Politics

Hamilton, Lee               Lee Hamilton

Washington watch with Lee Hamilton

As hard as last year’s presidential-election campaign might have been and the governmental transition is proving to be, Donald Trump’s challenges are really just beginning. Governing after a toxic election in which the results awarded him an ambiguous national mandate – his opponent, after all, won almost three million more votes – will require finesse, a clear-eyed view of his role in the world and no small amount of luck.
There is no question that Trump and the Republican majority in congress will be in firm control of the government, able to call the shots on policy, and that cooperation between the president and congress should be far more assured than it has been for the past six years.government-money
But, even under these circumstances, he will soon find that the commitments and promises made during the campaign are going to be very hard to carry out. His number-one priority almost certainly is going to be rebuilding US economic power. A great many of the people who voted for him did so because they expect him to produce more good jobs, better incomes and better economic opportunity.
But he faces great difficulties on that front – gross inequalities of income and opportunity, persistent poverty, a decaying infrastructure, a challenging education system, a healthcare system that, even after reform, remains expensive and often ineffective, and rapid technological and global changes that make it harder for people without a college education
to find work. To say nothing of a slow-moving congress and an entrenched bureaucracy.
Most Americans are not getting ahead and they know it. Trump’s supporters might grant him a grace period in which to fix all this but economic dissatisfaction will persist.
Other domestic issues addressed in his campaign will prove no easier to pursue.
He began to moderate his position on replacing Obamacare within days of winning the election. He has not set out a comprehensive alternative – simply keeping the popular parts and jettisoning the rest, which he suggested he might do, is not an acceptable or workable option. Which leaves open the question of how to insure the 20 million people who gained coverage under Obamacare. Trump has suggested he’d support health savings accounts, allow insurers to sell policies across state lines and would also like to convert Medicaid from an entitlement program into a block grant, proposals certain to arouse fierce opposition.
He has made clear that he wants to enact large tax cuts, especially on businesses – while at the same time spending billions on infrastructure. The path to tax cuts is clear – members of congress like to vote for tax decreases. However, most evaluations of Trump’s policy proposals suggest that deficits will explode under his program.
He has talked about offsetting some of that revenue by eliminating or limiting loopholes and tax deductions but that has been standard rhetoric in Washington for years and it has never been carried out with any effectiveness. We’ll see how much stomach congress and the country have for sending deficits spiraling upward.
Other Trump programs – slashing regulations on financial institutions, on worker protections and on environmental impacts –will also arouse much opposition.
It’s worth remembering the words of Harold Macmillan, who was once asked what he most feared as Great Britain’s prime minister. “Events, dear boy, events,” he replied. Surprises will come along that interrupt even the best-tended plans and buttress or destroy a president’s standing in the blink of an eye. The senate, in particular, is only precariously balanced in Trump’s favor and it won’t take much for Democrats to brake or stymie his initiatives.
As a candidate, he effectively captured the discontent and anger of many Americans. He upended the political order with a new brand of politics and policies. My guess is that he is on a steep learning curve, having underestimated the difficulties and overestimated his capabilities to deal with them. We should all extend him the benefit of the doubt and see how his presidency unfolds before becoming judgmental.
Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years, is a senior adviser for Indiana University’s center on representative government, a distinguished scholar at the university’s school of global and international studies and a professor of practice at its school of public and environmental affairs.

Uncommon Sense with Glenn Mollette

The November 8 presidential vote is coming soon. The votes will be cast and either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be our next president. In January, Barack Obama will move out of the White House and either Trump or Clinton will move in.
We will have a new president and, regardless of which candidate is elected,
a lot of people in our country will be unhappy. A lot
of people were unhappy four years ago and that has been the case at every election.
By the time the current campaign has ended, will the Clinton people and the Trump people even be able to speak a civil word to each other?
If you are going to have a peaceful gathering with your family or a large number of friends, you are probably wise to not mention either name. The mere mention of either name brings a rise of rhetoric, debate and unfortunate anger.
Most Americans who have given our issues and candidates much thought have a lot of passion about this election and each of the two major-party candidates.
Social media has created a somewhat safe haven for people to share with candor how they feel about things related to the election. However, open support for either candidate means you can figure that approximately 50 per cent of your social-media friends will be ticked off at you and probably no longer like you.
When the election is over, we had better try working together in this nation. I don’t see how we can survive another four years if
we continue to fight and bite each other.
Our inner cities need all of us to come together. Our military forces need
a united America.
Can you imagine fighting on the battlefield representing America while most of the folks you are representing are fighting each other?  Our children and grandchildren need us all to pull together.
Eventually, there will not be an America to enjoy if we don’t get our act together in this country.
Glenn Mollette is an American author whose
syndicated column is read
in all 50 states.

Hamilton, Lee                 Lee Hamilton

Washington watch with Lee Hamilton

Every now and then, I’m asked if I miss serving in congress. My stock answer is that, no, I don’t really miss it, but there are definitely times when I’d like to jump right into a policy debate or be in a position to call congressional hearings.
This is one of those times.
Over the past few weeks, several media outlets have reported that US military commanders are suggesting that they need more troops on the ground in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya.
And a month or so ago, talking about our efforts to defeat Islamic State, defense secretary Ash Carter told CNBC: “We’re looking for opportunities to do more and there will be boots on the ground and I want to be clear about that.”
This ought to have congress working overtime to prepare for these requests. It’s rare to find a military commander who doesn’t want more troops – they face serious security challenges, especially in the Middle East. But one can be sympathetic and at the same time skeptical, or at least probing.
So congress should be pushing very hard to get answers to some very tough questions. Where are we headed with these proposed troop increases? If they don’t work, what’s next? What’s our exit strategy? What are the prospects for negotiations?
We keep saying we’re going to support the moderate opposition in Syria – who are they, what do they bring to the table and how are we recalibrating our approach in the face of Russian airstrikes on behalf of that nation’s current regime?
We insist that we’re going to destroy IS but no other country in the international coalition fighting the organization seems willing to put forces on the ground. Are we going to be the only one? And just how does the administration propose to destroy it?
Congress has two key functions in our system of government, legislation and oversight. Most public – and certainly most media – attention focuses on policy making and legislative maneuvering. But Capitol Hill’s role in overseeing the executive branch is just as important.
That’s because, in seeking answers, congress can force the president and his top advisers to articulate and defend their policies, their objectives, the steps they’re taking – or proposing – to implement those objectives and the impact they expect from their policies.
In other words, congress needs to act on behalf of the American people to ensure that major policy requests are looked at from every angle and fleshed out as thoroughly as possible so that we go into new situations – like putting young American men and women on the ground against a dangerous enemy – with a clear-headed understanding of why we’re taking these steps.
This means that our representatives on Capitol Hill should ask tough questions, demand responsive answers and insist on a crystal-clear explanation of what the policy is and what alternatives are available.
They need to bring in experts from outside the administration to critique its proposals and outline alternatives of their own. They need to press the administration on what resources are needed to obtain its objectives – in this case, how many troops, how much money and the risks to American lives and interests.
This demands walking a careful line that congress hasn’t been especially good at negotiating of late. It has to be both a partner and a critic, supporting the president when it thinks he’s doing something right, criticizing him when it thinks he’s wrong, helping the administration craft policy that is in tune with the nation’s needs and putting alternatives forward when it sees a better way.
Simply put, government functions better when congress pursues robust oversight. It sharpens objectives, improves government performance, makes the bureaucracy more responsive and curtails wasteful spending.
Sadly, this key responsibility has fallen into disuse. Really tough overseers of the administration’s policies – lawmakers who are interested in government performance, not political one-upmanship – have grown scarce on Capitol Hill. But, if we want to restore the vigor of our congress, getting it to look into every nook and cranny of government is vital.
The military’s pursuit of growing troop strength and new strategies in the Middle East would be a good place to start.
Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years, is a distinguished scholar at Indiana University’s school of global and international studies and a professor of practice at the university’s school of public and environmental affairs.

Washington watch with Lee Hamilton

There have been encouraging signs that the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill wants to make congress function again. They’ve talked about using conference committees more, allowing a more open process for rank-and-file members, enacting separate appropriation bills rather than using omnibus bills and letting committees lead on legislation rather than hoarding all power in the leadership offices.
Perhaps most important, they’ve acknowledged that congress has many bad habits and are insisting that they want to restore a healthy legislative process.
This has to be heartening to any American concerned about the level of dysfunction to which congress has sunk in recent times. The question is, how can we tell whether congress is actually fixing itself?
For, as promising as the rhetoric might be, there’s a long way to go before words and reality meet on Capitol Hill. So I’ve compiled a list of what you should keep your eye on.
First, differences in emphasis separate the leaders of the two houses, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and house-of-representatives speaker Paul Ryan.
Speaker Ryan is intent on pressing forward with key policy proposals that would anchor a bold Republican legislative agenda. But that’s because the Republican majority in the house is not generally believed to be at risk.
Over in the senate, things are different – control of that body next year is up for grabs and McConnell seems to be focused on maintaining his party’s majority. For his members, boldness is a risk.
This difference could lead to slim production so look to see how many and which issues the two leaders really push forward.
Will they advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in some version or let it slide until the elections are past? Will they tackle tax reform? How about authorizing support for the war against Islamic State?
Ryan has already removed one key matter – immigration reform – from the table. Will other pressing issues also bite the dust?
The second big indicator is whether congress has the political will to fix itself. Most members say publicly that they don’t want gridlock and are dedicated to making the institution function smoothly.
The key measure of whether they really mean it is the attitude they take toward their political adversaries. If what you hear on Capitol Hill is nothing but distrust, then they’re not serious. If they’re willing to negotiate and compromise with one another – as happened at the end of last year, with the passage of an omnibus spending package – then there’s hope.
Third is what you might think of as the rolled-up-sleeves test. How hard are members of congress willing to work at addressing the key issues facing the country? So far, the evidence is disappointing.
The legislative schedule put out by the congressional leadership is, to be blunt, lax. On average, members of congress will be working about nine days a month. They’ve given themselves four stretches of 10 days off at a time. They’ll be off for 52 straight days in July, August and September, and then another 39 days in a row in October and November.
Yes, it’s an election year and they want to campaign, but you cannot run a government that is not in session. The best we can hope for is an obvious sense of urgency when members of congress are in Washington. Look for it. If you don’t see it, little will get done on Capitol Hill.
I should say that not all the responsibility for restoring congress rests at the federal level. The states, too, have a key role to play. Will they get serious about how they draw congressional districts so that politicians no longer have the luxury of picking their voters rather than the other way around?
Will some states continue to pursue efforts to make voting harder – which, like gerrymandering, has the effect of shoring up the extremes in Congress? Will states make the effort to modernize their voting systems so that the democratic process has a chance of working with minimal friction?
In the end, good intentions and fine rhetoric don’t accomplish much. I hope you’ll keep an eye on congress and cheer for its members to act in accord with their own advice. If they do, it will take a giant stride toward improved performance.
Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years, is a distinguished scholar at Indiana University’s school of global and international studies and a professor of practice at the university’s school of public and environmental affairs.

Washington watch with Lee Hamilton

Every now and then, I’m asked if I miss serving in Congress. My stock answer is that no, I don’t really miss it, but there are definitely times when I’d like to jump right into a policy debate or be in a position to call congressional hearings … This is one of those times.

Over the last few weeks, several media outlets have reported that U.S. military commanders are suggesting that they need more American troops on the ground in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya. And last month, talking about our efforts to defeat ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told CNBC, “We’re looking for opportunities to do more and there will be boots on the ground and I want to be clear about that.”
This ought to have Congress working overtime to prepare for these requests. It’s rare to find a military commander who doesn’t want more troops: they face serious security challenges, especially in the Middle East. But one can be sympathetic and at the same time skeptical, or at least probing.
So Congress should be pushing very hard to get answers to some very tough questions. Where are we headed with these proposed troop increases? If they don’t work, what’s next? What’s our exit strategy? What are the prospects for negotiations? We keep saying we’re going to support the moderate opposition in Syria: who are they, what do they bring to the table, and how are we recalibrating our approach in the face of Russian airstrikes on behalf of the current regime?
We insist that we’re going to destroy ISIS, but no other country in the international coalition fighting the Islamic State seems willing to put forces on the ground. Are we going to be the only one? And just how does the administration propose to destroy ISIS?
Congress has two key functions in our system of government: legislation and oversight. Most public attention – and certainly most media attention – focuses on policy-making and legislative maneuvering. But Capitol Hill’s role in overseeing the executive branch is just as important.
That’s because in seeking answers, Congress can force the President and his top advisors to articulate and defend their policies, their objectives, the steps they’re taking (or proposing) to implement those objectives, and the impact they expect from their policies. In other words, Congress needs to act on behalf of the American people to ensure that major policy requests are looked at from every angle and fleshed out as thoroughly as possible so that we go into new situations — like putting young American men and women on the ground against a dangerous enemy — with a clear-headed understanding of why we’re taking these steps.
This means that our representatives on Capitol Hill should ask tough questions, demand responsive answers, and insist on a crystal-clear explanation of what the policy is and what alternatives are available. They need to bring in experts from outside the administration to critique the administration’s proposals and outline alternatives of their own. They need to press the administration on what resources are needed to obtain its objectives: in this case, how many troops, how much money, what are the risks to American lives and interests?
This demands walking a careful line that Congress hasn’t been especially good at negotiating of late. It has to be both a partner and a critic, supporting the President when it thinks he’s doing something right, criticizing him when it thinks he’s wrong, helping the administration craft policy that is in tune with the nation’s needs, and putting alternatives forward when it sees a better way.
Simply put, government functions better when Congress pursues robust oversight. It sharpens objectives, improves government performance, makes the bureaucracy more responsive, and curtails wasteful spending.
Sadly, this key responsibility has fallen into disrepair. Really tough overseers of the administration’s policies — lawmakers who are interested in government performance, not political one-upmanship — have grown scarce on Capitol Hill. But if we want to restore the vigor of the Congress, getting it to look into every nook and cranny of government is vital. The military’s pursuit of growing troop strength and new strategies in the Middle East would be a good place to start.
Lee Hamilton, who was a member of the US house of representatives for 34 years, is a distinguished scholar at Indiana University’s school of global and international studies and a professor of practice at the university’s school of public and environmental affairs.