Editorial May 13, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Here is the joint statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump after their meeting in Washington Thursday, May 12th.

The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall. With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground. We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal. We are extremely proud of the fact that many millions of new voters have entered the primary system, far more than ever before in the Republican Party’s history. This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification.”

If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the Oval Office in November and the House majority numbers remain in favor of Republicans there is not likely to be a meeting between House Republicans and either of them. As the statement above demonstrates, to House conservatives they are another Obama and if the House refusal to even entertain the President’s 2017 budget request is any indication, we would be in for the same legislative ping pong we have experienced between President Obama and the House.

While Republicans are all tingly about Trump winning the White House and continuing control of Congress this meeting does not tell us if Republicans will actually get anything done for the country. Trump is winning the popular vote which should translate into clear presidential policy decisions and full support from the House at least, but how do you define a policy direction when the populous that voted you in is acting on emotions spurred on more by campaign rhetoric than practical and informed decisions? Adding to that we still have the semi-anonymous, 30 to 40 members of the Freedom Caucus that has dug in an refuses to yield on any budget that does not adhere to the sequester caps.

Trump holds that with the majority of the popular vote he is the winner but he will now have to make good on the promises that got their support. If he follows that lead we will see renewed efforts to build a wall on the southern border, an aggressive military action against ISIS, a ban on taking Muslim refugees from Syria, and the wholesale rounding up and deportation of illegal immigrants. Not much of that is likely to happen but with some synergy between the House and a Trump White House we will certainly see such legislation brought to the floor as messaging bills; ‘we hear you, we’re trying.’

While all of that familiar nonsense continues we are not likely to see sufficient funding to fight the Zika virus, to repair aging rail, roads, bridges and dams. Perhaps those issues will be left to market forces for resolution.

It is times like these we might take some solace in the Constitution but Trump gained a good bit of support when he promised to curtail Muslim immigration to the US possibly in violation of the Constitution. This Congress has shown a willingness to attach the Constitution to several issues and came up empty; the Affordable Care Act, Defense of Marriage, and other such issues turned out to be embarrassing defeats for Republicans and expensive excursions for the taxpayers.

Presidents have their own responsibilities but Congress is responsible for meeting the needs of the taxpayers. While the presidential campaign is top of the news cycle, between the lines there is nothing put forth that will cause Congress to work together better and get things done.

 

Hamilton on Congress

Beyond Transparency, We Need Accountability

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

Over more than three decades in Congress, I had the chance to question a lot of federal officials. Most of the time I wasn’t after anything dramatic – I just wanted to understand who was responsible for certain decisions. Want to know how often I got a straight answer? Almost never.

It was easily one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to ensure robust oversight of the government. Our representatives’ job, after all, is to help make government work better. And you can’t do that if you don’t know whom to hold accountable for important decisions. I don’t want to be unfair to officials in the executive branch, many of whom are dedicated public servants who work long hours to serve the rest of us. But they have raised to an art form the ability to dodge responsibility.

This is a problem. Accountability is essential to good governance. I’m not just talking about “transparency” – that is, citizens’ ability to know what’s being done in our name. That’s important, but equally important is holding accountable those who made the decision to do it: ensuring that they are accountable to policy-makers, adhere to their obligations, follow the law, and that their actions are appropriate and responsive to the needs of the country.

This may be part and parcel of good governing, but it’s elusive. Accountability requires that officials step up and take responsibility for their decisions, and not try to shift that responsibility to others or to some ill-defined group. It requires unambiguous performance standards, clear codes of ethics, timely reporting, and acceptance of responsibility, especially with regard to budget or spending decisions.

It’s sustained by procedures that encourage responsible stewardship of public funds and a focus on correcting inefficiencies and poor performance. And above all, it rests on robust oversight and review of officials’ performance, not only within the executive branch, but also by Congress and the media.

So how do we get there?

The first step is to make information available to the public, especially when it comes to budgeting. Government performance rests on how it spends the public’s money.

Yet making sure that people see and hear what government is doing only promotes transparency. It’s taking the next step, and ensuring that there’s a clear command and control structure, that promotes accountability. Without clarity on who’s in charge of what and who’s responsible for which decisions, it becomes too easy for officials to remain unanswerable for their actions.

Clear lines of authority mean nothing unless the deciding officials are identified and measured against what actually takes place. No official, in other words, should be without accountability for his or her decisions, which means that executive agencies and Congress alike need to perform regular and robust oversight. Regular audits focused on inefficiencies, waste, and poor performance are critical. Officials need to give a full account of what they do and the decisions they make.

As a nation, we face a growing issue on this front when it comes to federal contractors – that is, the private workforce doing jobs for federal agencies. The government itself doesn’t know how many contract employees it has, but the Washington Post reported last year that federal spending on contracts grew 87 percent – or about 5 percent a year – between 2000 and 2012. This is a problem because it creates an accountability vacuum. There are very few mechanisms for holding contractors responsible for their errors, abuses and missteps.

Which is why I noted above that the media is as important as Congress and internal government overseers. We as citizens depend on the media to tell us what’s going on in the entire system: within the bureaucracy, in the behavior of contractors, and among legislators who ought to be overseeing both but often don’t. This is a key public responsibility, and the press needs to be staffed and have access to the resources to do a good job – which, these days, is increasingly rare.

Accountability, in other words, is key to good government. All I wanted to know in those congressional hearings was who made the decision about the public’s business. Is that too much to ask?

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

White House vs Scalise on Iran

“The White House is picking a fight with Rep. Steve Scalise over Iran, saying the House majority whip possibly lied about how much Tehran could realize in relief from economic sanctions in exchange for agreeing to curb its nuclear ambitions.” – Congressional Quarterly

Trump on the Hill

“House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)…said…that he is supporting Donald Trump, and he hopes the speaker and other Republicans can back him too. “A House divided cannot stand. I’ve watched the last eight years, and we don’t need another four of that.” Congressional Quarterly

Trump: You get what you pay for.

““The Republicans have created an environment of radicalism, fear, and exclusion. Their presumptive nominee is the result of their work, and what they have sowed they are now reaping.” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD)


 

Foreign Affairs

Immigration Ban not Constitutional

“I’m proud to cosponsor Rep. Beyer’s bill, which makes clear that the United States does not discriminate based on religion.  Regardless of what Donald Trump may think, barring members of a particular religious group from entering the country is unconstitutional and would never be supported by Congress or the courts.  Our Founders insisted not only on including the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights but made it the very first to be enshrined in that document: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD)

Facebook Issues in Egypt

The head of the Communication and Information Technology Committee of the Egyptian parliament, Ahmad Zeidan, told the daily Youm 7 late last month that his committee is working on legislation to regulate social media websites — Facebook in particular — in coordination with other committees that might be involved in the issue, such as the Information, Defense and National Security committees. “The West sold us Facebook only to blackmail us.” – ‘…monitor Facebook violations and take immediate action against them.’ Al Monitor

Syrian Refugees in the US

“UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration’s effort to step up asylum for Syrian refugees is going so slowly, it may not meet the president’s deadline for accepting at least 10,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

More than seven months since the president pledged to resettle the most vulnerable Syrians, the United States has let in less than a fifth of that number — 1,736 through the end of April, according to government figures. New York Times


Magic Mondays


Political News Junkie


Half Column