Editorial January 17, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

“…the zombie-like return of the sequester…”

Remember the Sequester? Perhaps you thought it was in the past but the Pentagon sees it differently as it proposes to cut 40,000 troops to meet the requirements of sequester cuts.

This announcement, of course, freaks everyone out what with ISIS sweeping the Middle East and Central Asia with its own brand of psychotic murdering in the name of Allah, Yemen having fallen apart creating a conflict between two countries heavily involved militarily there; Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the on-going and unresolved issues between Israel and the Palestinians, to name a few.

So, why are we cutting defense at a time when it looks like we should be building it up and why is Mac Thornberry (R-TX) House Armed Services Committee Chair blaming it on the President?

We go back to the budget standoffs in 2001-2012 and a bill responding to the hyperbole surrounding a growing deficit coupled with the need to increase the debt limit. A budget bill back then created a bi-partisan, Senate-House committee called the super-committee to find $1.2 trillion in cuts to the budget. Democrats wanted to raise taxes, Republicans wanted to cut benefits and the super-committee never overcame those distances. The outcome of them not meeting their mandate, the ax ready to fall if they didn’t find the $1.2 trillion in cuts, was the sequester that cut equally between defense and non-defense with the exception of war spending.

As the federal government ground to a halt and closed the Budget Control Act was agreed to that raised the spending cap from the sequester lever $987 billion to $1.1 trillion and the country then moved forward…but only to face the zombie-like return of the sequester because, in their machinations, Congress never got around to unloading the problem.

Then comes the stuff that makes us want to gag; while the President, following on President Bush’s agreement to remove all troops from Iraq and with Afghanistan looking like it was calming down, saw the reduction in defense spending as others would; a time to cut. His proposals in a House dominated by Republicans did not fare well. His recent defense budget was not austere and it too took its punches. Point is that the President has acted accordingly all along and Mac Thornberry while warning against the debilitating cuts voted with the Republican majority on their budgets now, indicates that the sequester was a White House idea.

This is not a time for politics, this is a dangerous world getting more so and the line between us and that is the US Military. It is unfortunate that the world situation requires us to spend more on defense and less on getting us economically back on track but that is the reality and, as the old therapeutic saying goes, reality dictates. Members of Congress have to put aside partisan bickering and the quest for the White House in 2016 and talk straight about what has to be done and then do it. ##

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Quotes on the Issues

Senate Education Bill

“Today, the Senate took a major step forward to promote the full-service community schools model across the country, adopting as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act the language of the Full Service Community Schools Act that I’ve introduced for several years in the House.  I thank Senators Brown and Manchin for their leadership in this effort.

“Full-service community schools make a real difference in the lives of low-income students by locating critical existing services in schools where students and their families can access them more easily. House Minority Whip.

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Iran

Foreign Policy Magazine’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson report that the decision to take the deal to the Security Council “places lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of potentially breaching a binding resolution by voting down the deal. The strategy has infuriated some Republican lawmakers, who see the administration making an end run around Congress.” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, circulated the legally binding draft to the 15-member Council on Monday. The 14-page resolution, obtained by Foreign Policy, is likely to be put to a vote by early next week.

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ISIS

The United States handed back to Iraq on Wednesday antiquities it said it had seized in a raid on ISIS fighters in Syria, saying the haul was proof the militants were funding their war by smuggling ancient treasures.

The Iraqi relics were captured by U.S. special forces in an operation in May against an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf. They included ancient cylindrical stamps, pottery, metallic bracelets and other jewelry, and glass shards from what appeared to be a colored vase. Reuters.

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ISIS Recruiting

Washington (CNN) More than 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria, affiliating themselves with various groups to fight or support the conflict there, according to the latest assessment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

That is an increase from May, when the number was 22,500, according to Brian Hale, the spokesman for the intelligence office. The fighters come from over 100 countries.

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Russia

Top brass looking to Moscow. In a non-Iran related item, we note that despite all of the talk about the threat posed by Iranian nukes and military adventurism across the Middle East, some of the top U.S. generals at the Pentagon seem to agree that Russia — and not Tehran, or China, or the Islamic State — is the greatest threat to U.S. national security today.

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Yemen

While we don’t know if U.S. special ops troops in Yemen had MAT-Vs with them, earlier this year the Defense Department admitted that it had lost track of $500 million worth of equipment in the country, including 16 small drones, 19 airplanes, and 160 Humvees. But the MAT-V is more than just a Humvee. It’s supposed to provide increased protection without sacrificing greater maneuverability. Washington Post

Hamilton on Congress

We Need Both Insiders and Outsiders in Congress

“Outsiders pass through the institution of Congress, but many of them are using Congress — and especially the House of Representatives — as a stepping-stone to another office: the Senate, a governorship, the presidency.”

By Lee H. Hamilton

Members of Congress get categorized in all sorts of ways. They’re liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; interested in domestic affairs or specialists in foreign policy.

There’s one very important category, though, that I never hear discussed: whether a member wants to be an inside player or an outside player. Yet where members fall on the continuum helps to shape the institution of Congress.

First, I should say that the categories are not hard and fast. Some politicians are insiders part of the time and outsiders at other times. Still, most fall on one side of the line or other, especially as they go on in their careers.

Insiders focus on making the institution work. They tend to give fewer speeches on the floor, issue fewer press releases, and spend less time considering how to play the public relations game or how to raise money. Instead, they put in long, tedious hours on the minutiae of developing legislation, attending hearings, listening to experts, exploring policy options, and working on building consensus. They’re dedicated to finding support for a bill or a set of proposals wherever they can, and they appreciate the necessity of bipartisanship.

They’re constantly engaged in networking and so tend to be popular within the Congress —they have the respect of their colleagues because other members know these are the people who make the institution move forward. They’re the ones who do the necessary work of legislating.

Outsiders pass through the institution of Congress, but many of them are using Congress — and especially the House of Representatives — as a stepping-stone to another office: the Senate, a governorship, the presidency.

On Capitol Hill, these people behave very differently from insiders. They raise money aggressively, put a lot of effort into developing a public persona, and are consumed with public relations. They travel a lot and take every opportunity they can to meet and address conferences and large organizations. They churn out press releases and speak on the floor on every topic they can find something to deliver an opinion about.

They miss votes more frequently than insiders, and often do not attend committee hearings. They tend not to socialize with other members, and so generally are not as popular as insiders. When they do attend a committee hearing, they use it as a platform to help them build a constituency beyond their own district or state. They tend to be more partisan than insiders, because they are seeking to build a political base. They’re often impatient with House and Senate traditions, and are impatient with the democratic process.

I remember late one night — actually, it was more like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning—  standing behind the rail of the House talking with a charismatic, charming congressman from the South. He’d been in the House for only a term or two, and was chagrined at the parliamentary tangle we were working our way through that night. “Lee,” he said, “how can you stand this place? I’m going to go home and run for governor!” And he did.

I want to be clear that I’m not making a judgment here as to which kind of member is more valuable. I may prefer to spend my time with insiders, but both are needed to make the system work. You have to have members reaching out to the broader public, talking about the big issues and engaging Americans in the issues of the day. And you need people on the inside who are dedicated to resolving those issues by attending to the legislation that will make this possible.

The truth is, Congress wouldn’t work if everyone were an outside player. The process is tedious: especially when you’re trying to draft a bill, you get into arcane arguments over language; you have to go line by line over the bill and each amendment. Outsiders have little patience for this process, and often don’t show up for it.

Yet if everyone were an insider, the country would be deprived of the dialogue, debate, and sheer spectacle that give Americans a sense of stake and participation in the policy-making process.

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.