Editorial June 12, 2015

Hamilton on Congress

By Lee H. Hamilton

“The Constitution vests in Congress the power to declare war, but should that mean that Congress also has the responsibility to do so?”



A few weeks ago, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia made a small splash in the press when he took Congress to task for failing to authorize our nation’s ongoing war against Islamic militants. “The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful,” he said. “[T]his Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power… allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”

Those were strong words, meant to spur Congress to action. Yet after a day or two, they sank without a trace. No one in the media picked up the call. No one in a position to influence the Senate or the House made a move to advance a congressional war authorization.

Indeed, it has been three months since President Obama sent his proposal for an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” focused on ISIS to Capitol Hill. It, too, met with a brief flurry of attention and then went nowhere.

This is mind-boggling. If you had any question that we’re at war, the bombing runs over Ramadi and the recent Delta Force raid that killed an ISIS official should have settled it. On the most important question government faces — military intervention overseas — Congress seems unable to stir itself to hammer out an agreement with the President. You can blame the President for this or you can blame Congress — each side comes in for its fair share — but inaction only expands the power of the President, leaving him to make hugely consequential decisions by himself. It’s a shocking dereliction of duty on Capitol Hill.

Why do I say this? The Constitution vests in Congress the power to declare war, but should that mean that Congress also has the responsibility to do so?

Let’s start with this: former acting CIA director Michael Morell recently said that the “great war” against Islamic terrorists is likely to last “for as long as I can see.” This is going to be a long and difficult conflict. It raises tough questions about the scope of the President’s powers, the duration of those powers, the definition and identity of the enemy, the extent of the field of battle, the kinds of force that should be used, America’s vital interests, and its fundamental role in the world.

The decision to apply American lives and resources to such a war is momentous, and as a country we need to know how far we’re willing to commit ourselves. The President needs backing for a military campaign, and the discussion about what it ought to entail needs to be open and rigorous.

I understand that this is a lot for Congress to undertake. A resolution authorizing the use of force is tough to draft — Congress needs to make the parameters and goals of military action clear without hindering our ability to respond to a fluid situation or micromanaging the executive branch. And, of course, it’s just as tough politically. Some members will want to give more powers to the President, others less. No one wants to be on the wrong side of a war vote.

But the difficulty of a task is no reason to avoid it. If we are going to send U.S. forces into dangerous places, they need to go in with the public backing that comes from a formal authorization hammered out in Congress. This does not mean enacting a resolution after we’ve intervened — because then it’s an argument about supporting our troops in the field, and only a few members will vote against that.

Both the President and Congress are dragging their feet on this, but that only helps the President, not the country. It leaves him — and most likely his successor — with dangerously broad authority to use military force without restriction, in perpetuity. This is not how a democracy like ours should operate.

The American people are beginning to understand all this. They overwhelmingly believe that Congress needs to weigh in on the government’s war-making powers. Yet that seems to mean nothing to Washington. “Cowardly and shameful,” Sen. Kaine said. That pretty much sums it up.

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.




“For the majority in Congress focused on protecting business interests, ignoring international food inspection does not help…”

This week Congress got a couple of comeuppances from the Supreme Court regarding its foreign policy role and the politics that led to two legal issues; one was allowing individuals born in Jerusalem to list on their passports that Israel is their country of birth. The second was its position on prohibiting country of origin labelling on meat products from foreign countries. These Supreme Court decisions come at a time when Congress is asserting whatever power it thinks it has over trade negotiations; witness the somewhat inaccurate and totally inappropriate letter to Iran regarding Congress’s role in the nuclear capability negotiations, and a hawkish approach to dealing with ISIS and other unrest in the Middle East and Central Asia put forth by Republican candidates for the presidency in 2016.

In 2002 Congress added text to a 2002 bill allowing passport applicants born in Jerusalem to claim Israel as their country of origin but the Supreme Court said such a decision on passports is exclusively the president’s and his denial of such a passport entry was upheld. Several administrations have taken the position that Jerusalem is a sticking point that, unresolved, will continue to cause unrest in the area. Each administration’s unwillingness to establish an embassy for Israel in Jerusalem supports that perspective. But Members of Congress were a heady group in 2002 that went its own way on that one and is now finding out its foreign policy wisdom was not thorough or legal.

Country of origin food labeling came before the Supreme Court when Mexico and Canada protested against the labeling requirement. The World Trade Association intervened and it looks like US taxpayers will be paying billions to Canada and Mexico in tariff fines. Congress was probably intentionally right but legally wrong to require country of origin labeling and has, with passage of HR 2392, a bill that removes the country of origin labeling requirement, walked away from what should be a major concern to meat eaters; that they will not know the extent to which their meat is safe to eat. The answer is increased inspections of foreign facilities but Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection of those products is insufficient to guarantee our safety. According the Government Accountability Office report; “Beginning in 2008, FDA established foreign offices to help prevent unsafe products from reaching U.S. borders.” Under the regulations “FDA was to inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities in 2011 and, for each of the next 5 years, inspect at least twice the number of facilities inspected during the previous year.”

FDA is not keeping pace with the plan – Alfredo Gomez, FDA’s Director of Natural Resources and Environment said this in an FDA podcast, “We don’t really know the extent to which the foreign offices are contributing to the safety of imported food.” Some progress have been made…’but’ “the extent that these contributions are improving the safety of imported food over all is unknown.”

For the majority in Congress focused on protecting business interests, ignoring international food inspection does not help; the recent Supreme Court decision on country of origin labeling could lead to imports of any food products without the consumer knowing where they came from. That’s important because a consumer might enjoy an excellent filet without knowing where it came from and then come on a terrible filet also without knowing where it came from. What will you be thinking the next time you buy a filet? From another perspective let say Argentina, known for its beef, might want to list itself as the country of origin to attract and maintain customers who prefer beef from that country. If Argentina beef is not labeled as such the consumer faces a purchasing crap shoot. Congress’s lack of action on foreign food inspections creates an interesting ‘race to the bottom’ paradigm that pretty much limits any incentive to produce a good product to compete with good products.

Congress should lick its foreign policy wounds and get down to protecting us from unsafe food from foreign countries with lower safety standards than the US food industry. ##

Senate Stories

Henry Clay

“…he…was more a debater than orator. Invariably dramatic, if not flamboyant, he regularly mesmerized his audience with his histrionics.””



Henry Clay died of tuberculosis in Washington on June 29, 1852. The 75-year-old Kentucky statesman had spent his lengthy public career setting records. He was the first of three senators who began their service under the constitutionally required age of 30. He won election as Speaker of the House on his first day in that body. He engineered the only Senate censure of a president. He built the Whig Party and ran three times as its candidate for the presidency. For successfully forging compromise solutions to issues that threatened to shatter the Union, at his death he became the first person to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

By today’s tenure standards, Clay’s service in the Senate was relatively brief—a total of only 16 years between his first term in 1806 and his death in 1852. Yet he dominated American political life for much of that period and set a standard for what it means to be a successful United States senator. With Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, the other two members of the Senate’s so-called Great Triumvirate, Clay excelled as an orator. Each of the three senators developed a unique speaking style. Webster’s strength lay in his use of richly cultivated language. Calhoun succeeded on the power of his intellect, where substance took precedence over style. Clay’s success grew not from language or substance, but from the personal style of his voice and mannerisms. One biographer reported that he “was more a debater than orator. Invariably dramatic, if not flamboyant, he regularly mesmerized his audience with his histrionics.” Another has written that Clay changed his “rhetorical costumes” depending on the occasion and location of his speaking engagements.

Alternatively haughty and captivating, Clay charmed even those who differed with his policies and principles. When he resigned from the Senate in 1842 to prepare for the 1844 presidential election, he apologized for the “ardor of temperament” that had led him, on occasion, “to use language offensive and susceptible of ungracious interpretation towards my brother senators.” Perhaps John C. Calhoun had some of that language in mind when, setting a memorable definition for the nature of friendship among senators, he observed, “I don’t like Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn’t speak to him, but, by God, I love him!”

Reference Items:

Peterson, Merrill D.  The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Remini, Robert V.  Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union.  New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

Courtesy: Senate Clerk

‘Whip Watch’ App Introduced


Rep. Stenny Hoyer (D-MD-5th)

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5th) House Minority Whip

The new app developed by the office of the Democratic Whip will help make government more open and transparent by making it easy for anyone to follow action on the House Floor. The app includes real time updates on what’s happening on the Floor; access to the House calendar, which is updated in real time; access to House Floor schedules for both the day and the week ahead; access to press releases and videos from the Whip’s Office; and, for the first time, the ability to view job openings in House Democratic offices. Users can customize how much information they want – and when they want it – by setting notification controls. Initially available for iOS, the app can be downloaded for free directly on any iPhone or iPad.

“Today, I’m proud to announce a new app called ‘Whip Watch’ that will be a great resource for our Members and staff, while also making the House of Representatives more open and accessible to the public,” stated Whip Hoyer. “By downloading this app, any American interested in the day-to-day workings of the House Floor can receive the latest updates and news in real time. It is an important step in my efforts to make this institution more open and transparent, and I encourage Members, staff, the press, and public to download the new app today.”

Many of the functions of the “Whip Watch” are newly available to the public, including the ability to access real-time updates on what’s happening on the House Floor throughout the day through real-time “Floor Update” alerts that were formerly only available through email to House Democratic staff. Additionally, the public could only get notice of the House Floor schedule by signing up to receive emails, called the “Daily, Nightly, and Weekly Whip,” through the Democratic Whip’s website.  Now, the public can view these schedules through the app.

The app also features a first-of-its-kind official job announcements board for House Democratic offices, which builds off the successful Resume Bank launched by the office of the Democratic Whip in November 2012. The Resume Bank has been in continual use for over 2 years, with over 6,000 resumes submitted, over 5,000 unique visits by House Democratic staff to browse resumes, and over 400 personalized recommendations left on resumes from current offices and staff. The public can now view job announcements from House Democratic offices through the new app. ##

Quotes on the Issues


10,00 ISIS Killed by US Airstrikes

New York Daily News


“ISIS Selfie Leads to Leveling ISIS HQ



New Iraqi Forces o Protect Oil Infrastructure

Business Insider


450 more American troops to Iraq to train and assist the Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, White House.

New York Times


450 More Troops to Fight ISIS but no Comprehensive Strategy.

WASHINGTON— Congressman Mac Thornberry, (R-TX) Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following comments in response to President Obama’s announcement that he has authorized the Pentagon to send up to 450 additional troops to Iraq to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against ISIL:

“The need for additional U.S. forces to help our Iraqi allies defeat ISIL has been apparent for some time.  As far as it goes, I support this effort.  However, disconnected from a broader coherent strategy, it is not likely to be any more successful than our previous efforts. Just this week, the President conceded that he did not have a complete strategy to defeat ISIL, and I applaud his candor on that point.  How our forces, whatever their numbers, can meet the President’s goal of degrading and defeating ISIL without that comprehensive strategy is beyond me.  Next week, Secretary Carter and General Dempsey will appear before the Armed Services Committee to answer that question.””

HASC Communications,Thornberry,


How Should The U.S. Fight ISIS?



HR 1295 – Trade Preference Fast Track

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5th)

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5th) House Minority Whip

The bill also includes a bipartisan fix to the Medicare sequester offset that was included in the Senate passed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill.  Upon its enactment, this measure would replace the Medicare sequester expansion in TAA with two revenue provisions: an increase in penalties for failing to file correct and timely information returns, such as 1099s, for tax purposes and a second requirement that taxpayers have Tax Identification Numbers (TINs) in order to claim certain education tax benefits in an effort to combat fraudulent claims.

House Minority Whip


HR 2685 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill

“The $88.4 billion in funding designated for OCO is achieved by shifting $38 billion in funding from the President’s base defense request into the OCO war funding account – a dangerous gimmick intended to go around the sequester level defense spending cap from the Budget Control Act, while leaving the non-defense sequester level cap in place. This gambit will destabilize long-term national security planning, and allow domestic priorities to wither on the vine.  By removing pressure to replace the sequester level defense caps, it makes a new budget agreement less likely, with drastic negative consequences for our nation’s schools, roads and bridges, law enforcement, scientific research, and other domestic priorities critical to military families and all hardworking Americans. If Republicans want to lift spending above the Budget Control Act’s caps, then they should work with Democrats to replace the dangerous and irrational sequester for both defense and non-defense spending with a balanced solution.”

House Minority Whip’s Office