Editorial February 5, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

As we have said several times in this editorial space it is an election year and we must endure a variety of nonsense aimed at getting us to vote for one party or another in November. For the most part on the Hill we see this stealth campaigning in the form of legislation with little or no chance of passage. They are called messaging bills. The aim to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a grand example with over 60 attempts to get a bill to the President that he predictably vetoed.

Such efforts in the interest of a Party’s political aspirations are time consuming and a waste of taxpayer’s money but not to the extent that it should be banned, just tolerated; It is a political use of the legislative process the appropriateness of which could be debated forever since politics is what put Members of Congress in Office and meeting their constituents’ wishes keeps them there.

The campaign trail is a more appropriate place for messages to the favored electorate and don’t have to be accurate or appropriate which is unfortunate because the candidates offer positions that must pass muster in Congress but will not or are not likely to be acted on successfully.

We take, for example, presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) promise to ‘carpet bomb’ Syria as a way to fight ISIS. We would hope that a candidate aspiring to the White House where a great amount of foreign policy decisions are made would know that despite the ‘carpet bombing as a solution’ votes he seeks, carpet bombing has been illegal as per the Geneva Conventions since the end of the Vietnam War. Congress and the military cannot legally support Cruz’s impulsive ambition.

We watch presidential candidate Hillary Clinton quickly distance herself from other candidates’ position that our personal financial assets would be much more safe if Congress reinstalled Glass-Steagall, the post-Depression law that created the FDIC, required that banks have amounts set-aside to cover their bets, and kept our assets safe until 8 years after its repeal in 1999 when we began to enter the Great Recession. Clinton would have us believe that Dodd-Frank, installed in response to the 2008 Great Recession has not been watered down and will not be further watered down until it offers little protection if any. To get it the way she wants, whatever that may end up being, a president Clinton would have to deal with a majority in Congress that jettisoned Glass-Steagall and would very much like to get rid of Dodd-Frank.

And we watch the young and idealistic candidate, Senator Marco Rubio introduce his keystone position on foreign policy as the ‘New American Century’ which sounds compelling but is chillingly familiar to the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a now defunct effort by neoconservatives that centered on, as PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan who put it ‘a belief in the rectitude of applying US moralism to the world stage, support for the US to act alone, the promotion of American-style liberty and democracy in other countries, the belief in American hegemony, the confidence in US military power, and a distrust of international institutions.’ (Wiki). The PNAC had it’s sights set on Iraq before 911, clearly influenced the Bush Administration decision and ultimately gained approval of Congress. Even a staunch majority of conservatives, considering how the PNAC effort worked out, would have to think twice and then think again before supporting Rubio’s initiative.

All of those situations are what comes up when people vie for the most powerful job on Earth but delivering a ‘crap sandwich’ as Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) referred to the recent Omnibus spending bill seems to be the way it goes. Voters need to keep in mind that these candidates want your votes and seem to be willing to say whatever you want to hear to get them. If they are serious about their promises they need to explain how they will get the support of Congress to implement them or they will become empty promises.

Hamilton on Congress

How to Tell If Congress is Working Again

By Lee H. Hamilton

“In the end, good intentions and fine rhetoric don’t accomplish much.”

Hamilton

Hamilton

There have been encouraging signs that the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill wants to make Congress function again. They’ve talked about using conference committees more, allowing a more open process for rank-and-file members, enacting separate appropriation bills rather than using omnibus bills, and letting committees lead on legislation rather than hoarding all power in the leadership offices. Perhaps most important, they’ve acknowledged that Congress has many bad habits, and insist that they want to restore a healthy legislative process.

This has to be heartening to any American concerned about the level of dysfunction to which Congress had sunk. The question is, how can we tell if Congress is actually fixing itself? For as promising as the rhetoric might be, there’s a long way to go before words and reality meet on Capitol Hill. Here’s what you should keep your eye on:

First, differences in emphasis separate the leaders of the two houses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan is intent on pressing forward with key policy proposals that would anchor a bold Republican legislative agenda. But that’s because the Republican majority in the House is not generally believed to be at risk. Over in the Senate, things are different: control of that body next year is up for grabs, and McConnell seems to be focused on maintaining his party’s majority. For his members, boldness is a risk. This difference could lead to slim production.

So look to see how many and which issues the two leaders really push forward. Will they advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in some version, or let it slide until the elections are past? Will they tackle tax reform? How about authorizing support for the war against ISIS? Ryan has already removed one key matter – immigration reform – from the table. Will other pressing issues also bite the dust?

The second big indicator is whether Congress has the political will to fix itself. Most members say publicly that they don’t want gridlock and are dedicated to making the institution function smoothly. The key measure of whether they really mean it is the attitude they take toward their political adversaries. If what you hear on Capitol Hill is nothing but distrust, then they’re not serious. If they’re willing to negotiate and compromise with one another – as happened at the end of last year, with the passage of an omnibus spending package – then there’s hope.

Third is what you might think of as the rolled-up-sleeves test. How hard are members of Congress willing to work at addressing the key issues facing the country? So far, the evidence is disappointing. The legislative schedule put out by the congressional leadership is, to be blunt, lax. On average, members of Congress will be working about nine days a month. They’ve given themselves four stretches of ten days off at a time. They’ll be off for 52 straight days in July, August and September, and then another 39 days in a row in October and November. Yes, it’s an election year and they want to campaign. But you cannot run a government that is not in session. The best we can hope for is an obvious sense of urgency when members of Congress are in Washington. Look for it. If you don’t see it, little will get done on Capitol Hill.

I should say that not all the responsibility for restoring Congress rests at the federal level. The states, too, have a key role to play. Will they get serious about how they draw congressional districts, so that politicians no longer have the luxury of picking their voters rather than the other way around? Will some states continue to pursue efforts to make voting harder – which, like gerrymandering, has the effect of shoring up the extremes in Congress? Will states make the effort to modernize their voting systems, so that the democratic process has a chance of working with minimal friction?

In the end, good intentions and fine rhetoric don’t accomplish much. I hope you’ll keep an eye on Congress and cheer for its members to act in accord with their own advice. If they do, Congress will take a giant stride toward improved performance.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Quotes on the Issues

ISIS

Carpet Bombing Syria Disputed

‘The notion of defeating ISIS by massive imprecise bombing (Carpet Bombing) in Iraq and Syria has been brought up several times during the Republican presidential race…’ CNN (Video and informative links)

As suggested the action would violate Geneva Convention rules and so, illegal. (Ed.)

*****

Mapping the Spread of ISIS – Foreign Policy

*****

ISIS Radio Station Destroyed

“Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where most people do not have televisions and only 10 percent of the population has access to the Internet. Nearly everyone has access to radio, with around 175 stations operating across the country.” Al Arabiya (English)

*****

Syria

Russian Jets in Syria

Russia has sent more fighter jets to Syria. Comments from Russia’s defense ministry and reporting from the Russian media point to four new Su-35 Flanker-E jets deployed to Hmeymim airbase, according to the AP.Associated Press through Foreign Policy Magazine.

*****

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has lost about 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq, but only about “five percent” of the territory it once held in Syria, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Friday. The Hill

 *****

Syria Peace Talks

‘…debate over whether, or in what capacity,…the Syrian Kurds would attend the talks…reveals the complicated and evolving relationship among Washington, and the other players – Bipartisan Policy Center

*****

Legislation

Flint Michigan – A Disaster in Search of a Bill

The contaminated public drinking water in Flint, Michigan “…is a tragic example of the broader failure to invest in public health and consumer safety”

“We also need to focus on quickly identifying the steps necessary to fix the problem…and better understanding the long-term challenges Flint faces in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy.”

““The Republican Majority on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee ought to have insisted that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testify at…hearings..  He is a critical figure in this case and has admitted responsibility for allowing cost-cutting that jeopardizes public health.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

*****

South China Sea

China Upset

‘Chinese officials issued several condemnations of the latest U.S. freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea (SCS) in which an American guided missile destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of Chinese administered Triton Island in the Paracel Island chain.’ – US Naval Institute, Sam La Grone

*****

Navigating the PRC Man-made Islands

‘Calling freedom of navigation “a matter of fundamental principle” to the United States, the top military officer in the Pacific said that more operations in the South China Sea not only will continue but will become more complex.’ USNI – John Grady

*****

Final Decisions on SCS Islands? Nature

Typhoon Blows Away Illegal Island Made by Vietnam in South China Sea – Anhuines.com (English)

*****


 

Magic Mondays with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)


The Oath of Office Bill

May 21, 1789
George Washington. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

George Washington. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

On this date, the Oath of Office bill, the first legislative act of Congress, was signed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. President George Washington signed the bill into law on June 1, 1789. The simple text read, “I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” The oath of office became an important aspect of the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877). Newly elected Members, especially from seceding states, had to affirm to the oath to serve in the Congress. The text of the oath has changed several times, and it is now administered en masse by the Speaker of the House on the floor on the opening day of each new Congress. Article VI of the Constitution requires all Representatives, Senators, executive officers, judicial officers, and state legislatures to affirm support for the Constitution. In cases when a House Member has an excused absence, another Member may administer the oath to them. ##