspect of the war on drugs. Critics argue that attacking the demand for drugs is a more effective strategy, that the military ought not be involved, and that the environmental costs of present actions are unacceptable. Some military critics argue that without an “exit strategy” the war on drugs in Colombia could become another Vietnam. When it comes before Congress, decisions will have to be made about what to do and where. What should Congress do?

25. Civil Rights Policy, Comparable Worth: Some jobs, like those of secretaries, are dominated by women; other jobs, those of truck drivers for example, are dominated by men. Overall, jobs dominated by men pay much better than jobs dominated by women. Advocates of comparable worth argue that male dominated jobs do not require greater skills or education than jobs dominated by women. They say that the earnings’ differentials are caused by sexist assumptions about the need for men to earn more. These advocates say that jobs like truck driver and secretary are comparable and that people doing them should earn about the same amounts. State and local governments (e.g., in Minnesota) are making efforts to determine the comparability of jobs and equalize wages. In spite of those efforts, a report last January found that The gender gap -- the difference between male and female wages -- actually increased slightly over the course of this economic boom between 1993 and 1999. Should Congress take any action on this issue? What action is feasible and workable? Can Congress require private businesses as well as government employers to follow comparable worth guidelines? Who should write the guidelines?

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26. Social Welfare Policy, “America’s Cultural Capital”: In the past decade there have been loud battles over the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts. Now, recommendations are being made which call upon the President and the Congress to create new focal points for cultural policies within the Federal Government. The recommendations are geared toward bringing together the fragmented approach to cultural policies at the federal level. "America's Cultural Capital" is part of the Center for Arts and Culture's project called "Art, Culture and the National Agenda" (ACNA), which seeks to broaden and deepen the national conversation on culture.People new to the argot of bureaucracy and legislation might not understand what all this means. So, what does it mean? Is this just another attempt to push a liberal agenda? Or is another battle in the right’s attempts to use government to enforce its preferences in art and culture? Does the Federal Government have a role in funding arts and culture? How about in preserving art and culture? Should the National Endowment for the Arts be replaced or reoriented? And the National Endowment for the Humanities?

27. Economic/Foreign/Trade Policy, Antidumping Laws: The U.S. and many other countries have antidumping laws which prohibit the importation of goods produced with government subsidies that keep prices below actual costs of production. A new Trade Policy Analysis, by the Cato Institute’s Daniel Ikenson and Brink Lindsey asserts that U.S. antidumping policies and their duplicates in other countries are now starting to hurt U.S. business.Is it time to stop trying to protect U.S. businesses from subsidized competition? How? Or should the Federal Government do more to promote U.S. businesses’ ability to compete?

28. Civil Liberties Policy, Regulating the Internet: Pornography available on the Internet? Subversive political ideas and conspiracies thriving in cyberspace? Critics claim the Internet is full of sex aimed at children. They demand that, at the very least, school and library computers should be insulated from obscenities. Others worry about the ease of spreading subversive ideas and plans (bomb making, for example). Arguments over how to and whether filtering Internet content is possible proliferate. Congress tried regulation once and found its law declared unconstitutional. Congress is considering regulation once again. Should Congress act? How?

29. Civil Liberties Policy, Exclusionary Rule: Illegally discovered evidence cannot be used in prosecuting suspected criminals. This rule is designed to prevent police and prosecutors from going on "fishing expeditions" for evidence, planting evidence, or harassing people. Some people have argued that the rules and court decisions regarding exclusion of evidence are too strict and that rather than protecting innocent people’s rights they only help prevent conviction of criminals. Should laws be changed? How?

30. Civil Rights Policy, Americans with Disabilities Act: This landmark legislation is considered by many people to be just a first step. Others view it as an unnecessary intrusion by the government into private enterprise and individual freedom. Others worry about privacy issues and genetic testing. This issue is becoming more controversial than ever. What amendments are worthy of support? Are there actions that should be taken to ensure compliance? Are there things that should be done to protect businesses from exorbitant expenses or frivolous law suits? Have the recent Supreme Court decisions solved the biggest problems (so Congress can turn to other issues), or do those decisions require that Congress act to fix things?

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31. Environmental Policy, Water Quality: Federal programs to help local governments build water and sewerage treatment facilities have been very successful. Today the greatest threats to water quality in the USA no longer come from identifiable factories and cities, but they come from "non-point" pollution sources (sources like agricultural, residential, and parking lot run-off). At the same time, several million people in the USA still do not have ready access to safe drinking water. Can we reduce funding for water quality programs or must we shift spending to other types of programs? Or is this a local problem, that the federal government should leave to states?

32. Civil Liberties Policy, Illegal Immigration: The number of illegal immigrants seems to be increasing every year. Arrests at the Mall of America and rural Minnesota meat processing plants demonstrate that the problem exists far from the US border with Mexico. President Bush has called for a revision of U.S. policy toward illegal immigrants. Is there some way to better prevent people from illegally entering the US? Or are our immigration laws just too strict? In the present tight labor market, the more workers, it seems, the better, and nearly all illegal immigrants are productive workers. What can and should Congress do about immigration and residency policies?

33. Social Welfare Policy, National Parks: Visits to national parks have reached record levels. Tight budgets and overuse have delayed needed maintenance and degraded environments. Some of the least visited areas have become sites of criminal activity because so few rangers are on duty. Controversial proposals have been made to ban private vehicles from Yosemite, Glacier, and Grand Canyon parks and limit the number of visitors to Yellowstone and the Great Smokeys.

How should we deal with these dilemmas? Should there be greater restrictions on the use of parks? If so, is the government responsible for the affects of those restrictions on businesses in and around the parks? Should visitor fees be raised? Should taxes pay more of the bills for the parks? What should the balance be between user fees and public support? Should we create more parks? How would we finance them? Or should we, as some have suggested, sell the parks to private businesses subject to some restrictions on land use to protect the environment?

34. Social Welfare Policy, Agriculture: The number of farmers is decreasing, efficiency is increasing, and the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands has changed agricultural economics whether we like it or not. (Population losses in rural areas of the Great Plains are the greatest in the country.) Congress passed the "Freedom to Farm" act with the goal of removing the government from the agricultural marketplace. Nevertheless, the role of the federal government in agriculture—from milk marketing orders to "set asides" grows. Nearly everyone agrees that the law was a failure.

In the midst of nearly a decade of prosperity and record low unemployment, farmers and agricultural areas are in economic crisis (Does this sound like the 1920s?). Republicans and Democrats in Congress compete with one another to approve spending for "emergency" aid for farmers. Is the "family farm" an economic dinosaur or a valuable social asset. Should Congress do more to adjust basic farm policies in the next 20 years? Is there a way to get the federal government out of the business of subsidizing agriculture? Or is there a role for the government in the agricultural market?

35. Economic Policy, Preserving Property Values: When the government make laws and policies they often affect the value of private property. Everything from zoning laws to anti-pollution regulations to the building of roads has an impact on property values. Should the government (at all levels) have to compensate property owners when government action reduces the value of property? (In other words, should such actions be regarded as legally "taking" part of the property and subject to the rules of eminent domain?) Should property owners have to share with the government increases in property values caused by government action and regulation? How should changes in property values be determined? Should Congress take action on this issue? If so, what action?

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36. Civil Liberties Policy, Hate Speech: Are some things so awful to say that they should be restricted? Is it a legitimate limitation on free speech to prohibit threats based on a "victim’s" religion, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation? Is such speech protected by the First Amendment, and are "victims" offered adequate redress under other laws? Or is this a phony issue (only another attempt to legislate courtesy)? Can Congress construct laws that won’t violate the Constitution? How?

37. Civil Rights Policy, Minority Representation in Government: Courts in some places have approved and, in other places, struck down the designing of legislative districts to encourage the election of minority representatives to Congress. Is this a good idea or just another way of "Balkanizing" the USA? Will it promote the integration of minority groups into the mainstream of US politics or will it cause a hardening of the divisions that separate groups in our society? What should Congress do about the issue? Or has the most recent Supreme Court decision (fall, 1997) settled this issue?

38. Social Welfare Policy, Managed Health Care and Patients’ Rights: About 60% of Americans are covered by managed health care plans. These organizations promised to limit costs and make health insurance more accessible. However, the expected savings have not always been delivered. And the satisfaction with the quality of care varies widely from one plan to another. The problem is perhaps less noticeable in Minnesota because state law prohibits "for profit" managed care systems, but in other parts of the country, problems are severe.

Does managed care mean lower quality service? Do managed care companies need more government regulation? Do patients need a "bill of rights?" Should patients have the right to sue managed care organizations for malpractice? Some Minnesota’s legislators hold up the non-profit system as a solution. Is competition for the non-profits a good idea? What should be done? How?

39. Social Welfare Policy, Animal Feedlots: Drive across southern Kansas if you want to find out why some people are anxious about the production of meat in the US. Huge feedlots not only produce animals for meat, but more organic waste than small cities. The smell will tell part of the problem. Polluted wells and neighbors’ illnesses tell more. Cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys are produced in large scale factory farms. All over the US the problems of air and water pollution are growing.

Is the pollution dangerous as well as smelly? Should Congress set standards for pollution control? Should sewerage treatment be required for animal waste as well as human waste? Should the problem or parts of it be left to the states?

40. Civil Liberties Policy, "Miranda rights": In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested and questioned by police. He was convicted on the evidence of his statements to police. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that because Miranda had not been told by police that he could remain silent and be represented by a lawyer, the conviction was unconstitutional. Today, some politicians and police representatives are arguing that the Miranda-izing process is hampering law enforcement and making bookkeepers out of police officers. Is it time to reconsider the strict application of Miranda rules? What revisions are not only good policy but also Constitutional?

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Created by Ken Wedding 08.07.01. Updated 08.27.01.