Editorial May 27, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is the saying that may well apply to the EPA under HR 897, a bill that failed in the House last week when it was presented as one of two bills aiming to fight the Zika virus. It’s back again this week for another vote.

As Congress wakes up to the impending damage that virus can impose on American’s health and the health of fetuses now and in the future, the Senate took up the matter and showed its interest in spending about $800 million less than the President has identified as necessary to protect Americans while the House reluctantly coughed up about $600 million based on the belief that there is other money out there that can be transferred to the fight. There is nothing in the bill, however that identifies or authorized such a transfer.

Hard to say if the House’s chintziness is justified since the House takes issue with just about anything the President proposes, but trying to fight this mosquito-borne virus on the cheap is not about frugality. It is a conflict between politics and protecting the public’s health.

There is that other old saying, Japanese if memory serves, that ‘A crisis is an opportunity waiting to happen’.

One would think that the opportunity is to develop an effective solution to the problem but to some House Members it is the opportunity to sneak in deregulation regarding the EPA that is not necessary but opens the door to further pollution of our waterways.

Here’s the problem with HR 897; under the auspices of protecting the public from Zika it removes protections in place regarding the discharge of pollutants in US waterways for two years. What you are supposed walk away with is the assurance that if necessary the EPA and the States will not require a permit to uses pollutants if the emergency measure of spraying, say, wetlands would better protect the public from Zika increasing. You might even feel a sense of thoroughness about such a far-thinking provision but you would be wrong; it is not about protection from Zika, just riding Zika’s coattails.

The thorough thinking behind protecting US waterways from pesticide and other applications on land nearby was done over 40 years ago when Congress passed the Clean Water Act. Not only does HR 897 fail to identify Zika-carrying mosquitos as the target of the de-regulation but it ignores that the Clean Water Act of 1972 already has emergency provisions in place if such un-permitted spraying is necessary to protect the public health.

What we know about Zika is that it is transmitted through a mosquito bite by a mosquito that has gotten the disease from biting an infected person. The mosquito may also carry dengue and chikungunya. What we hear less about is that the disease is also transmitted from person to person by males during sexual intercourse and that in some cases, perhaps many, the infected person does not know he / she is infected. Oh, was it mentioned that there is no vaccine?

Health and safety of Americans are the primary responsibilities of Congress. To use an impending health emergency to pursue a completely unrelated deregulation agenda tells us something about the House’s priorities.


Read What Congress Reads: Iran Sanctions

According to some presidential candidates and a number of Republicans in the House, the recent deal with Iran is a disaster that will lead to Iran dominating the region and Israel with the threat of nuclear war. The most recent diatribe about the deal concerns itself with the arrangement made to sell Iranian heavy water – an element of nuclear weapon production – to the US and Russia. Other threatening conclusions about the deal is that it gives Iran access to $150 billion in sanctioned funds that it will then use to increase its alleged hegemony and support for terrorism. That number may be exaggerated.

The Congressional Research Service produces documents for Congress on many issues. The documents go far more into detail then any legislation summary reports.

Here’s the report on Iran

Hamilton on Congress

Those Who Know Congress Best Are Shaking Their Heads

 

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

I had the good fortune last week to spend some time in Washington, D.C. with about a dozen former members of Congress. As you’d expect, we got to talking about the current Congress. Very quickly it turned out that the same question was troubling all of us: Why is it held in such low public esteem?

We represented both parties and a variety of eras, and had a range of experience under our belts. But we all found ourselves chagrined by what we’ve been witnessing. You have to understand that most former members of Congress believe deeply in the value of the institution for American representative government. We might take opposite sides of particular policy debates, but on one point we all agree: we want the institution itself to succeed and thrive. These days, it’s doing neither.

For starters, we were hard-pressed to come up with any real accomplishments for this Congress. It did pass a revision to No Child Left Behind, and a controversial expansion of cyber-surveillance capabilities – which it slipped into a must-pass budget bill. It also took the entirely uncontroversial step of broadening sanctions on North Korea. But that’s pretty much it.

In the country at large, people are fretting about control of our borders, stagnant wages, college expenses, the cost of health care, the opioid addiction crisis, the spread of ISIS, the strengthening effects of climate change. The administration is trying to keep the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in this country, and congressional inaction has already caused Puerto Rico to default on one set of obligations, with a much bigger default looming – and doomed airline passengers to longer and longer waits as the TSA struggles. Yet on Capitol Hill, no one seems particularly concerned. Instead, its members left town to campaign.

This may be unfair, but I can’t help but think about my first year in Congress. We enacted 810 bills, including the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Water Quality Act, and setting up the Departments of Transportation and of Housing and Urban Development. Not every year was like that, but the contrast is inescapable. Among the group of people I was with last week – people who watch Congress closely – there was unanimity: this will go out as one of the least productive years in congressional history.

Worse, members show little interest in making Congress more productive. Our little group all remembered times when we or our colleagues pushed reform efforts to make the institution work better – and were struck that current members aren’t doing so. Most Americans belong to some group or another that’s trying to accomplish change for the better and improve itself at the same time. Why would Congress be an outlier? But it is.

Some of the observations we shared last week are old hat. Congress is excessively partisan, with too many of its members highly distrustful of the other party and inclined to blame it for Capitol Hill’s ailments. As an institution, it seems incapable of ridding itself of the bad habits it’s gotten into: the reliance on omnibus bills and continuing resolutions; timidity in the face of presidential power; a marked reluctance to use the levers of congressional authority – especially control of the federal budget – to prod or check executive action.

Yet none of us believe this is irreversible. We are all convinced that strong leadership in Congress could make an immense difference. In the past, effective legislators on both sides of the aisle – as committee chairs and as caucus leaders – have left behind them a legacy of great accomplishment. Democrat Emanuel Celler of New York and Republican William McCullough of Ohio joined forces to craft the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Democrat Wilbur Mills of Arkansas and Republican John Byrnes of Wisconsin together helped shape Medicare.

I won’t waste your time with a list of consummate legislators who were able to get things done. The point is simple: it may be a different time and legislative environment from 50 years ago, but strong leadership can make Congress work. On that, my former colleagues and I, Republicans and Democrats, found ourselves in full agreement.

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

Russian Motors on US Spacecraft

” Today there are calls for legislation to severely restrict the use of Russian-made RD-180  engines that power these proven rockets. This would undermine competition by excluding ULA from most military missions until a U.S.-produced alternative is ready several years from now. The Air Force would have to rely primarily on a commercial provider that has not yet performed a single national security launch.” – Roll Call

H.R. 2576 – TSCA Modernization Act of 2015

‘The bipartisan bill will help the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protect the American people from harmful existing and new chemical substances and help to safeguard the environment. The House Amendment would: (1) require the EPA to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new risk-based safety standard that includes explicit considerations for vulnerable populations’ House Minority Whip

Firing the IRS Head

“When the House Judiciary Committee convenes on Tuesday to consider the alleged misdeeds of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen, it will contemplate action that has not been taken in more than 140 years, and that in some respects has never been pursued: the impeachment of an agency head of Mr. Koskinen’s rank.” New York Times


 Foreign Affairs

Iraq

“Iraqi security forces launched a military operation in Fallujah, the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Anbar province; if the operation succeeds, it will deal a serious blow to the extremist organization.”  ‘Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the launch of the operation in the early hours of May 23, saying, “There is no option for Daesh [IS] except to flee,”  – al Monitor

Russian Politics Sagging?

“…there has been no shortage of speculation about Russia’s political stability. Some argue that a collapse of the Putin regime is imminent, whereas others are more cautious. A recent Foreign Affairs survey of experts found that most believed that political change in Russia was not on the immediate horizon, but there were plenty of dissenters.” – Foreign Affairs Magazine

No Trump in North Korea

“North Korea’s ambassador to Britain said Tuesday that his country has no interest in presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s offer to open nuclear talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Ambassador Hyon Hak Bong said that Pyongyang views Trump’s offer as an electoral ploy that isn’t serious. Hyon said that “we see it as the dramatics of a popular actor,”  Washington Times


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