Entries Tagged as 'Congress'

Why Did Obama Bypass Congress on Libya?

David Frum March 21st, 2011 at 11:17 pm 33 Comments

It’s very strange and odd that President Obama did not seek congressional authorization before launching strikes on Libya.

In his mind, he may have been signaling: this is a humanitarian police action (like Somalia or Bosnia), not a real war (like the Gulf war, the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq).

But he opened the door to his critics alleging: Obama is a liberal one-worlder who thinks that a Security Council vote can substitute for American democratic processes.

Did he possibly fear that Congress would say No?

Is he hoping that he’ll wrap this thing up faster than the debate would have required?

Is he signaling inner discomfort with his own decision, a preference for talking about almost anything else?

Or is he just recklessly forgetting the old rule: if you don’t invite them to join you at the takeoff, they won’t be there for the landing?

Topics:  , ,

Senate Dems Rebel on Spending Cuts

March 10th, 2011 at 1:30 pm 30 Comments

The failure of both Democratic and Republican spending cut proposals in the Senate wasn’t much of a surprise. The Republican proposal–a huge exercise in chutzpa that tried to undo virtually every major Obama administration policy through a budget measure–was never a serious one anyway. The Democratic proposal, a very modest–.18 percent of the federal budget–proposal was serious (in that it could have been signed into law) but would have done nothing, even symbolically, to rein in the huge deficit.

The one real surprise, however, was the total failure of Harry Reid–typically a pretty good vote counter–to keep his own caucus in line. In all, ten Democrats and one independent member of the Democratic caucus voted against the package that Democrats proffered. Since most of these “nay” votes came from more centrist members of the party–Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia)–were both nays, it shows that Republicans might well be able to muster 60 votes for a credible spending cut package. (Only one truly left-wing Senator, Vermont Bernie Sanders, voted against the package.) And, for those that favor fiscal restraint, this is very good news.

Topics:  , ,

Hold Off on the Budget Back-Slapping

March 3rd, 2011 at 5:49 pm 5 Comments

Legislation appropriating funds to keep the federal government open for business for the next two weeks has passed the House and Senate and been signed by the President. What in “normal” times might be labeled a modest achievement is being hailed by some as a breakthrough event, cheap as proof that a horribly polarized political structure can be made to work, decease at least temporarily.


It is important to keep in mind that Congress has not yet figured out how, physician or at what level, to fund the remaining six months of FY 2011. The $4 billion cut this week is a pittance compared to amounts being talked about going forward. And while one could argue that, contrary to Republican claims, the $4 billion in cuts had already been proposed by the Obama  Administration (which is not exactly true–some Administration “cuts” were really re-directed to other areas), the President certainly acquiesced to the outline of the package.

These factors–as well as a measure of public impatience–helped bring about this week’s accomplishment. But the same factors cannot be counted on when the next FY 11 funding vote is scheduled. And they sure won’t be there when the debate turns to FY 2012.

More important than all of this, however, is the simple fact that this week’s showdown and the almost-last minute agreement were unnecessary dramas. Key players in both the House and Senate, as well as among the “third house” (lobbyists), insist that a deal was entirely possible last year, during the post-election lame duck session of the last Congress. To be sure there were hurdles to overcome, but they were not insurmountable. Many members of the 111th Congress preferred to clear out the tangled appropriations situation of last year and allow for a clean slate at the start of 2011.

But then several Tea Party adherents among Senate Republicans got steamed up about the bill, and about not wanting to “give” President Obama another victory. That was followed, predictably, by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell backing away from previous signals that his side of the aisle could deliver necessary support. Then the Administration began folding its tent, apparently satisfied with the tax cut deal, the end of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” and the approval of the START Treaty with Russia. As a result, 2011 has started out messier than need be.

It is also true that, by allowing the appropriations fight to continue well into the New Year, the President has allowed the opposition to further define the parameters of the debate over fiscal policy. His overly timid 2012 budget proposal–and its flimsy packaging– have only made things worse.

We can hope that a shared commitment to governing has started to set in within the federal district, but we should hold off on any celebration for a while longer–just in case.

Chu’s Energy Research Hijack

February 26th, 2011 at 11:03 am 14 Comments

Nobel Laureate and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu seems to have taken a page from early 20th century labor leader Samuel Gompers:  at every turn he screams for “more.” Even as the Obama administration and both parties in Congress pay lip-service to budget cuts (while doing little to enact them), sickness Chu has taken to running around with a Power Point calling for his department’s budget to grow in almost every area of its operations. For all intents and purposes, order Chu has a proposal to turn his department into a huge government-run research and development firm.  Although intended as an outline for growth, illness Chu’s lucid presentation can also be taken as an outline for slimming his department and cutting government.

The great bulk of Chu’s proposed spending increases and billions of dollars in new loan guarantees (off budget for now, but a taxpayer liability if they’re not repaid) go for applied research and product development. Chu’s department would work to put 1 million electrical vehicles on the road, build new nuclear reactors, establish new “Energy Innovation Hubs,” and open new “Energy Frontier Research Centers.” The Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, which tries to develop innovative new energy-related products would also get a big boost in funding. So would efforts to improve the overall reliability of the electrical gird and weatherize individual homes (states still have millions of leftover dollars from stimulus-related efforts to do this.) Worthwhile or not on their own terms—and, certainly, some of the new technologies proposed for investment seem like decent ideas—there’s little reason to think that the government ought to be doing any of this. Since they have huge theoretical benefits–no fuel price fluctuations and little or no pollution in the traditional sense–any person or company that figured out an efficient, low-cost way to harness any “green” energy source would make billions of dollars.  Many of the nation’s largest and most profitable companies are in the energy business and have enormous incentive to do energy research themselves.

Taxpayer subsidies let the government decide where R&D dollars get spent.  Furthermore, quite simply, the government has never been any good at developing actual consumer products of any kind. While U.S. government labs and projects have helped in developing the underlying technologies that created everything from the Internet to nuclear power, the private sector has always done much better than the government in bringing new fundamental discoveries to market. Government efforts to develop much better, cheaper housing construction methods (Operation Breakthrough), gasoline substitutes (Synfuels), and a “car of the future” (Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles) produced nothing useful at all but ran through millions of dollars. The handful of useful products to come directly out of publically financed institutions, like NCSA-Mosaic, the first useful web browser, have typically come from creative people working on projects they thought were interesting rather than the government-mandated task. Even if Chu’s DOE somehow succeeds in developing useful consumer products, the financial benefits of having created them will accrue only to profit-making corporations, not taxpayers as a whole.

All this isn’t to say that it’s possible or even wise to trim the federal budget by the entire $30 billion DOE spends. When the department secures nuclear facilities, cleans up environmental messes that the government itself has made, and does basic research, it is performing necessary government functions. Nuclear security is certainly a government responsibility and it’s likely that the $11.8 billion in proposed spending is worth it.  Likewise, it seems pretty cut and dry that the government should, indeed, spend most of the $6 billion or so it devotes to cleaning up environmental messes its own work has produced.  Finally, basic research—devoted to understanding the fundamental laws of nature without trying to solve any particular problem—has never been done at a large scale without public sector support. Thus, the $2 billion–a 24 percent increase–proposed for “basic energy research” is probably a decent investment. Of course, none of this spending is beyond question and some might be done better outside of DOE.  But even if one rejects the Obama administration’s proposed increases in all of these “necessary” areas and then cuts spending ten percent, that still leaves somewhere around $17 billion in truly necessary spending on current DOE projects. This is still a huge cut from the $29 billion Chu wants to spend.

A look at Chu’s DOE budget, in short, reveals two things. First, that there is, indeed, plenty of wasteful spending that the country would be better off without. Second, even a hugely bloated agency does carry out some valuable, core functions that probably shouldn’t go away.

Your Congress at Work

David Frum February 18th, 2011 at 5:11 pm 32 Comments

Government funding for NASCAR: Liberty

Government funding for NPR: Tyranny

The Dems’ Afghan War Hypocrisy

December 1st, 2009 at 2:09 pm 23 Comments

Rep. Maurice Hinchey’s claim that President Bush intentionally let Osama Bin Laden escape to justify the war in Iraq is both appalling and ludicrous. The capture of Bin Laden and the overthrow of Saddam were complementary goals, not contradictory.

Hinchey’s conspiracy theory does not make sense even on its own twisted terms.

Would not the successful capture of Bin Laden have signaled a winding down of the Afghan operation and thus free more troops for Iraq?

And surely before a member of Congress hurled such a vile charge, some evidence should be required. I am getting tired of my former president being accused of, in essence, purposefully sacrificing the lives of young men and women in the field (soldiers, sailors and Marines he clearly cared so much about) to forward his own nefarious aims.

It is laughable that Sen. John Kerry of all people should be issuing a report on the Tora Bora operation that is a scathing criticism of the past administration for not committing enough troops in the initial operations in Afghanistan when he himself, was an advocate for restraint and limited commitment from the outset.  Funny, he seemed less Gung-Ho back on December 15, 2001 when he praised the Bush-Rumsfeld strategy, saying: “For the moment what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will.  I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.”   Today’s Wall Street Journal sums up his position thusly: “Mr. Kerry is now in favor of more troops, after he was against them.”

It was, as the 2001 John Kerry would attest, understandable that Rumsfeld et. al. were very leery of making a massive commitment of men and material to Afghanistan. After all – his fellow Democrats feel exactly the same way today.

The Lockerbie Bomber Story Continues to Unravel

David Frum September 6th, 2009 at 9:31 am 9 Comments

Most of the doctors who examined convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi concluded that he had some time to live, up to a year. Scottish Justice Minister Kenny McAskill opted instead to rely on a minority of doctors who estimated Megrahi’s life expectancy at less than three months. This mattered, because under Scottish law only those with less than 3 months to live qualify for compassionate release. Now Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports this:

Medical evidence that helped Megrahi, 57, to be released was paid for by the Libyan government, which encouraged three doctors to say he had only three months to live…

Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. Two of the three doctors commissioned by the Libyans provided the required three-month estimates, while the third also indicated that the prisoner had a short time to live.

This contrasted with findings of doctors in June and July who had concluded that Megrahi had up to 10 months to live, which would have prevented his release.

Professor Karol Sikora, one of the examining doctors and the medical director of CancerPartnersUK in London, told The Sunday Telegraph: “The figure of three months was suggested as being helpful [by the Libyans].

“To start with I said it was impossible to do that [give a three-month life expectancy estimate] but, when I looked at it, it looked as though it could be done – you could actually say that.” He said that he and a second doctor, a Libyan, had legitimately then estimated Megrahi’s life expectancy as “about three months”. A third doctor would say only that he had a short time to live.

This weekend it was reported that Megrahi was moved out of an emergency care unit in Tripoli.

Far from an individual act of perhaps misguided compassion by one Scottish minister, the case increasingly looks like a deceitful connivance between the British, the Scots and the Libyans to cut short the imprisonment of a convicted mass murderer for commercial reasons.

The only consolation is that the British press has pressed for the truth and exposed their government’s true role. Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, an uncurious American press has accepted the Obama administration’s account at face value. Possibly that story is true. But given the level of lying in London and Edinburgh, it would be unrealistic to put much faith in Washington. What we need now are congressional hearings to discover:

  • When did the Obama administration first hear of London’s desire to see Megrahi released – not formally learn, but actually learn.
  • How did the administration respond? Did it protest? How forcefully?
  • Did the Obama administration have any role in the Libya-U.K. negotiations? Specifically – did the Obama administration agree to downplay its complaints (i.e. Obama’s ultra-mild description of the release as a “mistake”) in exchange for commercial considerations for U.S. firms or interests?
  • What consequences going forward will Britain’s attitude have for U.S.-U.K. relations and especially for U.S.-U.K. criminal justice cooperation?

There are many other questions to ask too as we seek to discover how the man who was convicted for killing 180 Americans was allowed to escape the full sentence for his crimes.

GOP Must Make School Vouchers a Civil Rights Issue

September 2nd, 2009 at 1:54 pm 54 Comments

When one-off events catch public officials flat-footed, the public often shows some understanding.

The start of the school year, however, and the need to schedule classes for students, are as predictable as August.  To have this annual exercise result in chaos and delay for 8,000 high school students in Prince George’s County, Maryland is a scandal and disgrace.

As reported at length by the Washington Post, the year began for 8,000 of the county’s 41,000 high school students without schedules.  Five days, later, 1,300 were still in limbo. It really is difficult to comprehend the scale of this ineptitude.  As one student explained on a Facebook page devoted to the matter:

We basically are going 2 school 4 no point wut so ever…we are wasting time going 2 are fake teachers and fake classes, doing fake work or nothing at all, for nothing at all.

When 20 percent of the county’s high school students are herded into cafeterias and gymnasiums, with teachers engaged in crowd control because students have no classes to attend, the essential functions of local government have broken down.

The greater scandal here is that this failure has almost certainly had an adverse impact on black students.  Prince George’s County may be home to the largest black middle class in the country, but among those high school students who had the start of their high school year ruined by administrative ineptitude, many were minority students who needed those extra few days of instruction and could ill afford thumb twiddling and busy work.

A collapse of governing responsibility, one with civil rights implications, just miles from the nation’s capitol — but will anyone at the federal level propose to do much about it?  We know that Democrats won’t cross the teachers’ unions.  What about Republicans?  Would they use this as an opportunity to promote vouchers for any of these students, betrayed by their school system?

Republicans are supporters of school vouchers as an economic concept. By enhancing parental choice and challenging the unions, they bring competition to the public school monopoly and improve outputs for the parent and child consumers.  And Republicans support state reforms and federal reform in the District of Columbia.

But where are the conservative conviction politicians in Washington who will use this situation to loudly demand justice, and promote school vouchers, for the poor kids in P.G. County?  As many have noted, the lack of access to a quality education is a civil rights issue, one that calls out for vouchers as an emergency measure for kids stuck in failing schools.  For any who doubt this, consider the account of Jessica Pinkney, a Prince George’s County high school junior, who told a Post reporter that two days after the school year began, she was finally moved to the cafeteria from the gym, because the cafeteria had air conditioning.  And then she was given an index card with the number 195 on it — her place in line to receive an academic schedule.  This should not happen in America, and when it does, the citizens under the thumb of the authorities responsible should be liberated from their dependence.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Republicans in Congress will take an aggressive stand for these helpless students and against a corrupt and wasteful bureaucracy incapable of executing even the most basic tasks with which it is charged.  Republican commitments to federalism and local authority caution against such a full-throttle embrace of federally funded school vouchers.  Republican orthodoxy on limited government doubts the legitimacy of involvement by Washington in these essentially local matters.  And the Republican understanding of the original Constitution demands a restrictive understanding of fundamental rights.

But as demonstrated in Maryland, vouchers can be an imperative of justice — one consistent with the GOP’s, and the nation’s, historic constitutional commitment to civil rights.

Next week Congress returns from its August recess.  We will hear a great deal from legislators on both sides of the aisle about their admiration for their friend Senator Ted Kennedy.  While not embracing his politics, Republicans should consider the man’s tactics and take on the Prince George’s debacle.  Kennedy spoke loudly and often in the pursuit of justice.  He rarely let an opportunity pass to remind Americans of those in danger of being left behind.  And over time, his moral arguments won adherents and drove the center of the debate in his direction.

Democrats should be ashamed that in the fights over school choice, they take the side of the unions over the little guy — the minority student in a failing school.  And if Republicans spoke on this issue with the frequency and passion that their late colleague devoted to his causes, they might find in a few years that they have achieved some legislative successes on school vouchers, begun to reestablish some trust with the black community, and rebranded the party as one committed to justice and civil rights.

Obama Losing Bipartisan Support for Afghanistan

September 1st, 2009 at 12:40 pm 11 Comments

In today’s Washington Post, look George Will calls for the United States to dramatically change its policy in Afghanistan.  In effect, Will calls for a pull out:

[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

That the doves on the left are growing tired of the costly war in Afghanistan should not surprise anyone.  The Obama administration may not be thrilled by this development, but they likely expected the doves to begin to grumble as the war continues to grow more and more costly.  The doves do not threaten the administration’s Afghanistan policy.  However to lose Mr. Will’s support will deeply trouble many administration officials not only because Mr. Will remains one of, if not the most recognized newspaper columnist in America (conservative or Democrat) but also because Mr. Will’s defection indicates that support on the right, particularly amongst realists like Mr. Will (and myself) may not be as reliable as the administration may have originally believed.

President Obama’s handling of the war effort in Afghanistan is one of the few policies where this president has received anything resembling true bipartisan support.  President Obama is a talented politician with a unique ability to appeal directly to the American people, but his administration can hardly afford to lose the support of the realist right at a time when it is fighting heated partisan wars on gargantuan issues like healthcare.  Anything resembling serious opposition to the war effort from moderate Republicans and Democrats alike would require a PR blitz that would quickly suck up much of the administration’s remaining political capital.  The White House knows this, and you can expect them to mount a PR blitz in the coming days aimed at countering Mr. Will’s arguments, and in doing so holding together a portion of the right’s suddenly fragile war support.

What a Difference a Year Makes

September 1st, 2009 at 12:18 pm Comments Off

President Obama

President Obama

A year ago, this man was telling us the surge wouldn’t work, that Iraq was unwinnable, it was distracting us from Afghanistan, which was the right war.

Folding the Flag

Folding the Flag

Now, they’re folding the colors in Iraq, stacking arms, packing up and going home. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile . . . now Mister Hope-&-Change is saying Afghanistan isn’t winnable . . .

U.S. Soldiers in Combat in Afghanistan

U.S. Soldiers in Combat in Afghanistan

That isn’t how you win wars Mr. President . . . you win wars by KICKING ASS ! ! !

General Patton

General Patton

Any war is winnable… just at the point when either side thinks they’re losing, is when they’re on the verge of winning. Just ask the Vietnamese…