Editorial December 9, 2016

Hamilton on Congress

Welcome to Washington, Mr. President-Elect

By Lee. H. Hamilton



As hard as the campaign might have been and the transition is proving to be, Donald Trump’s challenges are really just beginning. Governing after a toxic election in which the results awarded him an ambiguous national mandate – his opponent, after all, got more votes – will require finesse, a clear-eyed view of his role in the world, and no small amount of luck.

There is no question that, come January, President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress will be in firm control of the government. They will be able to call the shots on policy, and cooperation between the President and Congress should be far more assured than it has been for the last six years.

He will soon find, even under these circumstances, that the commitments and promises made during the campaign are going to be very hard to carry out. The new President’s number one priority almost certainly is going to be rebuilding U.S. economic power. A great many of the people who voted for him did so because they expect him to produce more good jobs, better incomes, and better economic opportunity.

But he faces great difficulties on this front: gross inequalities of income and opportunity, persistent poverty, a decaying infrastructure, a challenging education system, a health care system that even after reform remains expensive and often ineffective, and rapid technological and global changes that make it harder for people without a college education to find work. To say nothing of a slow-moving Congress and an entrenched bureaucracy. Most Americans are not getting ahead and they know it. His supporters may grant him a grace period in which to fix all this, but economic dissatisfaction will persist.

Other domestic issues he addressed in the campaign will prove no easier to pursue. Donald Trump campaigned on replacing Obamacare, a position that President-Elect Trump began to moderate within days of winning the election. He has not set out a comprehensive alternative – simply keeping the popular parts and jettisoning the rest, which he suggested he might do, is not an acceptable or workable option.

Which leaves open the question of how to insure the 20 million people who gained coverage under Obamacare. Mr. Trump has suggested he’d support health savings accounts and allow insurers to sell policies across state lines. He would also like to convert Medicaid from an entitlement program into a block grant. These proposals are certain to arouse fierce opposition.

He has made clear that he wants to enact large tax cuts, especially on businesses – while at the same time spending billions on infrastructure improvements. The path to tax cuts is clear: members of Congress like to vote for tax decreases. However, most evaluations of his policy proposals suggest that deficits will explode under his program. He has talked about offsetting some of that revenue by eliminating or limiting loopholes and tax deductions, but this has been standard rhetoric in Washington for years and never been carried out with any effectiveness. We’ll see how much stomach Congress and the country have for sending deficits spiraling upward.

Others of the President-elect’s programs – slashing regulations on financial institutions, on worker protections, and on environmental impacts – would create major changes in American policy at home. These, too, will arouse much opposition.

While contemplating this, it’s also worth remembering the words of Harold Macmillan, who was once asked what he most feared as Britain’s prime minister. “Events, dear boy, events,” he replied. Surprises will come along that interrupt even the best-tended plans – and that can buttress or destroy a president’s standing in the blink of an eye. The Senate, in particular, is precariously balanced in his favor, and it won’t take much for Democrats to brake or stymie his initiatives.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump effectively captured the discontent and anger of many Americans. With his proposals, he has upended the political order with a new brand of politics and policies. My guess is that he is on a steep learning curve, having under-estimated the difficulties and over-estimated his capabilities to deal with them. We should all extend the President-elect the benefit of the doubt, be vigilant, and see how his presidency unfolds before becoming judgmental.

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.

Former Diplomats: Countering North Korean Missile, Nuke Programs to be Major Trump Challenges

The emphasis shouldn’t be on how much Seoul is paying in its own defense but how to deal with North Korea’s expanding missile and nuclear weapons programs, former senior diplomats from the U.S. and South Korea said on Monday.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Han Sung-joo, a former Korean minister of foreign affairs, said, “It is quite possible we would end up with governments with very different views” on those issues and future relations with China when Donald Trump takes the oath of office and Park Geun-hye either resigns by next spring or is impeached later this week.

“The threat is growing” from North Korea and “the means to deal with it are limited,” Han, who also served as Korea’s ambassador to the United States warned.

Complicating matters in Seoul right now, current President Park has offered to resign faced with an impeachment vote. Under a plan offered by her party, the resignation would take effect in April. More than 170 members of the 300-seat National Assembly belong to the opposition or independent parties.

Unlike the past when the North Korea threat was pushed aside to deal with Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons program, time is running out to end Pyongyang’s testing programs, the diplomats said.

Christopher Hill, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, said, the key fact is that this is a military testing program of land- and sea-based missiles and miniaturizing nuclear weapons.

Their “one purpose is putting deliverable nuclear weapons … on top of a missile,” so testing will continue until it succeeds in meeting that goal.

But the dilemma for the United States and Korea in confronting Kim Jong-un, now entering his fifth year as ruler of North Korea, is “when there are no good options … you come up with slogans,” such as “strategic patience.”

The question remains for the two countries, as well as China, “is there a way to stop that” continued development without becoming bogged down on issues such as burden-sharing or possibly stepping aside to let Seoul and Tokyo develop their own nuclear weapons.

Candidate Trump in a meeting with The Washington Post and at a town hall, conducted by CNN called for South Korea to spend more on their own defense including having a nuclear weapons program.

Hill said Washington and Seoul must remain focused on working together and with Beijing on dealing with North Korea, keeping tough sanctions in place that China has been willing to support and protecting the Republic of Korea by having “a very robust defense posture” especially in missile defense.

While President Park’s government has said it would accept the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system on the peninsula, the country’s opposition parties oppose the move. Whether the deployment would proceed is now in question. China too has opposed the move as being provocative.

Han said President Trump “might want to try some type of negotiations with China and North Korea” over the continued testing programs.

Neither Hill nor Han expected the United States to work solely with China over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs in some type of “grand bargain.” “The minute it is seen as going over Korea’s head, it will not last,” Hill said.

Japan and Korea “have a pretty good story to tell” when it comes to burden sharing, Hill, who also served as an ambassador to Seoul. said. The current agreement between Washington and Seoul on “Special Measures,” including sharing defense costs, is due to end next year.

Han said, “The Republic of Korea is assuming more of a share than other allies” in covering the costs of U.S. protection. At the same time, “Korea is spending 2.6 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] on defense.” The threshold set in NATO is for member countries to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

“An alliance is a lot more than cost and money,” he said.\


Quotes on the Issues

Continuing Resolution

“After weeks of wrangling, Republican leaders unveiled a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night that would fund the government through April at current levels…  ‘This legislation is just a Band-Aid…’ House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement… The bottom line: Lawmakers are likely to avoid a government shutdown, but look for a nasty fight over the stopgap package this week.” Congressional Quarterly

Continuing Resolution

“Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., another senior House appropriator, said Congress may be heading for a long-term punt on spending decisions that would keep the government operating on autopilot for the entire fiscal year, which ends next September. While a fresh spending package could still be cobbled together when the stopgap runs out next spring, Dent said he was doubtful. ‘If we can’t pass the appropriations bills now, we sure as hell won’t be able to do it in March, April or May…”    Congressional Quarterly

Freedom Caucus

A defining principle for the House Freedom Caucus can be summarized this way: The painful short-term political consequences for the Republican Party from provoking internal discord must be steadfastly disregarded in the name of long-term conservative purification. The most notable shift, as the Freedom Caucus approaches its second birthday in January, looks to be toward confrontations over policies rather than personalities.   . RollCall.com

Foreign Affairs

Aleppo, Syria

Mosul, Iraq

North Korea

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