Editorial October 9, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

HR 702, a bill that removes prohibitions against exporting crude oil, would seem like a very simple solution to a complicated problem but may leave a lot to be desired.

As it turns out just about any petroleum product can be exported but not crude oil; a result of a congressional decision back in 1975. The Arab oil embargo of those days created rocketing gasoline prices and long lines at the pump. Congress responded by establishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that allowed the US to deal with future restrictions of imports and, at the same time, restricted exports of crude. The logic is obvious; keep what’s ours.

Things have changed since then. The US is at near capacity of oil production making ‘Restrictions on crude oil exports are a vestige of the past, originally intended to compliment a complicated system of oil price controls that were repealed decades ago.’ said Scott Sheffield, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pioneer Natural Resources Company.

Supporters of this bill make a point, “…continued growth and investment in our nation’s oil production capacity, potentially creating thousands of new jobs and new supplies of stable energy, a reassuring symbol to our allies and trading partners. Crude oil exports also would improve the nation’s balance of trade and reduce OPEC’s monopoly power, significantly improving U.S. energy security and national security.”

According Mr. Sheffield the US is producing more crude than the US refineries are interested in buying so the solution to keep up demand is to export the stuff. It is expected that with this initiative the US as an exporter would load the globe’s oil market and drive oil prices down.

What is absent in this bill is any reference whatsoever to US citizens getting a piece of the pie when the oil sold comes from public lands. We are left with the possibility that loading the global market will drive down crude prices and so the cost at the pump but we have to note that oil companies make their profits on the price of the oil per barrel and wonder if we will really see price reductions at the pump.

We know that exporting crude, done right, would help the US with its balance of trade numbers and bring in more tax revenue as the committee report indicates, but the best we are going to hear about how this benefits the individual taxpayer is the suggestion that exporting crude “likely would lower gasoline prices for consumers”.

Senate Stories

How to Expel a Senator

July 11, 1861

Ten Senators Expelled

For what reasons should the Senate expel a member? The Constitution simply states that each house of Congress may “punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” When the Senate expelled William Blount in 1797 by a nearly unanimous vote, it had reason to believe he was involved in a conspiracy against the United States.

Sixty-four years later, at the start of the Civil War, senators again turned to this constitutional safeguard. Between December 1860 and June 1861, 11 of the nation’s 34 states had voted to withdraw from the Union. What was the status of their 22 senators at the beginning of the 37th Congress? Some were no longer senators because their terms had expired. Others sent a letter of resignation. Still others, believing their seats no longer existed, simply left without formal notice. Several remained, despite their states’ departure.

During a brief special session in March 1861, weeks before the start of hostilities, the Senate decided to consider these seats as vacant to avoid officially recognizing that it was possible for a state to leave the Union.

On the Fourth of July 1861, with open warfare in progress, President Abraham Lincoln convened Congress to deal with the emergency. With all hope of reconciliation gone, the Senate took up a resolution of expulsion against its 10 missing members. The resolution’s supporters argued that the 10 were guilty, like Blount years before, of conspiracy against the government. In futile opposition, several senators contended that the departed southerners were merely following the dictates of their states and were not guilty of personal misconduct.

On July 11, 1861, the Senate quickly passed Senate Daniel Clark’s resolution, expelling all 10 southern senators by a vote of 32 to 10. By the following February, the Senate expelled another four senators for offering aid to the Confederacy. Since 1862, despite considering expulsion in an additional 16 instances, the Senate has removed no member under this provision.

Courtesy: Senate Clerk

Reference Items:

Butler, Anne M., and Wendy Wolff.  United States Senate Election, Expulsion and Censure Cases, 1793-1990.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995


Quotes on the Issues

Defense Spending

Last week the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) called on President Obama to “refrain from vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016.” “The bill represents the best efforts of legislators in both chambers after long and contentious deliberation.  As much as we disagree with some of the provisions, the fact is that we are still a nation at war, and this legislation is vital to fulfilling wartime requirements.”

“There comes a time when this year’s legislative business must be completed, and remaining disagreements left to be addressed next year.  We urge you to sign this important bill into law and take up any concerns with it…in the New Year.”

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‘President Obama has issued a veto threat against the bill, which senior administration officials warn he will follow through on. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday he has already recommended that the president veto it.

‘The White House and Democrats oppose the bill because it would authorize spending levels in accordance with a Republican plan to boost defense spending, but leave federal spending caps in place on nondefense spending.’ The HIll

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Planned Parenthood

“The Select Investigative Panel is being created in the aftermath of the heavily-edited undercover videos created by a staunch anti-abortion group at a Planned Parenthood location.  It is clear that H.Res. 461 is simply another political stunt, given that three House Committees have already looked into this situation and have found no illegal activities.  Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said, when asked if there was any evidence that Planned Parenthood has broken the law, “No, I’m not suggesting they broke the law.” The resolution also makes clear that finding the truth is not the goal of the Select Panel because it does not provide for an investigation of possibly illegal activity by the group that made the undercover videos.” House Minority Whip’s Office.

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Oil Exporting

EPCA currently restricts, but does not completely ban crude oil exports.  Current law allows for unlimited exports of petroleum products like gasoline, diesel, and heating oil, but simply requires licensing of crude oil exports.  In 2015, exports of crude oil have averaged more than 480,000 barrels per day and, recently, the Obama Administration recently allowed an increase in the export of some types of oil. H.R. 702 lifts the remaining restrictions on crude oil exports of coal, petroleum products, natural gas, or petrochemical feedstocks under section 103 of EPCA. Minority Clerk’s Office

Hamilton on Congress

We Face Real Challenges to Representative Democracy

By Lee H. Hamilton

“Despite its challenges, our political system forms the core of American strength. It enshrines fundamental power in a body elected by the broad mass of the people, and is based solidly on the participation and consent of the governed”

Hamilton

Hamilton

People who care about the United States’ place in the world often fret about challenges to representative democracy from other countries. I’d contend that the more formidable challenge comes not from abroad, but from within.

For starters, it’s hard to make American representative democracy work. Our country is large, growing, and astoundingly diverse by every definition of the term. To govern it, we rely on a bewildering array of branches and units of government, which means that to solve a problem you have to navigate a slow, untidy system.

And that system rests on the consent of a public that often wants mutually contradictory things: to encourage the risk-taking that produces a dynamic economy, for instance, while reining in the private sector’s excesses; or to shrink the deficit, but without cuts in defense spending or entitlements and no additional taxes.

Our challenges come at us with rapidity and mind-boggling complexity. They include racial and class divisions, the social and economic pressures confronting families, a strained public education system, a constant flow of complex foreign and economic policy questions. To deal with them, every level of our system needs to be at the top of its game.

I take heart from the diligence and creativity of many politicians, yet I’m worried that several trends, especially at the federal level, are weakening our ability to get the results we want.

Two of our basic governing institutions, Congress and the presidency, are struggling. Congress has adopted some unfortunate political and procedural habits: it governs by crisis, fails repeatedly to follow time-tested procedures that ensure accountability and fairness, panders to wealthy contributors, and too often erupts in excessive partisanship. There are glimmers that some members are willing to re-learn the legislative arts of negotiation, compromise, and consensus-building, but these need to be front and center, not an occasional hobby: in a government that reflects the American population, Congress cannot function effectively without these skills.

The presidency, too, faces challenges. The executive branch is bloated, has too many decision makers and bases to touch, lacks accountability, and desperately needs better, more effective management.

Moreover, the decades-long march toward increased presidential power at the expense of the legislative branch severely undercuts our constitutional system and raises the question of how far down this road can we go and still have representative democracy. There are valid reasons it has happened, especially because the modern world demands quick, decisive action. But our system functions best when we have a strong president and a strong Congress who can interact, consult, and work together.

We face other challenges as well. Too much money is threatening the core values of representative democracy. And too many Americans have become passive and disengaged from politics and policy; representative democracy is not a spectator sport. While the basics – voting, keeping oneself informed, communicating with officials, getting involved in organizations that promote the causes we believe in, improving our communities – are crucial, they aren’t always enough.

As citizens we also have to learn how to solve problems ourselves. We have to model the behavior we expect from our representatives at every level by ourselves working with all kinds of people, seeking to understand and find common ground with people who disagree with us, learning how to communicate our ideas effectively, and in our search for a remedy, building consensus behind the ideas we’re promoting.

Despite its challenges, our political system forms the core of American strength. It enshrines fundamental power in a body elected by the broad mass of the people, and is based solidly on the participation and consent of the governed. Allowed to work properly, it is the system most likely to produce policy that reflects a consensus among the governed. Above all, it has the capacity to correct itself and move on.

In other words, we don’t need to reinvent our system, but rather use its abundant strengths to find our way through our problems and emerge stronger on the other side.

It is not written in the stars that representative government will always prosper and prevail. It needs the active involvement of all of us, from ordinary voters to the president. Each of us must do our part.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University 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.