Editorial September 8, 2017

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Publisher’s Letter

What exactly are congressional Republicans trying to do and why isn’t it working?

McElroy, Publisher

McElroy, Publisher

First thing to remember about the Republican agenda in the Senate and House is that the primary goal is to reduce taxes and reduce spending. This is nothing new; it goes back to the Reagan years when taxes were cut (and raised several times, too) and some spending was cut. Trickle down economy was the name given to the results of the agenda; cut taxes for those with high incomes, they will spend that money to purchase goods and so create jobs thereby trickling down to the lower income categories.

The results was a two to three hundred billion dollar deficit and ultimately a budget act that introduced the sequester requiring the president’s Office of Management and Budget to make budget cuts if spending went beyond agreed on limits or taxes were raised to make up the difference. The Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 also introduced pay-as-you-go a mechanism that required spending increases to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases.

Leap ahead to the George W. Bush administration and a largely Republican Congress and we got the Bush tax cuts that again benefited high income earners with the same expectations that the money released from tax cuts would trickle down. It worked for a while but then the trickle slowed and we were left with a rising deficit. The $1 trillion deficit we faced when Bush left office had mostly to do with off-budget spending for the war I Iraq and increased spending for national security after the 911 attacks.

The Obama Administration, facing that debt, saw the solution in stimulating the economy, thereby growing jobs and so increasing tax revenues. His stimulus package helped and the deficit was reduced over 8 years to about $450 billion when he left office.

Republicans controlled Congress from 2010, two years after Obama took office, and we ended up with the sequester that significantly reduced spending including for Defense. Some Republicans, largely Tea Party elected Members and others in the 30 to 40 member Freedom Caucus got what they wanted in spending cuts but there became a need to spend more on overseas operations and a questionable budget technique was employed to allow that spending to increase without violating the sequester. The deficit started to bump up.

The idea that cutting taxes would stimulate the economy that failed under Reagan and briefly succeeded under Bush remains to those supporters still the best way to go.

With the election of Republican Donald Trump as president Republicans had Congress and the White House under their control and a plan was hatched to reform the tax code and reduce government regulations believed to be getting in the way of juicing the economy but it was not that simple and we now see Republicans stymied about how to move forward.

The Republican plan required first that Obamacare be repealed and the real reason for that was not that it was ‘imploding’ or killing employment but that the repeal would put over $800 million back in play opening the door to further tax cuts for the wealthy and maybe the middle class. Of course it became clear that repealing the law without replacing it somehow was unacceptable to many Americans who would lose coverage or see significant premium increases.

That is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was attempting to do with his several bills aiming to repeal the law and free up that $800 million leading up to the August breaks.

McConnell’s efforts failed and attention turned to tax reform, raising the debt limit, and passing a FY 2018 budget.

Enter Trump.

What Republicans wanted was an 18 month delay in raising the debt limit giving them enough time to perhaps pass healthcare reform that would continue coverage under Obamacare and importantly stabilize the health insurance market that was reeling from the repeal failures and wondering what is next. Under that uncertainty they either left markets or promised significant rate increases. That bill is soon to begin hearings in the Senate.

Recently Republicans were promised by Trump that he would sign a bill allowing that extension but the same week he made an agreement with Democrat leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to extend the limit until December 13.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) and McConnell both agreed to raise the debt limit but because there are significant numbers of Republicans in both bodies that will reject that they need Democrat votes to move a bill into law. That puts Democrats in the driver seat since their votes are necessary and so will have to come with some concession Republicans are not willing to make but must do so.

Republicans in the House will complete the appropriation bills for FY 2018 probably this week so there is some forward motion. The bills tend to spend a bit more than 2017 but spend less than Trump’s budget asked for. From there they will have to find the money to pay for Hurricane Harvey and very soon Hurricane Irma. We could be looking at a tab nearing one half trillion dollars which wasn’t part of the spending cut plan. Disaster spending by law does not have to be offset and can significantly add to the deficit. Spending cuts or tax increases, that money has to be found somewhere.

Hamilton on Congress

Who Needs to Step Up? 

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

An interesting thing keeps happening to me. Every few days, someone – an acquaintance, a colleague, even a stranger on the street – approaches me. They ask some version of the same question: What can we do to pull ourselves out of this dark period?

For the many Americans who respect representative democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law, there’s reason to be concerned. The President is off to a rocky start: he’s unproductive and undignified at home and derided on the world stage. Congress struggles to get its bearings. In the country at large, forces of intolerance and division are at loose on the streets and on the nightly news.

So are we in a downward spiral as a nation? Not by a long shot. Because here’s the thing to keep in mind: our institutions are far more durable than any single president or any single historical period.

History is certainly on our side. We’ve survived a civil war, two world wars, Watergate, four presidential assassinations, the packing of the Supreme Court by Franklin Roosevelt, economic depressions and recessions, more nasty power struggles than you can count… and still the country has moved forward. You can look back and gain confidence from our history.

Or you can look around you. Congress as an institution is being tested as it rarely has in its modern history, and it’s shown a few hopeful glimmers. It did so when it passed by a huge margin its sanctions bill against Russia, rebuking President Trump for his mysterious fascination with Vladimir Putin and his unwillingness to single out Russia for criticism.

It did so even more forcefully when Republican leaders in the Senate took the extraordinary step of holding pro forma sessions during recesses so that a Republican president could not make recess appointments and circumvent the normal Senate confirmation process – or, to be more precise, so that he could not fire the attorney general and then appoint someone who would fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The federal bureaucracy has drawn lines in the sand, too. When the President suggested that law enforcement officers should, in essence, rough up suspects, the acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration sent an email to his employees rebuking the idea. When the President announced plans to discriminate against transgender troops, the Pentagon declined to begin the process.

When two billionaire friends of the President tried to force federal regulators to bend rules in their favor, they were rebuffed by the agencies in question. There’s been real pushback by Foreign Service officers against a move to hollow out the State Department.  And, the courts have blocked various Trump immigration policies.

At the state and local level, there’s been similar resistance. Though some states appear ready to go along with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity’s maneuvering to shrink the vote, many are not. California Gov. Jerry Brown and other governors and mayors took a major step when they indicated that they will still be working to address climate change even after President Trump declared the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

And it’s not just pushback: The failure by Congress and the President to make progress on funding the rebuilding or expansion of basic infrastructure has alarmed governors, mayors, and policy makers throughout state and local government, who are demanding action on infrastructure problems.

Then, of course, there are the business and other leaders who resigned from various presidential advisory boards in the wake of the President’s response to the Charlottesville clashes in early August. And the scientists, including some within the government, who are trying to draw attention to administration efforts to weaken the role of scientists in environmental regulation and climate policy.

And an aroused, watchful national media that has worked hard to shine a light on the administration’s actions and the President’s activity. And the many Americans who besieged Congress as the Senate considered repealing the Affordable Care Act.

In other words, our institutions – Congress, the executive branch, the courts, civil society – are being put to the test. And they’re beginning to step up. So must we all.

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.


House Minority Take on HR 3354, the Omnibus

Before the August district work period, the House passed a package of four regular appropriations bills for FY 2018 as part of a “security minibus.”  That package included the Defense, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Energy and Water Development bills.  In addition to multiple poison pill riders, it also contained a fifth division with $1.6 billion in taxpayer funding for construction of President Trump’s border wall.

H.R. 3354 not only constitutes an inadequate investment in both the domestic and international activities of government, but also a skewed re-prioritization laid out within each of its eight divisions that would have devastating impacts throughout the economy.  It is clear that House Republicans would rather waste valuable time on partisan legislation that does not stand a chance of actually being signed into law instead of working with Democrats on responsible solutions that will create jobs and grow the economy.

Further, House Republicans are breaking their own promises of following regular order and an open legislative process by considering this package under structured rules that forego the open appropriations process, by acting on these bills before passing a budget resolution to provide topline funding guidance, and by packaging multiple unrelated issues into a single vehicle.


Foreign Affairs

North Korea

More UN Sanctions

“The United States wants the United Nations Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban the country’s exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean laborers abroad, and subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Wednesday. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she wants the 15-member council to vote on Monday on the draft resolution to impose new sanctions over North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test. However, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has said a Monday vote may be “a little premature.” Reuters

ISIS

Cyber-fighting ISIS

“On the battlefield, physical has merged with digital. ISIS commanders in Iraq and Syria have maneuvered their ranks through urban combat in cities such as Mosul or Raqqa, giving orders and sharing intelligence using networked-devices like phones, tablets, laptops, and small commercial drones. They use disposable Twitter accounts to distribute timely operational commands to fighters following specific hashtags, and create Facebook groups or Telegram channels to relay crude combat intelligence in real time.” The Cipherbrief

Iran

Women vs Rouhani

‘During both the February 2016 parliamentary elections as well as the city and village council elections of May 2017, women won an unprecedented number of seats. For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, Iranians chose women in high numbers, demonstrating that when women have the opportunity to run for office, voters do not have an issue with casting their ballots for them’ al Monitor

Magic Mondays

Political Satire