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On the Front Burner

Over two centuries, America has watched hard-fought issues hold the stage for awhile, then either fade or become accepted features of national life.

Congress and the president are currently fencing over what to do with several such issues. Among them: Social Security, guns, global loans, and military base closings.

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Social Security has been more than an accepted feature of national life. For the last quarter of the nation's existence, the universal pension plan has become near-sacred.

There's high public awareness that boomer retirements have put it back on the national worry list. Congress started to do something about the problem during Mr. Clinton's first term but got burned. Now it looks as if both sides are ready for a deal. But only after they agree on funding.

We've said we think Sen. Pat Moynihan, veteran Social Security rescuer, has proposed the right ingredients for a solution. One of those ingredients is a modest (i.e., low-risk) proposal to allow workers to place a small portion of tax money into new supplemental pension accounts.

On guns - specifically the 58 types of assault rifles the administration ordered banned from import - there will no doubt be attempts in Congress and court to reverse that ruling. We suspect lawmakers will let it stand in this election year. Gun debate has risen in decibels as America's frontier closed, hunting space shrank, and cities grew and saw more deaths by gunfire.

The statistics are stark. The US suffers more casualties per capita than nations with strict curbs; but also more than Switzerland, which has a long, safer, gun-owning tradition. We need, at a minimum, a national consensus on how to become more like Switzerland.

Debate over IMF lending extends America's long debate over first, the Marshall Plan, then foreign aid. It's strongly in the US interest that the IMF's loan pool be replenished. We think Congress will, and should, vote the requested $18 billion. The loans, after all, have always been repaid.

Congress should also take a deep breath and authorize another round of carefully vetted military base closings. The economy is strong enough now to supply replacement jobs. And a reliable national defense depends on using money more wisely for modernizing weapons and troop training.

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