Editorial May 15, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

The Transpacific partnership, an initiative originating with the President, has drawn significant support from Congress, particularly Republicans, while coming under fire by environmentalist and financial consumer protectionists.

Here’s a comment on the plan from Rep. Greg Harper (MS-3rd) – “Ninety-six percent of the world’s customers are outside the U.S.  If we want to create more opportunity and more high-paying jobs here at home, we need to sell more American-made products and services overseas.”

He continued, “The U.S. simply cannot succeed by only trading with ourselves. From 2004-2013, Mississippi’s trade-related employment grew 6.3 times faster than total state employment. Mississippi exported $13.2 billion in goods and $2.2 billion in services in 2013. In 2013, 60 percent ($7.9 billion) of Mississippi’s exports went to countries with which the U.S. has free trade agreements. 76 percent of Mississippi exporters are small and medium sized businesses, and in total, trade supports more than 335,000 jobs in Mississippi.”

But then there is the other side. First we looked at 350.org’s take on the matter, “

“The TPP would give foreign fossil fuel corporations the right to sue city, state and national governments if climate action hurts their profits. It’s an enormous corporate power grab, at the expense of our democracy and our climate.”

Marketwatch.com’s Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote strongly  about the deal provisions to protect investors; ” Of course, investors have to be protected against rogue governments seizing their property. “This is not just a theoretical possibility. Philip Morris PM, +0.48%  is suing Uruguay and Australia for requiring warning labels on cigarettes. …The labeling is working. It is discouraging smoking. So now Philip Morris is demanding to be compensated for lost profits.”

Harper makes a clear point based on his own facts which brings back the typical selling points of NAFTA. And it’s true, companies benefit greatly from such agreements and can provide jobs to make those products exported. But with NAFTA it turned out companies could save a lot more money by providing those jobs in a country where wages are far less than here in the US and they did just that.

None of this should bother you too much if you are employed and making your bills but it might be worth remembering  the price of tomatoes before NAFTA. In 1990 tomatoes sold for $1.21 per pound. Today $2.00 per pound and up to as high as $5.50 in some areas with an average at $3.50 per pound. So, the competition from NAFTA promising to drive the consumer price down did not and has caused acreage to grow them in at least two tomato producing states, Alabama and Florida, to be reduced significantly which, of course, reduces jobs.

Add to that the possibility that you may open the newspaper one day and read a story about a foreign country doing business here suing the US taxpayers for regulations that prohibits the company from polluting our environment. If we experienced what Australia and Uruguay are facing from Phillip Morris our role in the democracy as individual voters and taxpayers would be at risk of being overturned by a corporate lawsuit  that could legally ignore our environmental intentions.

These trade deals are necessary and not all that bad but, as they say,’ the devil is in the details’ and the details on this one are quite devilish.


Senate History

The Interstate Commerce Act Is Passed

February 4, 1887

“It took years for Congress to respond to these protests, due to members’ reluctance to have the government interfere in any way with corporate policies.”

On February 4, 1887, both the Senate and House passed the Interstate Commerce Act, which applied the Constitution’s “Commerce Clause”—granting Congress the power “to Regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States”—to regulating railroad rates. Small businesses and farmers were protesting that the railroads charged them higher rates than larger corporations, and that the railroads were also setting higher rates for short hauls than for long-distance hauls. Although the railroads claimed economic justification for policies that favored big businesses, small shippers insisted that the railroads were gouging them.

It took years for Congress to respond to these protests, due to members’ reluctance to have the government interfere in any way with corporate policies. In 1874 legislation was introduced calling for a federal railroad commission. The bill passed the House, but not the Senate. When Congress failed to act, some states adopted their own railroad regulations. Those laws were struck down in 1886, when the Supreme Court ruled in Wabash v. Illinois that the state of Illinois could not restrict the rates that the Wabash Railroad was charging because its freight traffic moved between the states, and only the federal government could regulate interstate commerce. Continued public anger over unfair railroad rates prompted Illinois senator Shelby M. Cullom to hold the hearings that led to the enactment of the Interstate Commerce Act.

That law limited railroads to rates that were “reasonable and just,” forbade rebates to high-volume users, and made it illegal to charge higher rates for shorter hauls. To hear evidence and render decisions on individual cases, the act created the Interstate Commerce Commission. This was the first federal independent regulatory commission, and it served as a model for others that would follow, from the Federal Trade Commission to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Evolving technology eventually made the purpose of the ICC obsolete, and in 1995 Congress abolished the commission, transferring its remaining functions to the Surface Transportation Board. But while the ICC has come and gone, its creation marked a significant turning point in federal policy. Before 1887, Congress had applied the Commerce Clause only on a limited basis, usually to remove barriers that the states tried to impose on interstate trade. The Interstate Commerce Act showed that Congress could apply the Commerce Clause more expansively to national issues if they involved commerce across state lines. After 1887, the national economy grew much more integrated, making almost all commerce interstate and international. The nation rather than the Constitution had changed. That development turned the Commerce Clause into a powerful legislative tool for addressing national problems. ##

Courtesy Senate Clerk

Hamilton on Congress

The Way Forward for Congress

 The approach Congress has taken “…fails the ultimate test of the legislative process, which is to find remedies to the nation’s challenges.

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

There have been encouraging signs on Capitol Hill of late that Congress’s long slide into irrelevance may be slowing.

 Agreements on Medicare reimbursements in both houses, and on Iran, No Child Left Behind, Pacific trade and other issues in various committees led last month to a chorus of relieved approval both in Washington and in the press. Less noticed, but equally important, a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center found that Congress worked more during the first quarter of this year than the past few years, and that the amendment process in the Senate is once again functioning as it’s supposed to.

 But let’s not go overboard. Major challenges lie immediately ahead, chief among them how Congress handles the budget. Politicians on Capitol Hill are coming more to agreement. Modest bills are being passed. And we have a taste of bipartisanship. If Congress finds that it likes feeling productive, then I’ve got some suggestions for turning these first, tentative steps into full-blown progress.

 First, it needs to remember that our founders placed Congress first in the constitutional firmament. It has been far too timid. As has been noted, “Congress today is a reactive body, taking its cues from the President: sometimes in deference to him, sometimes in opposition to him, occasionally in agreement with him — but always in reference to him.” That’s not the definition of a co-equal branch of government.

 And it’s not just the President. Congress leaves regulatory decisions to federal agencies with little direction or oversight, hands economic power to the Federal Reserve, and has allowed the Supreme Court to become the central policymaking body on controversial issues from campaign finance to affirmative action to environmental regulation.

 Second, Congress needs to return to good process. This is not a panacea, but it enhances the prospect of getting things right.

 Returning in both houses to the so-called “regular order” of committee hearings and amendments would do wonders for restoring transparency, encouraging fact-finding, hearing all sides, weighing options, and finding agreement. Congress has adopted some really bad habits on procedure by passing huge bills in secret, bypassing committees, curbing participation of members, and sharply limiting debate and amendments. Calling an end to all of that would boost Capitol Hill’s chances of crafting legislation that represents what’s best for Americans.

 And discouraging legislators from tying two unrelated issues together — the tactic that led to the unconscionably long approval process for Attorney General Loretta Lynch — would help policy get made on its merits.

 Third, members need to understand that their conduct has a direct impact on Americans’ trust in Congress. Too many have a constricted view of what it means to serve. They understand their responsibility to represent their constituents, but apparently feel little or no responsibility to get legislation enacted into law or to make the country work. They are satisfied with issuing political statements, casting a vote, or passing a bill — but not caring if it can pass the other house and get signed by the President. This approach fails the ultimate test of the legislative process, which is to find remedies to the nation’s challenges.

 Members spend too much time raising money, politicking, and legislating on trivial or pointlessly political matters. Too few take the time and effort to master the legislative process or to bear down on the work their constituents sent them to pursue: crafting legislation, debating bills, deliberating with their colleagues and reaching a consensus on the serious problems confronting the country. They don’t need new rules to fix this. They just need to go to work.

 Finally, Congress should heed the lesson of these past few months and re-energize its commitment to negotiation and compromise. There’s room in politics for elected leaders who do not back down on their principles, but these politicians can’t be allowed to dominate the process. If they do, the legislative process deadlocks and representative government becomes impossible. Skillful legislators know how to honor their firmly held principles while still finding common ground.

 The progress we’ve seen of late on Capitol Hill is proof that these legislators exist. May their ranks increase.

Lee H. Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He served as U.S. Representative from Indiana’s 9th Congressional District from 1965-1999.

Quotes and Stories on the Issues

Another ISIS Leader Killed

The deputy leader of ISIS has been killed in an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, Iraq’s government announced Wednesday NBC Reports.

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Is ISIS Reading Your Email?

From Heavy.com – Forget Comcast and NSA, ISIS sees the cyber world as part of its caliphate.

Is it a hoax? Watch the video.

NSA and FISA Reform

““Today, House Democrats and Republicans came together to pass legislation that will protect Americans’ civil liberties while ensuring that law enforcement and homeland security agencies have the tools they need to keep our country safe.  The USA FREEDOM Act is a bipartisan compromise that strikes a careful balance between reforming FISA to enhance privacy protections and making sure that data critical to investigations and counter-terrorism efforts can be collected in a responsible and targeted fashion. ” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD)

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Defense Authorization Pro

““Democrats are opposing the $612 billion bill because it would leave spending ceilings in place that were created in the 2011 Budget Control Act, while increasing war funding.  The Republican Defense bill would authorize $523 billion in base funding for the Pentagon and an additional $96 billion in war funding.  President Obama had requested more in base funding and less in war funding.  $561 and $51 billion.”” House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) as quoted in The Hill

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Defense Authorization Con

“Furthermore, in his budget request, the President laid out a path to lift the sequester level, which is undermining our national security. Hear me. The sequester that this bill honors – by exception – is undermining the national security of America… our national security is being put at risk because we’re honoring sequester in this bill, and not only are we honoring sequester in this bill, we are, in fact – for the investments in education, in infrastructure, in the environment –undermining our country’s well-being. For that reason alone, I will vote against this bill until we fix the sequester and take care of America’s national security.”

“he bill contains provisions that continue to prevent President Obama, however, from finally closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Not only does that facility cost taxpayers $2.4 million per incarceree. I know my budget hawks think, well, $2.4 million to keep a person in jail for a year, that makes sense. I disagree with you on that if you think that.” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD)

Seymour Hersh and Killing bin Laden

Foreign Policy Magazine reports defense officials are pushing back against Seymour Hersh’s inflammatory story in the London Review of Books on Monday claiming that just about everything you’ve been told about the U.S. SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan is a lie. FP’s Sean Naylor catalogs the outrage.” From Foreign Policy magazine.

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Yemen

“Hostilities continue in Yemen, where Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition forces “traded heavy artillery and rocket fire in border areas,” a day before the proposed humanitarian cease-fire is to take effect on Tuesday, according to Al-Jazeera. Many are skeptical of the deal”…Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin believes Houthis “had no desire for a ceasefire deal. Foreign Policy Magazine

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