Tag Archives: Congress

Our Non-Essential Federal Government

We enter yet another week of the “partial” government shutdown.

Over the weekend we saw veterans bull rushing the WWII Memorial, tearing down the barricades, and re-positioning them in front of the White House lawn. “Good on ya!” I’d toss out to those veterans.

We heard news that states and private entities are stepping up to keep America’s finest assets, our national parks, open to the public. Thank you, on behalf of all of us that love the national parks.

And we continued to hear more bickering from leaders in Washington.  Ugh.

The developments over the past few weeks have led me to ask, “What exactly does the federal government do, anyway?”

The push to keep the national parks open is a clear sign that state and local leaders know a dysfunctional federal government will cost them millions in tourism dollars.  So they’ve pushed forward without a hint of politics and undertaken the federal government’s work.

Last night it began flooding in central Texas. I’m sure if needed, Gov. Perry will call out his state’s national guard troops. He and the Texas Legislature won’t wait for the federal government. If another massive wildfire hits the West, or a late errant hurricane hits the southern coastal states, chief executives and emergency agencies won’t wait for the federal government either.

City, county and state executives don’t get to “shut down” their governments because they can’t get along. They have to work together to do the job that people have elected them to do. Because they know that if they don’t do their job, voters will show them the door at the next election.

Elected officials in Washington have shown us in recent months that the interaction between the House, Senate and White House is dysfunctional, and that’s being diplomatic.

Unfortunately, the longer this cliff hangs over our head, the more “non-essential” leaders in Congress will appear to voters.

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The Complex Dance of Foreign Affairs

It’s been many years since I sat in Professor Jim McCormick’s political science classes at Iowa State. It’s been years since I’ve sat in Professor Burns Weston’s classes on international law at the University of Iowa.

But I haven’t forgotten their observations about foreign affairs. The performance of US foreign affairs is a complex dance between the President and Congress. The Constitution divides authority, and for good reason. Our Founders wanted the will of the people to be weighed (Congress), but also wanted a strong leader for times of international crisis (President).

This week gave me a reminder of how complex that dance can be, and how sometimes either party to this routine can make errant steps.

First, there’s a wealth of observations this week about President Obama’s handling of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. A couple of my favorites are here and here. At first the President wanted to go it alone, then resorted to briefing and requesting congressional authorization for a use of force, and now is hoping for an international diplomatic solution. Whatever the outcome will be in the coming days and weeks, he’s run the gamut on this one. Time will tell if it’s been a good decision making process or a poor one. I will just posit that this process has been noticed by other world leaders, and they will act differently toward the US in the future.

On to my congressional observations. This week we saw Congressmen King (R-IA) and Gohmert (R-TX) accompany Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to Egypt. My first thought was that I had missed the last 10 months, and that Michelle Bachmann had indeed been elected President. I searched in vain for an objective link to a story about the visit. I will just post the YouTube link here, and you can watch for yourself.

In case you don’t watch it, the Cliff Notes version is this: Congresswoman Bachmann thanks the military junta leaders for overthrowing an elected government and for cracking down on the “evil common enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

I think their appearance was probably not the best dance step I’ve seen from these Members of Congress. If you’ve been following the news lately, the military government of Egypt hasn’t exactly been the shining star of democracy, openness, or tact. Clearing demonstrators out with live bullets and killing several hundred, suicide bombings and political retributions may not be the things these Members want to stand up and support.

But they aren’t the first Members of Congress to go wading in deep international waters, and they likely won’t be the last. As soon as I saw the media and left wing backlash to their appearance, I remembered this great instance in congressional foreign policy making:

Kerry Harkin Ortega

Yes, that’s current Secretary of State John Kerry, then a US Senator, alongside Iowa’s own Tom Harkin, meeting with Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in 1985. This trip, as has been reported on widely, was proxy foreign affairs being waged with a foreign leader waging a proxy war with the US. Ortega is the once and current leader of Nicaragua. He was closely aligned with Russia, Venezuela, and now Iran. Ortega has maintained a pretty healthy anti-American stance over the years. His record on human rights, property rights, and personal property have been abysmal, to say the least. I’m not sure either Senator Harkin or Secretary of State Kerry wants to stand up in defense of that, either.

My personal opinion, for what it matters? I like strong, clear minded Executives leading our foreign affairs. When he, and someday she, makes a misstep on foreign affairs, the American people will hopefully hold him/her accountable.

I also respect circumspect Members of Congress who follow international affairs closely and work in concert with the Executive to advance our national security. And when they make mistakes and overstep their boundaries, I also hope the voters in their districts hold them accountable.

Yes, I know I’ll be disappointed. As with the debacle of Benghazi, I have been and will be disappointed in accountability.

But a guy has to hold on to some shred of idealism, right?

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