Summer has begun and school is out. It’s a time when we should be able to slow down, relax, watch baseball, play golf, take the family to the beach or the mountains. Regardless of what we do, things still are happening in politics and economics, even though we may not want to think about them. Here are a few of these issues.


• Sequestration, or mandatory, across-the-board federal budget cuts, is still in effect. Some prominent conservative and liberal leaders think that this is eliminating jobs and hurting small businesses in a weak economy. It should be repealed. 


• According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Immigration Reform Plan would reduce the federal budget deficit by $197 billion from 2014-2023, and an estimated $700 billion over the 2024-2033 period, while spending about $7.5 billion for enhanced border security. The savings would come mostly from increased income, Social Security and Medicare taxes paid by immigrants who gain temporary or permanent legal status. Sounds like a good deal. 


• Because of the actions of a NSA contract employee, we now know more about the government’s telephone and Internet surveillance programs. Before we blame President Obama for alleged abuses of these programs, we should note that Members of Congress have both hands in the cookie jar by passing and renewing the Patriot Act, and by passing and expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gave the president broad authority in these areas. 


The government’s responsibility to protect us from terrorist attacks must be balanced by its duty to safeguard our constitutional rights. Polls show most Americans support such surveillance programs. Clearly, these programs need more transparency, as well as tighter Congressional and judicial oversight. 


• The Internal Revenue Service’s investigation of the Tea Party is smelly, but it happened because Tea Party groups were requesting tax advantages similar to those enjoyed by charitable organizations.


It would seem that the IRS has some obligation to examine how the Tea Parties spend their contributions. This issue and the fact that big corporations and very wealthy individuals use loopholes in the laws to avoid paying taxes, offer Democrats and Republicans an excellent opportunity to come together to pass legislation which would make our tax system fair and simple.


• Syria continues to self-destruct, and the entire Middle-East is a mess (so what else is new?). Nobody really knows what’s going on in Syria, though it looks more and more like an intra-religious conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This is essentially a civil war with no vital U.S. interest at stake. Therefore, it is a conflict we should try to end diplomatically, rather than one we should try to win militarily. A majority of Americans agree. 


• With the senseless slaughter of innocent school children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., it appeared that Congress would finally pass legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases. This requirement would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, crazy people and children. However, the issue was totally politicized, and Congress again was paralyzed. No rights are absolute; common-sense limitations on guns could prevent future massacres.


Republicans in Congress are increasingly divided among themselves over issues like immigration, foreign policy, treatment of gays and lesbians, and the desirability of compromise with the Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats are timidly seeking ways to retain their control of the Senate and the White House. Under these circumstances, can Congress accomplish anything good in the next three years? It would be a pleasant surprise.


Anthony J. DiStefano spent 29 years in state and federal government including working with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.