It is tough for Congress to pass legislation during election years. At least, thatís the message the American public hears from politicians most every election year. Few are willing to risk going on the record for anything that might turn controversial.

And it gets worse when the chief executive is in lame-duck status.

When bills do pass, generally it is because they are absolutely necessary or enjoy strong bipartisan support.

There are at least a couple of the latter variety that are making progress ó and should find their way to the Oval Office. The unlikely pair of issues couldnít be further apart on any ideological or conversational spectrum, but champions are making progress both with reforming the nationís criminal justice system as well as the public school lunch program.

Congress would do itself a favor by passing both, knowing President Barack Obama likely would sign them into law.

There are legitimate reasons to label the U.S. criminal justice system as broke. The get tough on crime hysteria of the 1980s and í90s resulted in mass incarcerations, overcrowded prison conditions and an overabundance of petty criminals receiving exorbitant sentences.

By now, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as one in three Americans have a criminal record. In too many cases, the mere existence of that record is a roadblock to rehabilitation and full reintegration into society. Not surprisingly, the get tough on crime approach has had a disproportionate effect on economically disadvantaged citizens and communities of color.

But Congress has made progress of late. Both the Sentencing Reform Act and the Fair Chance Act, designed to address the aforementioned issues, have committee recommendations and have been passed to the Senate floor.

Congressí upper chamber also has what hopefully will mark the end of a years-long battle against first lady Michelle Obamaís push for more nutritious offerings in public school lunchrooms.

Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., brokered a compromise that would ease the whole grain and salt standards while maintaining the fruit and vegetable servings.

While not at the same urgency level as reforming the criminal justice system, it is high time for the fight over federal overreach and efforts to fight child obesity to end.

We urge Roberts and Sen. Jerry Moran, also R-Kan., to help reassure the American public Congress is capable of more than symbolic gestures and stopgap measures.

plowry@dailynews.net

Editorial by Patrick Lowry