Editorial September 18, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

“The threat of a shutdown is an extreme response to not getting what some legislators want and it overlooks how this played out in 2013”

In the midst of the imminent threat to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood, Inc. is defunded we see an interesting bill just reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office, HR 692.

The first thing that happens when the debt limit is not increased is the Treasury modifies the books to allow for a bit more time paying the nation’s debts followed by the government’s inability to pay any bills. That is the threat from those who would hold back on increasing the debt limit until Planned Parenthood, Inc. is defunded. When the country cannot pay its bills its credit rating can be lowered and the so-called ‘full faith’ in US financial liquidity is reduced in the eyes of the world. Nothing really productive happens when the money is held back. It is simply a strong-arm tactic that lets the chips fall where they may.

Enter HR 692, a bill introduced in February of this year and recently pulled off the shelf and reviewed by CBO. If HR 692 is a solution looking for a problem or solution to a problem remains to be seen but, if nothing else, it is a strange addition to the mix; HR 692, should the debt limit not be increased this October, allows the Treasury to continue to make certain payments (principal and interest on debt held by the public and debt held by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, (CBO)). This would continue until a new debt limit is established.

The threat of a shutdown is an extreme response to not getting what some legislators want and it overlooks how this played out in 2013; besides the significant loss of revenue to the government some benefit checks such as to veterans were delayed. So, HR 692 takes a little of the edge off such a shutdown but it’s still a shutdown. It’s still holding the federal budget hostage for some ideological relief.

Besides the significant loss of revenue to the government some benefit checks such as for veterans were delayed. So, HR 692 takes a little of the edge off such a shutdown but it’s still a shutdown. It’s still holding the federal budget hostage for some ideological relief.

This is the wrong direction to take…again. It is an embarrassment; despite the defunding having only the support of around 50 Republicans any shutdown will be blamed on the Democrats and / or the white House; mainly though, it seems many are more willing to create chaos rather than find a deliberative solution in the middle ground. Ideologies being rigid as they usually are, a middle ground is not likely.

Quotes on the Issues

Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State

“ISIS is not just an enemy waiting to be defeated in Syria and in Iraq and elsewhere, it is a movement. It’s not something that is going to lend itself to immediate military power to take it out,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.

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ISIS issues 11 rules for Christians in captured Syrian town

RT

ISIS jihadists have reportedly issued “eleven commandments” as part of a contract that guarantees safety to the Christian population.

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Syria’s Assad blasts US’ “willful blindness” in fight against ISIS

CBS News

He singled out the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has captured about a third of Syrian territory along with large swaths of land in Syria.

Magic Mondays with Rep Marc Pocan (D-WI-2nd)

Watch as the Congressman demonstrates through sleight of hand how some legislation gets done

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What Do We Mean By “Representative Government”?

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

With a presidential election year fast approaching, we’re in for a lot of public talk about the state of American democracy. Much of that discussion will be insightful and thought-provoking, but there’s a good chance you’ll also find a lot of it vague and hard to pin down.

There’s a reason for this. Even our political leaders, the people who are most familiar with the system’s workings, have a hard time describing it.

In fact, they even have a hard time labeling it. Ours is not actually a pure democracy: it’s more accurate to say that we live in a “representative democracy” – that is, the people don’t themselves make decisions, but delegate that authority to their elected representatives. In this sense, we really live in a republic, a word you don’t often hear from the podium.

Perhaps the best way to start thinking about what American representative democracy really means is to recall the Pledge of Allegiance, which is an oath to the Republic that our flag symbolizes, and in particular to an ideal: that our nation will strive for liberty and justice for all. Plenty of well-meaning people, in the heat of the political moment, seize on one or the other of those twin poles to support their agenda – they insist upon liberty or they demand justice. The Pledge, however, makes it clear that these core principles are inseparable.

Still, they are ideals. They’re not sufficient to define a representative democracy.

Indeed, no single feature does. One of our core tenets holds that the people are sovereign – that we give our consent to be governed through regular participation in the elections that decide who will represent us. Yet elections in and of themselves don’t define our republic, either; there are plenty of countries around the world whose elections are used to distort democracy.

So the rule of law is also key, and along with it the notion that everyone ought to be subject to equal justice under the law. The separation of powers among the different branches of government creates a balance designed to protect the people from overweening power. The rights guaranteed by our Constitution ensure that the rights of minorities of all kinds are safe.

The big challenge in all this is to set up the structures and practices that protect and defend these beliefs. The courts, legislative bodies and executive branches at the federal, state and local level are an example of this, along with a system of checks and balances that promotes accountability and transparency. So are the freedoms we often take for granted: under our Constitution, we do not put to a vote whether to continue protecting freedom of religion or the right to express unpopular sentiments or publish news that challenges those in power.

While representative democracy rests on a core set of principles, it remains a constantly evolving concept. At the beginning, ours was limited: our Founders began with an inspiring set of beliefs about how a nation ought to govern itself, but they also ignored women and chose to set aside the question of slavery. This was a democracy of white males of a certain age who owned property. Representative democracy by its nature is always a work in progress; we never really get the balance between liberty and justice exactly right.

This is worth remembering at the moment, when the problems we confront seem so overwhelming and our institutions are under so much strain. The problems they have to resolve – the outsized role of money in politics, excessive partisanship, the sheer complexity of the policy challenges we face – are daunting, but that doesn’t mean representative government itself should be called into question.

In fact, it is our great strength. It protects against arbitrary authority, strives for justice, hears our varied and conflicting opinions before it acts, and moderates tensions among competing interests. It works in a measured fashion that tends – over time – to encourage policymakers to find consensus. It is the form of government that, when allowed to work properly, is most likely to lead to wise policy, firmly rooted in the consent of the ordinary people on whose shoulders it rests.

Lee 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 was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.