Editorial July 15, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

At this time of the year Congress handles many bills in advance of its August break. This year that August break of five weeks is expanded to seven as Congress will adjourn this July 15th until the end of the first week in September. Next up is the four week October break leading up to the elections in November.

While the volume of legislation brought to the floor has increased and many of the bills have substance, unaddressed are pressing issues such as the nation’s aging infrastructure, the absence of a Social Security increase as consumer prices rise but somehow not in a way that triggers an increase. While jobs are less of an issue job training is and little if any legislation provides the education or training for Americans to re-tool and move into a higher paying job. That issue brings immigration into the argument which is an issue in need of a definitive approach.

Many of the bills this week address current issues that Congress must not ignore for political campaign reasons not necessarily a better performing country; in the aftermath of Dallas, despite it being a lone wolf action and not ISIS inspired, national security is on everyone’s mind and garnered nine bills this week, education, another campaign issue, mustered four bills and foreign policy regarding Iran had two bills.

The national security bills at this time raise the question of why weren’t these bills introduced years ago? Okay, so those bills will pass, as will the education bills, with some bipartisan support. Looking at the Iran bills it is easy to conclude they will not become law because, like other congressional efforts to interject itself in the P5+1 Joint Agreement, they are pretty much a message to Iran that Congress doesn’t like the agreement and to constituents who have been convinced the Joint Agreement is a disaster and a threat to global security. Beyond that the bills are a waste of time and money.

The cost of paying off student loans has become at least an item of discussion in the campaign and two bills address that issue but don’t think it will ease your payments; both bills requires institutions to do a better job informing potential student borrowers and makes the information they need to make a borrowing decision available but neither addresses interest rates or any possible new and creative ways to ease the burden of indebted graduates trying to make ends meet in a difficult economy.

One bill would raise the COLA for veterans but chains it to a Social Security increase which doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Finally there is HR 4768, the separation of powers bill. The reoccurring mantra from House and Senate Leadership is that government regulations get in the way of businesses making a profit and so kill jobs; a matter that the bill does not address but, in fact, may add more delays to businesses and individuals living under a regulation since the Federal courts would now have a de novo (from the beginning) say in qualifying a proposed and existing regulation to see if it is constitutionally correct. That adds up to further regulation delays and a cost to the taxpayers to sort such things out.

Bottom line is that there has been, is, and will continue to be pressing issues in need of a legislative solutions but Congress seems to be more concerned with passing only bills that will get them votes in November. That strategy indicates a sense of self-importance among legislators who must feel that their reelection is critical (at least to them) and the needs of the country are secondary.’

The problem with this determination to win the election while ignoring the necessary work of Congress, is that the campaign schedule and internal problems within the House Republicans position on spending bills is certain to derail Speaker Ryan’s promise to get the 2017 spending bills completed on time (End of September). We may see a continuing resolution to fund the government into the next fiscal year rather than an omnibus bill but we may very well also watch as the House’s inability to do its job leads us to another government shutdown.

Hamilton on Congress

By Lee H. Hamilton

 

For Those Eligible, Voting Should Be Easy

Hamilton

Hamilton

The elections process is not usually grist for inflammatory rhetoric. But this year has been different. Republican Donald Trump labeled the GOP primary process “crooked.” Democrat Bernie Sanders suggested his party’s use of super-delegates made its nominating process a “rigged system.” For many voters, the intricacies of voting rules quickly became a topic of overriding interest.

Now that the primaries are over, I hope Americans remain just as intrigued by the laws governing general-election voting in their states. Because at the moment, this country is engaged in an experiment with the democratic process that should rivet everyone who cares about representative government.

We’ve seen two diverging trends in the states in recent years. One approach has sought to make voting more difficult. Since the 2010 elections, 22 states have put laws in place narrowing voters’ ability to go to the polls. They have decreased the time allotted for voting; added tough ID requirements; reduced options for voting prior to Election Day; added proof-of-citizenship requirements; and made it necessary for voters to register well before Election Day. These steps, their backers contend, are necessary to guard against voter fraud and assure the integrity of the ballot.

Other states have moved in the opposite direction. They’ve made it easier to register to vote; have added longer hours for voting on Election Day; have moved to mail-in ballots; and encourage early voting. They’ve done all they can to make the process of voting simple and convenient.

On the whole, Republicans at the state level have favored greater restrictiveness and Democrats greater ease, but you don’t have to be a partisan of one side or the other to recognize that politicians believe a great deal is at stake. Whatever they give as their reasons for pushing a particular approach, you can be sure they are also calculating the effect of rules changes on the outcome of elections, and they’ll do all they can to tilt the rules in their favor.

Which is why the question of how to approach the right to vote isn’t going to be settled any time soon. There are a lot of court cases pending in the various states, and it’s likely there will be conflicting judicial opinions.

If we’re going to debate the electoral process as a nation, let’s keep in mind the core issue: it should be easy to vote – and hard to cheat. Casting your ballot is a fundamental constitutional right, and ensuring that every eligible voter can do so is basic to our system. Every American should be able to exercise his or her right to vote without feeling cowed – which is why I worry that efforts to limit voting will have a pernicious effect on our system of representative government.

The evidence on this is mixed. A recent paper by political scientists at UC San Diego analyzing turnout between 2008 and 2012 in states with strict voter ID laws found that they depressed voting overall – more among Democratic constituencies, but among Republicans, too. Yet recent research also suggests that the opposite is not true: easing voting rules in states that never tightened them does not necessarily boost turnout.

One certainty in all this is that a lot of people who are eligible to vote for various reasons do not choose to do so. Of the 219 million Americans eligible to vote in 2014, the Census Bureau reported last year, roughly 41 million were not registered; and turnout in actual elections is even lower. Voting behavior may be more related to motivation than it is to statutory activity.

A more pressing certainty is that our entire voting system needs attention. All too many jurisdictions try to run elections on the cheap, with machinery and processes that are inadequate to the task. Even now, 16 years after the 2000 presidential election revealed deep flaws in the patchwork of ways we record and tally votes, the system remains rickety.

“The vigor of American democracy rests on the vote of each citizen,” a national commission on voting once wrote. Keep that in mind this election year – and pay attention to how your state approaches its obligation to safeguard that vigor.

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.


 

On the Issues

Undocumented Military Personnel

‘A group of House Republicans are pushing a bill that would ban undocumented immigrants from serving in the U.S. military, undoing initiatives led by President Obama. The bill, introduced Monday, would prevent those who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and “other unlawful aliens” from enlisting in the U.S. military.’ The Hill

Ryan and the GOP

Paul D. Ryan, the reluctant House speaker, eager 2012 vice-presidential nominee and youthful answer to Hillary Clinton, should be sprinting toward the Republican convention, a bright, optimistic star poised to sell his party’s agenda.Instead, Mr. Ryan finds himself essentially slouching toward Cleveland…’ New York Times

Budget

‘“As long as House Republicans continue to insist that tax cuts somehow pay for themselves – or put forward budgets that place the burden of deficit reduction on the backs of the most vulnerable and rely on magic asterisks – we’re not going to be able to reach the kind of big and balanced budget agreement that we need.’ House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)


Foreign Affairs

ISIS

‘President Barack Obama’s recent decision to leave 8,400 U.S. forces in Afghanistan through next year and NATO’s announcement over the weekend to support the United States with another 3,000 troops—as well as $1 billion in financial support— means the effort in Afghanistan will enter its 16th year with U.S. forces’. US Naval Institute News

CHINA

‘The decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague represents the first explicit, legal repudiation of China’s claims to the waters of the South China Sea, a territorial land grab that has in recent years soured relations between Beijing and many of its neighbors, especially the Philippines.’ Foreign Policy Magazine

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL IS WORKING

‘Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. Foreign Affairs Magazine

 


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