Editorial March 18, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

As the saying goes, it’s Deja vu all over again as House leadership budget plans are undermined by a relatively small group of Members calling themselves the House Freedom Caucus (HFC). It’s not just that the group is opposing the proposed budget resolution now being crafted in committee that is familiar, it is the dogged adherence to spending levels set by the sequester several years back despite the threat to national security and severe impact on various individuals and groups recognized by bipartisan lawmakers.

It’s the $30 billion Overseas Contingency (OSC) spending add-on to last year’s two-year budget agreement that is stuck in their craw. But it may not really be that extra spending that bugs them because the offer of a stand-alone bill providing cuts to off-set the OSC bump has also been rejected by the small group. You have to ask why any Member of Congress would oppose funding overseas operations at a time when most all that concerns us is going on over there? In the HFC mindset they didn’t vote for that deal and the OSC increase and so it has to go. No explanation of why or how severe spending cuts could be accommodated without threatening national security and the health and well being of many Americans.

They didn’t vote for it, but others did.

This group operates outside any allegiance to Party and common sense as it continues to support cuts that are proven to be without merit but are certainly ideological. And that’s how they justify mucking up the budget deal at a time when both parties are at least inclined to compromise and get the job done. As it has been said before in this editorial space; ‘ideology writes its own rules’ and often ignores the necessity to act based on reality. That reality tells us that money must be spent to defeat the expansion of ISIS, to maintain the safety net for the needy during a time of stagnant wages and minimal job opportunities and the increased cost-of-living they experience. That is the immediate reality but there remains important spending needs for national infrastructure, a fragmented and poorly performing education system, and the cost of pharmaceuticals and healthcare that is rapidly rising beyond many American’s ability to pay.

Considering that a healthy and well educated nation is a good thing, even necessary when dealing with global competition with other countries, the HFC seem to be looking only at the numbers as if those numbers alone will magically transform the nation into a money maker after which we will all prosper and be responsible citizens.

Despite the complaints about budget cuts from many Members, Congress has had a large hand in reducing the deficit from the $1 trillion President Obama inherited to around $400 billion. Of course, in a presidential election year, you would conclude from the candidate’s rhetoric that we are spending ourselves into oblivion when it appears we are gradually reducing our debt. Yet a severe economic shock seems to be the HFC goals rather than slowly and methodically reducing the debt with minimal pain to the citizens.

Members of Congress are there to do the bidding of their constituents through a process that was designed to bring the diverse wants and needs of all Americans to the debate.  But that doesn’t mean every group gets what it wants. The final outcome of all debates is either a clear majority in support or opposition to a bill or a compromise that meets the nation’s needs. The HFC seems to have not gotten that memo.

There would be justification of a process that allows a small number of Members to block legislation in the interest of protecting us from a misguided majority but that is not what is going on here; as stated above, this is nothing more than an unyielding ideologues strong-arming the process when they don’t get their way and doing so in a way that threatens the health and safety of many Americans and national security. The Constitution does not protect us from this nor requires that this group not remain secret, but it begs an explanation from them.

It is time to question the motivation of this group beyond doing the bidding of their constituents. We can begin by asking why members of the HFC, of which there is an estimated 30 to 40 members, refuses to make public its Members? And let then them explain why less than 1% of House Membership should be running the show.

Hamilton on Congress

Before You Reject the System, Understand It

By Lee H. Hamilton

If there’s a theme that sets this political season apart, it’s the voters’ utter disdain for most of the people who practice politics. They’re fed up with politicians, they’ve lost faith and confidence in the political elite, and they don’t believe that the realm where politicians ply their craft – government – works.

The two presidential contenders who have most channeled this frustration, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, have electrified many voters who want to get this message across. They’ve mobilized new voters, people more mainstream politicians haven’t reached. The involvement of more Americans in the political system, though it unsettles the old order, is bracing.

There are many legitimate reasons for these people to be turned off by the political system today. But I’d argue that if you’re hell-bent on shaking up the system, you also need to understand it – and understand that certain features are likely to persist no matter how hard you try to change them.

The first is that it is very hard to make our representative democracy work. We make progress incrementally, over years if not generations. The first president to press hard for affordable, accessible health care was Harry Truman. It’s taken us that long even to get close – and no one would argue that the work is done.

So you have to approach politics with great patience. Our system discourages the rush to judgment – it puts a premium on including as many voices as possible, which takes time in a complicated country. The process is inevitably slow, noisy and messy, the results fully satisfy no one, and more often than not the best we can do is to muddle through.

Which is why in our system, there’s rarely a sense of completion. The work – on health care, taxes, the environment, you name it – is never done. Nothing is ever finally settled. There is no ultimate solution.

Many people are also turned off by what lies at the center of our system: deal-making. This involves a clash of ideas in the public arena, compromise, and negotiation, which make a lot of Americans uneasy. Yet it’s how we resolve our differences – and has been since the first day of the United States’ existence.

So politicians who insist on purity impede solutions. There ought to be a healthy tension between idealism and realism, but we have to find a pragmatic way to combine them. We have to consider different points of view, the intense involvement of special interest groups, and in many cases the robust interest shown by ordinary citizens. This makes it challenging to come to an agreement on complicated issues, but it’s necessary to keep the country from coming apart.

Congress in recent years has reached new levels of polarization and failure to address the major issues of the day.  In public meetings, I often encounter a yearning for leadership to solve all our problems, usually along the lines of, “Where are the Abe Lincolns of our day?” Sadly, it’s a false hope. Our problems are made by us and have to be resolved by us. Abraham Lincoln’s not around anymore.

We cannot look to government to solve all our problems. Indeed, we live in an era in which government faces more and more problems it cannot effectively deal with. Increasingly, citizens have to step forward and fill the void that government leaves. The relevance of the citizen increases every day as power is more diffuse, technology empowers individuals, and social media allows more citizens to express their views, vent their frustrations, and to mobilize organizations.

We may well be moving into the century of the citizen. I think of the woman who got rail-crossing signals fitted out at dangerous intersections in Indiana, after her daughter was killed at a rail crossing with no signals. Or of my neighbor, who helped build a movement to press for accurate labeling of food ingredients, because he was diabetic and had no way to know the sugar content of goods. Our communities and lives are better because of citizen action. Indeed, unless citizens boost their involvement and contributions, many of our problems will not be solved.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU 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

Budget

““In the House, GOP leaders are struggling to break a months-long impasse over passing a new budget, a top priority this year for new [House] Speaker Paul Ryan [R-WI]. There’s been no significant progress in forging a spending plan that passes conservative muster, even as senior Republicans spent a week-long recess fielding proposals and ideas from lawmakers.” [Politico, 3/14/16]”

*****

““Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee said Monday they would delay consideration of a budget this month…The move comes as Republicans in the House are laboring to come to a consensus on a budget, and boosts the odds that one or both chambers will skip doing a budget altogether this year. That would be an embarrassing outcome for GOP leaders who pledged to write a budget and return Congress to a functioning institution.” [Politico, 3/7/16]”

Supreme Court Nomination

““When the framers drafted the Constitution, they envisioned that leaders of goodwill and patriotism would forge consensus.  Nowhere is this vision more clearly spelled out than in Article II, which provides that  the president ‘shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint … judges of the Supreme Court.’  Should Senate Republicans refuse even to meet with Judge Garland and fulfill their duty to advise the President, they will have failed in their constitutional responsibilities.  They will also have proven what so many Americans have suspected since 2009: that among a number of Republican lawmakers, no action taken by the current president, even one as fundamental to our democracy as nominating a highly qualified candidate to serve on the Supreme Court, is legitimate, and every action he takes ought to be subjected to a form of raw partisanship without parallel in our history.” House Minority Whip.

Supreme Court Nomination

“Today, President Obama announced his nomination to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

But this has never been about who the nominee is. This is about a basic principle: Under our Constitution, the president has every right to nominate whoever he wants to. But the Senate—which is a co-equal branch of government—has every right not to act on that nomination.

This is going to have to go to the American people in 2016.” House Speaker Paul Ryan.

*****

“Indeed, the patterns don’t suggest the Senate used procedures out of constitutional duty, out of deference for what the Constitution says or what previous Senates have done. Instead they used procedures based on the political circumstances of each confirmation..” Washington Post

Foreign Affairs

ISIS

ISIS in Africa

“Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III said the Islamic State, which controls portions of Iraq and Syria and sees its influence spreading into North Africa and South Asia, poses the greatest immediate threat to the United States and its allies and partners.” US Naval Institute – John Grady.

Syria

Russia Leaves Syria

“The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has abruptly declared that he is withdrawing the majority of Russian troops from Syria, saying the six-month military intervention had largely achieved its objective.” – The Guardian, Patrick  WIntour and Shaun Walker.

Ivory Coast

Have a Beer, Go On Killing Spree

“The attackers from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who killed 18 people at a hotel resort in Ivory Coast this weekend spent the last hours before the attack knocking back beers at a beachside bar, the Guardian reports.” – The Guardian / Reuters.

Magic Mondays

with Congressman Mark Pocan


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