Editorial February 3, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Taxpayers and most businesses pay into the Treasury each year and Congress decides how to spend that money. The president, too, spends the money but most must first be appropriated by Congress.

Congress and the president, then, are spending other peoples money raising the question if it a safe bet that investing with other people’s money is done with less caution? We are getting a chance to see if that is true.

Donald Trump, during his campaign, said that he loves other people’s money, no risk when investing it, he said. Your plan doesn’t work you have lost nothing…the other guy did, is what he indicated.

In today’s Washington political world those ‘other people’ are us, American taxpayers, and through us Trump can love using other people’s money big time.

You figure an incoming president has a lot of projects on his mind and wants to get going on them if just to appear to keep his campaign promises. Okay. But now that Trump seems to have a bottomless barrel of taxpayer funds to play around with you would hope that his spending decisions show some frugality. Perhaps that is a dream.

Trump has it in mind that some 3 to 5 million votes were illegally cast by people who were registered in two states, dead, or otherwise not registered to vote. He goes further to insist (before the logical next question was raised) that all of those illegal votes were for Hillary Clinton. He insisted in an interview with ABC’s David Muir that none of those votes came to him. Met with almost universal skepticism Trump has doubled down on his allegation of voter fraud and said it will be investigated.

Trump has suggested that Mexico will indirectly pay for his southern border wall estimated at $15 billion to $40 billion through border taxes as they send products here for sale.

The problem with these two efforts to fulfill campaign promises is that they are not in our interest; investigating the entire voting system throughout the US will take time and money and to what end? If the investigation is done right it will have to include the 435 district voting offices. It will cost a pretty penny but that is just a direct waste of our money whereas the cross-border tax against products that he thinks should be made in America promises an added twist to spending our cash; the tariff increase, if other countries participate, will raise the price of imported goods to the consumers…us. So while the government is taking in that 20 percent paid by the importer we get to pay the price increase due to that tariff. Of course if a procedure is not taken to recoup the cost of the wall from Mexico then we just got tapped for $15 to $40 billion.

You would think that a Congress unwilling to spend money on healthcare subsidies would find Trump’s campaign to seal off the border is an expensive and uneffective non-solution to immigrant flow across the southern border but you would be wrong.

Gearing up for the recent presidential elections Republican leadership had this to say about the border in its ‘Better Way’ policy statement:

“Securing the borders is no small task, but it is a fundamental responsibility of our government…: The borders are not secure, and the threats along them are growing more dynamic by the day.

“We must show unwavering determination to fix this crisis permanently. Our goal is to develop a complete understanding of what is happening at the border and to deploy cutting-edge tools to stop illegal traffic. We need more than just fencing. We need a strong, multi-layered approach to prevent illegal entrants from defeating any one part of our security. Due to the diverse terrain across our long borders, every area requires a different mix of assets, from Border Patrol agents and high fencing to aerial surveillance and radar. We should also provide the Border Patrol with easy access to federal lands to facilitate enforcement activities…America will send a clear message to outsiders: If you try to enter our country illegally, you will be detained and face the full force of the law.”

Hamilton on Congress

Can the Media Hold Politicians Accountable?

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

If you watched Donald Trump’s recent press conference, you may have overlooked a telling and worrisome moment. A CNN reporter tried to ask the president-elect about the extent of his ties to Russian officials. “No! Not you. No! Your organization is terrible,” responded Mr. Trump, and moved on to the next question.

The fact that a politician would seek to sidestep an uncomfortable question isn’t unusual. What should cause concern is what happened next: Nothing. The press corps moved on, without protesting or taking up CNN’s line of questioning and pushing for an answer.

Why do I find this disquieting? Because journalists play a crucial role in our representative democracy’s health. Though power may seem to rest in Washington, state capitols, and city halls around the country, in the end it is wielded by citizens who have the ability to seat and unseat elected officials, to organize around issues, and through concerted action to affect the policy agenda.

But citizens cannot act responsibly if they’re kept in the dark. And it’s the media’s role to make sure that does not happen.

Its performance in recent years, however, has not been reassuring. Before the election, how much were you reading or seeing about the depth and intensity of the frustrations in large swaths of the country that enabled Mr. Trump’s victory? How much coverage do you see about climate change, or poverty, or the impact on our communities and individuals of the income inequality that has become a hallmark of this era?

Sure, there’s plenty of news coverage of politics. But it’s just that – coverage of politics, polls, personalities, and campaigns, and much less on the substance of policy issues or what’s at stake for the country as they’re debated. Last year, early in the primary season, the CEO of CBS said of Mr. Trump’s presidential run, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He later contended he’d been joking – but somehow, I don’t find myself reassured that media corporations today are as committed to serving the public good as they ought to be.

At the same time, politicians have become adept at manipulating the media. The president-elect’s news conference, for instance, was held on the same day that Republicans in the Senate were holding multiple confirmation hearings on his cabinet nominees and were releasing their budget plans. This was divide and conquer at its most effective: they essentially overwhelmed the circuits and avoided the sort of in-depth, extended public scrutiny Americans deserved.

This is unlikely to change, especially in the White House. As Pete Vernon noted recently in the Columbia Journalism Review, with “unabashed boosters in the studios of certain Fox News hosts, the morning hours of MSNBC, and the pages of Breitbart, as [well as] direct access to 17 million followers through his own Twitter feed, Trump has a greater ability than any previous president to push his message unchallenged.”

President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump have held very few open news conferences. We are losing important ways and means of holding politicians accountable.

Nor are citizens helping. In the modern media universe, they get along with only the information they want to believe, look at sources that tell them only what they want to hear, and shut out anything they don’t like. They seek the media that confirms their views.

This is worrisome. But even worse would be a press that doesn’t push on regardless. I want to see media coverage of public affairs that’s dogged, skeptical and aggressive, that investigates actions of government and politicians, that checks facts, calls candidates and office-holders to account, and flags misstatements, half-truths, and outright lies. I want the media to be very tough on politicians and candidates and not let them get away with the evasions and manipulations they find increasingly easy to practice.

Democracy works only with accountability and is strengthened by strict accountability of elected and appointed officials to the people of the country. Without citizens insisting on it and the media demanding it, our system of representative government is in peril.

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.


Foreign Affairs

Yemen

“Yemeni security officials said on Thursday that warships, likely American, have been firing cannons and rockets at al Qaeda militants in the country’s southern coastal areas. The naval strikes, underway for five days, targeted mountainous areas north of the coastal town of Shakra… ” CBS News.

Syria

When it comes to Syria’s long-running civil war, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “needs to get the Unites States engaged in the diplomacy that is now going on between Turkey and Russia,” but not the war itself, a scholar at the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center said Wednesday.” John Grady, US Naval Institute.

Ukraine

“The United States and its partners can improve regional security and stability in Eastern Europe by supporting the modernization and reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine more aggressively. Ukraine has suffered from consistent Russian military aggression since Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. ” ISW

Iraq

“ISIS continued to reestablish its presence in its historic support zones around Tikrit, Diyala, and the Euphrates River Valley from January 25 to February 1. ISIS launched several attacks against security forces between Tikrit and the Hamrin Mountains as part of a developing trend of ISIS rebuilding its capabilities in the area…” Institute for the Study of War


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