Steve Israel says fighting for the middle class is his top priority in Congress. With incomes falling nationally and faith in the American dream wavering, it's absolutely the right focus. Identifying the challenge is easy enough. Doing something about it, not so much.
Nonetheless, the seven-term congressman from Huntington has managed to chip away. For example, his dogged insistence that a $250,000-a-year income isn't rich on Long Island helped convince President Barack Obama and Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts beyond January 2013 for families with incomes less than $450,000.
Israel, 56, is a Democrat in a House of Representatives dominated by a Republican majority. But he still has leverage. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he uses the access provided by that perch in leadership to press his causes, as he did with Obama on the tax-cut brackets.
Now he should use that entree to move the ball on other middle class-friendly policies he's adamant about: allowing families to refinance college debt, for instance, and providing a tax break on overseas profits that corporations bring into the United States if they use some of the money to buy bonds to fund critical road and bridge improvements.
Israel also should continue to build support for some of his more fanciful notions. One example is his push to provide incentives for automakers to embrace flex-fuel vehicles to reduce the nation's dependence on oil. In Brazil, 87 percent of autos and light trucks on the road in 2013 -- including some manufactured by Ford and General Motors -- were equipped to run on either gasoline or ethanol or a combination of the two. Motorists can opt at the pump for the fuel they want based on price, performance or availability. Washington lawmakers need to embrace this kind of innovative thinking regardless of party.
Grant M. Lally, 52, of Lloyd Harbor, is a Republican who would have the advantage of joining a large House majority. He's managing partner of a Long Island law firm and has experience working abroad, from Ireland to Cuba. He previously ran for Congress in 1994.
Lally's priority would be growing the economy, a critical issue for the struggling middle class. But his prescription to improve the business climate comes in broad polemics: repealing the Affordable Care Act and slashing regulation and taxes. Even if that were to happen, Lally has no clear ideas about how to fund critical needs, such as infrastructure improvements, or where to cut spending to avoid outsized deficits and even more debt.
Newsday endorses Israel.