Editorial March 10, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

It’s complicated.

The schedule for the White House and Congress to pass a fiscal year budget has been far from the traditional procedures for at least the past five years and this year is no different.

Normally the president presents his budget in February. Soon thereafter we see budget resolutions from the Republicans, Democrats, and specialty caucuses within Congress.

Next we look for the authorization bills that determine programs and spending caps for the federal agencies and the appropriation bills that implement the authorizations.

Following that there is some reconciliation and then passage of the budget by no later than September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

This year we are seeing the NASA authorization and Defense appropriations just this week and there is a reason for that; the budget reconciliation passed last year to continue to pay government expenses through late April this year. That gives Republican House leaders the task of passing all 13 appropriation bills by that date merely 40 days from now.

This last minute maneuvering is the result of shortsighted decisions made on the budget last year and presents quite a task in such a short time. Not done right it could lead us to another government shutdown if House Republican budget hawks such as the Freedom Caucus dig in and cause the bills to fail. That was what happened four years ago when the government was shut down for over two weeks costing the US $29 billion. The other risk is that there is no budget agreement at all and another continuing resolution is passed to extend current spending for a few months on the promise of putting together a successful budget in that time span. That is always the reasoning and it hasn’t happened in five years.

The inability Congress seems to have with completing a budget flies in the face of Republican control of Congress and the White House; nothing is in the way of getting the job done but that is not the case.

It may be a good thing to see that one party has a varied and modified take on how to manage the country. Such divisions indicate a balanced product. Unfortunately that is not how it is going. The Freedom Caucus offers what columnist George Will recently called the conservative branch of the Republican Party meaning they hold the ideology and political positions that Republicans as conservatives may have drifted away from.

If Will’s conclusion is true then Republican conservatism as it should be is absent the ability to compromise and will indeed throw the baby out with the bathwater as we saw with the government shut down a few years back.

It is that ‘my way or the highway’ approach to legislating that has put Republican moderates and centrist Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a bind; they can’t get some bills passed without compromising with Democrats. The ideological split between the parties is palpable and with Democrats riled up over Trump and the absolute nonsense spewed about regarding the benefits of the Obamacare replacement, the American Healthcare Act, such deals would be politically expensive for the Republican agenda.

But is House leadership can get bills passed and referred to the Senate where objections are less extreme there is then the president’s position on legislation. Somewhat typically the president has said several times he wants healthcare for all that is better coverage for less money but so far has endorsed the American Healthcare Act which does not provide that. Well, it provides less money but also less benefits to the poor, that ‘25%’ at the economic bottom Trump says he wants to cover, too.

Will the Great Negotiator corner the Republicans into a better healthcare plan by yielding on other bills he might object to? For a president that repeatedly says he is keeping his campaign promises to do less would weigh heavy in 2020 when he aims to run for a second term.

**********

Just Keeping Track

In his first seven weeks in office President Trump has traveled to his home in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, each weekend. It can cost from $1 to $3 million taxpayer dollars for his get-aways to what he calls the Winter White House. The costs include security personal and staff and the cost of flying Air Force 1 down and back. If we hit the middle number of $1.5 million to make the trip and back the President has so far spent $10.5 million.

Hamilton on Congress

The Problem With Too Much Information

By Lee H. Hamilton

The job of being a citizen – and being a member of Congress – has gotten much harder of late. As sources of information proliferate and “news” not actually grounded in fact grows common on social media, Americans have to work to sort reality from fiction and insight from disinformation.

This is a challenge for our representative democracy. And we’ve only begun to grapple with it.

Why should too much information be a problem? Let’s start with what I consider to be the most important skill in a representative democracy – not just in government, but within private organizations as well: building consensus. Without forging agreement among people who see the world differently, it’s difficult to move governments and organizations forward.

The first step in arriving at a consensus is agreeing on the relevant facts. If you’ve ever watched your city council at work, or served on a civic committee, or even lobbied to get a stop sign put in or the speed limit changed on your street, you know this is the case. Without a common base of facts on which everyone agrees – the nature and extent of a problem, whom it affects and how – it’s almost impossible to arrive at solutions that will be widely accepted.

This came home forcefully to me after the September 11 attacks, when I was vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, which was expertly chaired by Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey. There were ten of us on the commission, five Republicans and five Democrats, and though we were not a highly partisan group, in those highly charged times the potential for crippling disagreement was always there. So Chairman Kean and I got in the habit early on of asking the highly competent staff to provide us with the main facts on every issue we confronted. It was only by working hard to get agreement on those facts that we could move toward an agreement on recommendations.

But that was a small and, by today’s political standards, relatively homogeneous group; building consensus was challenging, but not impossible. The larger and more diverse the institution – the United States Congress, for instance – the more difficult the task becomes.

Think for a moment about today’s information/misinformation environment. Citizens these days look everywhere for news. They get it from teachers, religious leaders, and special interest groups. They hear it from friends, family, and neighbors. They find it on TV, talk radio, at the movies, and on late-night comedy shows. In other words, news does not just come from the news media.

Too much of what citizens hear or read today is incorrect or incomplete, and even the most “objective” of sources has a bias. A member of Congress meeting with a group of constituents might find that each comes to the table with deeply held beliefs based on “information” from completely different, conflicting sources.

Then, too, plenty of sources today cater to a single, narrow political view with no pretense of objectivity. Their goal is to incite, not to inform. They drive the American people apart, rather than giving us a common base of knowledge we can use to forge agreement.

So what’s to be done? I confess: I don’t know. The moves made by some social media platforms and news organizations to fact-check stories and public claims are important. Relying on the work of credible, non-partisan organizations – for federal tax and spending issues, for instance, the work of the Congressional Budget Office comes to mind – is also helpful. Broad public awareness that we have a problem to overcome and encouraging critical thinking in schools and in public discourse…these, too, matter.

Still, solving the problem will take a concerted effort. Learning how to seek more diverse views, restoring confidence in public dialogue, finding sources and platforms that win broad acceptance as grounded in reliability and reality – all these will be important.

We live in a time of excessive polarization, mean-spirited politics, and invasive partisanship. Working within that environment to solve these problems is a challenge. I don’t see an answer, but I do see and applaud the individuals and groups beginning to work on it.  The future of our representative democracy rides on their success.

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

ISIS

“President Donald Trump has often talked about working closer with Russia in the fight against ISIS. But with his administration increasingly embroiled in questions about his advisors’ closeness with Moscow, an anti-ISIS alliance looks increasingly unlikely. ” CBSNews

IRAQ

“The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) made a push towards central Mosul on March 7, retaking the government complex and securing a second bridge. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived in Mosul for the occasion.” ISW

IRAN / SYRIA

“Both former U.S. President Barack Obama and current U.S. President Donald Trump have considered deeper cooperation with Russia – and thereby Iran and Assad – against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. ” ISW


Magic Mondays


Political Humor