Editorial January 13, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

As the Senate continues to debate SCR 3, the budget reconciliation, we can take some time to look closer at provisions in the bill that might make you take pause.

There was a great outcry at Rep Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA-6) amendment to the bill that is seen as ‘gutting’ the Office of Congressional Ethics, that entity that takes complaints about Congress from the public and has the power to investigate and subpoena. The Office was created during a Democrat majority in the House to address what was seen as growing ethics violations. The existing House Ethics Committee was not known or trusted to be impartial even in deciding what cases should be investigated. The Office can take credit for the investigation and prosecution of former Rep Bob Ney (R) for his having taken bribes related to the machinations of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep William Jefferson (D) for money laundering. Goodlatte’s amendment was withdrawn from the bill due to the outcry but may not have been such a blatant attempt to shield Members from accusations of ethics violations but other provisions in the bill are deserving of more suspicion.

Ethics or other investigations of Members of Congress always will look for documents to support or disprove the allegations of wrong doing. That may be a problem in the future due to a clause that makes it clear that any documents coming in to a congressional office or produced by that office are the sole possession of the Member. We ponder the purpose of such a change when we consider that those documents would be assumed to be in the public domain at least for the reason that they were received or produced using taxpayer money and, to varying degrees, are owned by the public. The question that will no doubt be answered when the first investigation takes place is what legal protection the suspect congressman gains from this arrangement. The first question to be answered is what procedure will investigators have to use to subpoena those documents or even enter the office and box them up? The second is whether or not documents that would become personal property can be withheld under the fifth amendment not to incriminate oneself.

There is also a provision that is a very new concept to the power Congress has. SCR 3 gives lawmakers under certain circumstances the ability to fire a government employee, zero out funding for that position or the office in which he or she works and do it as an amendment to a bill not subject to opposition and not subject to amendment. The matter of an imperial presidency has been around since Nixon and surfaced again under George W. Bush and now under President Obama. It seems to be a legitimate complaint from Congress on some occasions and political nonsense on others. This Republican Congress in particular regularly complains that the President goes beyond his authority to mess with authority that Congressmen thinks is theirs.

The president submits his budget and a disagreeing Congress develops its own but by the end of the process it should be clear what needs spending and how much is allocated. Why then would Congress need the power to change that down the line? To begin with the positions or offices that could be affected by this provision are executive branch territory and under the direction of the president who, until now, has had the authority to move funds around and otherwise accomplish the same thing. We can look at the VA where Congress has continuously produced bills that require more accountability from VA officials and, most recently, require the department to hold on to reprimands of admonishments towards VA employees. The accountability requirements are in order but holding on to employee reprimand documents is something else. We wonder if the combination of the two would simply give Members of Congress the opportunity to fire government employees and to do so without due process or even an investigation into the employees conduct if those employees are not embracing a position on, say, a regulation that Congress feels strongly about.

Finally we see another Rep Goodlatte bill that requires agencies making rules to jump through major hoops in determining the financial and employment impacts of a regulation. This Republican Congress and the incoming president both hold to the idea that government regulations stand in the way of jobs and businesses making money. it is a blind, one-way street considering that most regulations (EPA are considered the most onerous) are there to protect the general public from environmental damage and so those effects on personal health and property values which, apparently are secondary to making money as far as Goodlatte and the Republican Congress are concerned.

Hamilton on Congress

Want to Govern Effectively, Mr. Trump?


By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

As Mario Cuomo said, politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. Now we have a president-elect who campaigned in tweets…but still will have to govern in prose.

Donald Trump showed great skill as a campaigner, steering his campaign past a slew of professional politicians who underestimated him at every turn. Now the test is whether he can govern – that is, whether he can run the United States government, conduct foreign policy in treacherous times, and reshape domestic policy to fit his goals. This requires a very different set of skills from those he showed before the election.

So, like a few thousand other Americans, I’d like to give him some advice. Not on the substance of policy itself – that he’ll handle himself – but on how to be effective at achieving what he’d like to achieve.

First, he has to set priorities. During the course of the campaign, according to The Washington Post, Donald Trump made 282 promises. He is not going to be able to deliver on them all.

So he’ll need to set out his priorities with clarity and force. As the head of a vast federal establishment, clarity of objectives is crucially important in policy implementation. He cannot afford to sow confusion. Though this president-elect prides himself on unpredictability, conducting policy in an unpredictable way is the mark of a rogue state.

Unpredictability creates doubt about what he wants to achieve – both on Capitol Hill and among the vast number of people and agencies charged with carrying out his policies – which in turn produces a race by elected officials to fill the clarity vacuum with their own agendas and prevents front line agencies from planning. Many Americans and foreign governments have already been unnerved by the unexpected Twitter messages coming from President-Elect Trump; this will only make his job harder once he takes office.

Second, the president-elect must fix his conflict-of-interest challenge. Because of the extraordinary extent of his business interests, he has an unprecedented number of potential conflicts for a U.S. president. He will be negotiating policy with many people, agencies and countries where he or his business partners have a bottom-line stake in what happens.

If he does not fix this before he takes office, conflict-of-interest charges will dog him throughout his presidency and weaken, if not cripple, his effectiveness. He has to protect himself from charges that his actions as president are influenced by his personal financial interests. It won’t be enough to put everything in a blind trust controlled by his children. As Newsweek recently pointed out, “every nation on Earth will know that doing business with the Trump Organization will one day benefit the family.”

Third, President Trump will need to keep his majorities united. Given Republican dominance of Capitol Hill, he’s in a strong position to get things done. But he’ll have to keep his fellow Republicans on his side. Some Republican leaders are already separating themselves from his attack on the CIA analysis of Russian interference in the election. Showing respect for, and reaching out to, GOP lawmakers will matter.

So will considering a variety of different views and treating them with respect – which is how a pluralist democracy works. Knowing how to work cooperatively and accessibly with potential allies on Capitol Hill and throughout the D.C. power structure will be crucial to making his priorities a reality.

Finally, in order to do this, it’s not enough simply to say “I want this.” He has to take seriously the role of facts in the deliberative process. Members of Congress and others need to be able to defend their support for politically difficult proposals – and they cannot do this without factually based arguments.

Accurate information is necessary to make sound judgments about policy. Trump’s decision not to regularly hear information from intelligence officials is worrisome. For a president to succeed, he needs to interact in a measured, sensible, reassuring way, and supply his allies with solid analysis and information, not guesses, instincts, opinions, and debunk-able theories.

A president who sets clear priorities, removes all doubt about potential conflicts of interest, and works responsibly with his allies on fact-driven policies can make good progress and achieve his goals.

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

Confirmation Hearings

“The nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics has raised concerns about the unprecedented nature of beginning confirmation hearings before nominees have undergone the full ethics review process.  In 2009, Senator McConnell listed requirements that nominees should meet before beginning committee hearings in a letter to then-Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Among his requirements were that ‘the Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing’ for each nominee, and that ‘financial disclosure statements are complete and submitted to the committee for review prior to a hearing being held.’  This same standard, which the Senate followed in 2009 and in years past, ought to apply today. ” House Minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Repeal and Replace

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “We need to think through how we do this, and it’s a huge mistake for Republicans if they do not vote for replacement on the same day as we vote for repeal.” [Politico, 1/4/17]”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): “There’s more and more concerns about not doing it simultaneously… You would think after six years we would have a pretty good sense of what we would like to do.” [Politico, 1/9/17]”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN): “We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare.” [Talking Points Memo, 1/9/17]”

The TALENT Act

“I want to thank Mr. [Will] Hurd for his work, which has been ongoing and continuing work on this issue and on this particular program. I rise in support of this bipartisan bill, which builds on the work that Majority Leader McCarthy and I and others in this House have been doing to modernize government technology and renew America’s faith in government.

“One of the goals of our agenda is modernizing government technology. Most Americans understand the transformative power of technology. The Majority Leader spoke of it in so many different aspects of our lives. How digitizing businesses makes them more efficient, transparent, and accountable.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)


Foreign Affairs

Mosul, Iraq

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) reached the Tigris River on January 8 after recapturing several of the remaining neighborhoods in southeast Mosul. In the north, the ISF pushed into central Mosul from the north and east from January 4 to 9, nearing the University of Mosul. The ISF pushed towards key infrastructure for ISIS in Mosul after making significant progress in the northern and southeastern neighborhoods from January 4 to 9. The rapid gains follow new accelerants added to the operation… Institute for the Study of War

Turkey

“American drones are again buzzing over Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies as they slog it out around the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab, in anticipation of a larger U.S. role in support the operation. After weeks of tension between Washington and Ankara, which saw U.S. support for the push dry up while Russian warplanes began supporting the Turks, there’s talk that American planes, equipment, and Special Operations Forces might again be part of the fight, the Washington Post

Russian Hacking

“Senior U.S. officials told the Washington Post that they’ve intercepted communications between members of the Russian government celebrating Trump’s  victory over Hillary Clinton “as a geopolitical win for Moscow…The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.”” Foreign Policy Magazine via Washington Post.


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