Posts Tagged ‘Congress’
Governments are inherently run inefficiently without much regard for cost effectiveness. The US government is no different and this includes the Defense department. It is accurate that America will have to include defense cuts in order for us to get out of this fiscal disaster that is fast approaching as our debt continues to spiral. However, I believe the automatic $600 billion dollars that would be cut from our defense spending if the Super Committee cannot come to another agreement, is going too far. The main duty for any government is to provide for the safety and defense of its citizens and interests and these proposed cuts, which of course go on top of the hundreds of billions already cut by Secretary Gates and the Obama administration, are too drastic and are the wrong target for budget savings. Robert Samuelson brings some much needed perspective on this issue:
People who see military cuts as an easy way to reduce budget deficits forget that this has already occurred. From the late 1980s to 2010, America’s armed forces dropped from 2.1 million men and women to about 1.4 million. The downsizing — the “peace dividend” from the end of the Cold War — was not undone by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1990, the Army had 172 combat battalions, the Navy 546 ships and the Air Force 4,355 fighters; today, those numbers are 100 battalions, 288 ships and 1,990 fighters.
True, Iraq and Afghanistan raised defense budgets. As these wars conclude, lower spending will shrink overall deficits. But the savings will be smaller than many expect because the costs — though considerable — were smaller than they thought. From fiscal 2001 to 2011, these wars cost $1.3 trillion, says the Congressional Budget Office. That’s 4.4 percent of the $29.7 trillion of federal spending over those years. In 2011, the cost was about $159 billion, 12 percent of the deficit ($1.3 trillion) and 4 percent of total spending ($3.6 trillion).
Then Samuelson takes on a few myths about defense spending, including:
We can’t afford today’s military. Not so. How much we spend is a political decision. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the country was much poorer, 40 percent to 50 percent of the federal budget routinely went to defense, representing 8 percent to 10 percent of our national income. By 2010, a wealthier America devoted only 20 percent of federal spending and 4.8 percent of national income to the military. Social spending replaced military spending; but that shift has gone too far….
The Washington Post came out against the Super Committee defense cuts as well and highlighted some of the testimony of America’s military leaders:
Since the congressional supercommittee is reportedly at an impasse, let’s hope its members have used some of their idle time to catch up with the testimony of the nation’s military chiefs at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. The chiefs were asked to assess what would be the consequences if $600 billion in across-the-board cuts were imposed on the defense budget — a sequestration currently required by law in the event the supercommittee fails to agree on a debt reduction plan or Congress fails to pass it.
Their answers were blunt: “Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” testified Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a former Iraq commander. “My assessment is that the nation would incur an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk.”
“A severe and irreversible impact on the Navy’s future,” said Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations.
“A Marine Corps below the end strength that’s necessary to support even one major contingency,” said Marine Commandant James Amos.
“Even the most thoroughly deliberated strategy may not be able to overcome dire consequences,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz.
There is much waste and superfluous defense programs that should be found and uprooted. I have personally seen defense sector waste and am very sympathetic to the American tax payer who may feel that he is being taken for a ride far too often by its profligacy, but the current proposed cuts on the table would start digging into real and necessary defense programs, personnel, and technology. America’s budget deficits and debt are major threats to our future, but believing we can solve them by mostly cutting our defense spending is numerically and philosophically wrong. Numerically speaking, our financial position is in dire straits because of runaway entitlement spending, not a bloated defense sector. Philosophically speaking, well, I’ll let Robert Samuelson have the last word:
Defense spending is unlike other spending, because protecting the nation is government’s first job. It’s in the Constitution, as highways, school lunches and Social Security are not.
The first round of Circuit Court hearings on the Obama health law took place earlier today in Richmond, Virginia’s Fourth Circuit. Two cases were heard by the three judge panel (Liberty University appealing a ruling for the government and the Justice Department appealing a ruling for the State of Virginia). It’s worth noting that while the 4th Circuit is composed of 14 judges – 7 appointed by Democratic presidents and 7 appointed by Republican presidents – the 3-judge panel for today’s oral arguments were all Democratic appointees (2 were appointed by President Obama, the major beneficiary of this law being upheld). That being the case, it is widely figured that it was over before it began.
After listening to both sides arguments (as I did), a neutral observer could certainly hear the difference in the panel’s tone and questions toward the two counsels. As some individuals in the audience have described, the audio sounds more like the judges were looking to the government-appellee to help write their opinions while looking to attack the plantiff-appellant at every turn.
While the basics of the case are quite clear – the Commerce Clause requires at least some form of activity, even if the act has an insignificant effect on interstate commerce – never discount lawyers’ ability to play verbal gymnastics with a relatively simple term (e.g., remember Bill Clinton’s famous statement questioning the definition of “is”?) Here’s one example from today:
During appellant’s argument (Liberty), the panel focused on the question of what qualifies as an activity. They used as an example someone receiving a gift (let’s say it’s marijuana) from their neighbor. The neighbor, now in possession of marijuana, is now subject to Congressional regulation under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which stems from the Commerce Clause power. The neighbor did nothing to seek out, buy or acquire this gift but they are still subject to regulation.
So how is this different than those who do not seek out health insurance? I mean, Congress has the right to regulate marijuana just as much as the health care market. If your neighbor gives you marijuana and you accept it, you become subject to the CSA. The act is one of accepting the gift. Same as if someone offered to pay for your health insurance. If you accepted the gift, you would now be subject to Congressional regulation as it pertains to your health insurance.
Clearly, the difference with the individual mandate is that no neighbor has come over to give you anything. You are just sitting in your house all alone when the government knocks on your door and mandates that you buy a product. It’s reasoning? Because you chose not to accept the gift from your neighbor (whether it be marijuana or health insurance), you made an economic decision and consequently participated in economic activity. Voila, you are now involved in commercial decisions even when you’re sitting at home not buying anything. Don’t tell me this passes the laugh test.
The second point worth noting from today’s argument pertains to the necessary and proper clause. The government asserts that since:
A) Congress has the authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate the insurance market by prohibiting lifetime limits or denying consumers with pre-existing conditions, and
B) To make these reforms work, everybody must participate in the system
C) They can exercise powers that would otherwise not be constitutional – force people to buy a product from a private company.
To paraphrase the government’s lawyer, “the Necessary and Proper clause allows Congress to fill in the gaps of a comprehensive scheme.” Essentially, the Justice Department has yet another quite expansive claim – that the Necessary and Proper clause is an additional power unto itself that can expand the other powers. Yet this has never been the interpretation of it. It has always been seen as a provision ensuring laws with a constitutional basis can be implemented. It is a logistical provision – if you can raise an army, you can obviously raise and expend the money to pay that army.
The government’s approach goes way beyond modern precedent. If allowed, this would mean Congress could pass any unconstitutional law it wanted (e.g., individual mandate), so long as it was “necessary” to make a constitutional law workable (prohibition on pre-existing conditions)!
Moreover, this line of reasoning completely ignores the second half of the analysis – Is it proper? Well-established precedent says it’s not “proper” if it violates the founding principles, one of which is a government of limited and enumerated powers. This hits on the first part of our discussion – where is the limiting principle if Congress can regulate any “mental decision” or decision to not participate in an activity because it has economic implications? This would be granting Congress a de facto “police power,” something the Founders intentionally avoided doing.
No one is expecting the Fourth Circuit to rule against the government (and they’ll probably get a 3-0 ruling). But that doesn’t mean all Americans shouldn’t be outraged and terrified by the implications of the government’s position. We can only hope that the 11th Circuit, which will review Judge Vinson’s ruling striking down the entire law, (and ultimately the Supreme Court) provides a panel that has an interest in what our Founders intended and what has made this country so great.
By no means is Libya a simple issue, nor do these facts necessarily argue against the actions taken by the United States, but it is important to take this opportunity to put our last major military intervention in Iraq into perspective by considering just a few facts:
* Coalition partners Bush had for Iraq: 30
* Coalition partners Obama has for Libya: 17
Domestic Support (Pew Research Center)
* Decision to use military force in Iraq (March 2003): 72% support/22% oppose
* Decision to enforce no-fly zone in Libya (March 2011): 44% support/45% oppose
* Decision to bomb Libyan air defenses (March 2011): 16% support/77% oppose
* Candidate Obama (2007): “The President does not have power under Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military strike.”
* President Obama (2011): “Obama did not seek congressional authorization before joining allies, including Great Britain and France, in taking military action against the regime of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi in order to establish a no-fly zone over that country. The action was approved by the United Nations Security Council but not by the U.S. Congress.” – CNS.com
* Iraq war resolution passed House 297-133 and Senate 77-23.
* Libyan war resolution: does not exist
* US objective in Iraq War: Topple Saddam Hussein regime, replace with democratically-elected government, stop race to obtain and use WMDs and ultimately bring more stability to Middle East.
* US objective in Libya: Stop Qaddafi from murdering Libyan residents, ???
* Iraq War: Major protests in San Francisco, New York, Portland
* Libya War: Crickets….
The Iraq war started in 2003 and the present one in Libya have numerous differences, but I thought the comparisons above were worth highlighting. GPP will have much more on the ongoing American/UK/French war efforts in Libya throughout the next few days.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has taken a lot of heat for his performance and statements in the last few months, much of it deserved. His ignorance regarding a substantial terrorist plot an entire day after arrests were made in London is inexcusable and his claim that the Muslim Brotherhood was a ‘largely secular’ group was laughable. However, the latest flap regarding comments made by Mr. Clapper have been wrongly criticized by members of Congress and the media. Cue the newstory:
During an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., asked Clapper which country posed the greatest threat to the United States.
“Certainly, the Russians still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal, which does pose potentially a mortal threat to us,” Clapper said. “I don’t think they have the intent to do that.”
He added that China “is growing in its military capabilities. It has a full array of, whether conventional or strategic forces, that they are building. So they too do pose, potentially from a capabilities standpoint, a threat to us as a mortal threat.”
Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Clapper he was surprised by his answer that Russia and China posed the greatest mortal threat and gave him an opportunity to clarify whether Iran or North Korea might be more of a threat.
Clapper said he based his assessment strictly on the strategic nuclear capabilities of nation-states that have the potential to be mortal dangers to the U.S. and, “the two that come to mind because of their capabilities are Russia and China.”
Though Iran and North Korea were “of great concern,” he said, they do not pose a threat to the continental United States.
Senator Manchin rephrased his question to ask which country had the intent to be our greatest adversary.
Clapper replied, “Probably China.”
The Senators mentioned along with others spoke up to the media after the hearing again to voice their disagreement with Clapper’s claim that Russia and China are more of a ‘mortal threat’ to US national security than say, Iran or North Korea. I think Clapper is totally accurate with his assertions. Indeed, China and Russia are indeed more existentially threatening to US national security and our American way of life. I back this up clearly in my Great Power Rankings.
Surely, a nuclear North Korea and aspiring nuclear power Iran, are menacing and a great nuisance to their neighbors, US allies, and the US interests, but they cannot mortally harm the United States. They should be classified as ‘enemies’ of our country, but not ‘mortal threats’. China on the other hand is a bona fide great power that is still growing. It’s economy is not 2nd to the United States, it’s military is growing rapidly (especially its Navy), and it has substantial regional, if not international, aspirations to be a revisionist power. Russia has a thousands of nuclear warheads, holds many conflicting areas of interest with the US, and has been antagonistic toward America numerous times.
Does this mean that China and Russia are enemies or that North Korea and Iran do not pose a threat to our interests? Of course not, Mr. Rhetorical. We just need to be aware that there are difference level of threats out there. Mr. Clapper may not be fit to hold his position atop our nation’s intelligence network, but he is right in this assessment.
There has been some push back coming against Congressman Peter King’s scheduled hearing on the threat of homegrown terrorism to American national security. A prime example comes from the New York Times editorial page, where Bob Herbert proclaims:
Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, appears to harbor a fierce unhappiness with the Muslim community in the United States. As the chairman of the powerful Homeland Security Committee, Congressman King has all the clout he needs to act on his displeasure.
Despite this rather odious implication that King is a bigot and unfairly targeting Muslims, Herbert gives not one real piece of evidence of his claim. Do you know what there is actual evidence to support though? The fact that the United States does indeed face a troubling growth in homegrown terrorist activity, which sadly, but truthfully, mostly comes from those of Muslim backgrounds. According to Gregory Treverton of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Global Risk and Security, there were 46 publicly reported cases of radicalization and recruitment of jihadist terrorism, involving 125 individuals in the US between 9/11 and the beginning of 2010. Those numbers do not include Richard Reid, who plotted his attack outside the US, or Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber. In 2009, there were two fatal attacks from homegrown products targeting Americans: the Fort Hood massacre (13 killed, 31 wounded) and the murder of another American soldier at an Arkansas recruiting office. Lest we also forget Mohamed Mohamud, who last November pressed a button believing it would blow up hundreds of families watching the lighting of the downtown Portland Christmas tree. I could go on…
So to argue or even insinuate that homegrown terrorism, particularly of the Islamist variation, is not a serious national security is to ignore the reality of the past ten years. Rep. King’s hearing is not happening to put American Muslims in a poor light. If done correctly, it will just highlight a disturbing trend in the radicalization of a small segment of our population that poses a threat to all of our safety and well being. No one gives American Islam a worse name than those who seek to kill and maim in the religion’s name. To defeat an enemy, you have to know it. It does no one any good to hide behind political correctness and baseless claims of racism.