Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congress

Kerry’s False Iran Talks Narrative

Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

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Who are the obstacles to a new nuclear deal between the West and Iran? According to the New York Times, it’s the extremists on both sides: Iranian mullahs and members of Congress, both of whom are said to want the negotiations to fail. But the problem here is that both the newspaper and the anonymous U.S. officials who were the sources for the piece assume the object of the exercise is a deal of any sort. Their American critics have a different goal: stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

The Times article advances the administration’s agenda in which it has sought to portray critics of the Iran talks as warmongers determined to thwart progress in the same way that hard-line ayatollahs might. But the facile analogy tells us more about Kerry’s mindset than anything else. Like Cold War-era liberals who urged the U.S. not to be too tough on Moscow, lest the real hardliners in the Kremlin get the best of the liberal Communists, the assumption that there is any real support in Tehran for reconciliation or willingness to give up their nuclear quest is probably a pointless diversion. Contrary to the Times, the recent statements of Iran’s supreme leader–in which he stated that his country intends to increase the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, not reduce them–did not so much blindside his envoys as it made clear that the belief that they would accommodate Western demands was always a delusion. The supposed leader of the Iranian moderates, President Hassan Rouhani, is a loyal servant of Ayatollah Khamenei and helped deceive the West in the past. Whatever issues divide the Iranians, they are united in an effort to bluff the Obama administration into giving them another diplomatic victory.

On the other hand, the members of the House and the Senate that have warned the White House that they will oppose any deal that leaves Iran with a nuclear capability are not the problem. There is no difference between the stated positions of Democrat Robert Menendez, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and President Obama. Both have said they will not settle for an agreement that will allow Iran to get a bomb. Menendez and the broad bipartisan majority of both Houses of Congress have put on record their opposition to a weak deal that would leave Iran’s infrastructure in place with no credible guarantees to stop them from resuming their nuclear quest. But the motivation for the congressional critiques is not opposition to diplomacy per se so much as their understanding that administration diplomats have succumbed before to their zeal for a deal and may yet again.

At the heart of this dynamic is not the meme of extremists on both sides opposing compromise but the direction that the negotiations have taken. Kerry threw away the West’s formidable economic and military leverage over Iran last fall and signed an interim nuclear deal that tacitly recognized its right to enrich uranium and loosened sanctions in exchange for concessions that could be easily reversed. The Iranians had every expectation that this pattern would be repeated in the current round of talks and have understandably refused to back down and agree to anything that would really limit their ability to go nuclear.

This places Kerry in a bind. The administration desperately needs an agreement because neither President Obama nor America’s European allies have any appetite for continuing the existing sanctions on Iran’s economy, let alone toughening them (as Congress would like to do) in order to bring Tehran to its knees. Having started the process of unraveling support for sanctions last fall, getting the international community to agree to a genuine boycott of Iranian oil may be beyond the capacity of this administration.

That’s what Iran is counting on as it plays out the clock on the talks denying they will give Kerry any extra time during which he can somehow craft a deal. That leaves the U.S. vulnerable to a nuclear shakedown in which an agreement that would place no real obstacles in Iran’s place might be presented to the American people as proof that Obama kept his word to stop Iran. While most Americans are hazy about the details of these talks, they should not be deceived into thinking this is an issue on which reasonable people can split the difference. An agreement that allows Iran to keep its nuclear program (something that the president specifically vowed not to let happen) and gives it access to its nuclear stockpile with only a brief “break out” period standing between the ayatollahs and the bomb is not a compromise. It is a Western surrender that will put nuclear weapons within reach of the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.

As time winds down toward the moment when another Kerry cave-in becomes the only way a deal gets done, it is imperative that Congress sends a clear message that it will never pass any bill lifting sanctions on Iran unless the negotiations produce an accord that is something more than a Western fig leaf covering Iran’s nuclear ambition.

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Obama’s Climate Laughs No Substitute for Sound Economics

President Obama had a good time mocking congressional Republicans yesterday for being skeptics about climate change. But even he seems to know that selling his radical proposals that will cause serious economic pain will not be as easy a sell as jokes about Flat Earth Republicans.

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President Obama had a good time mocking congressional Republicans yesterday for being skeptics about climate change. But even he seems to know that selling his radical proposals that will cause serious economic pain will not be as easy a sell as jokes about Flat Earth Republicans.

As Politico noted, Obama’s speech to the League of Conservation Voters was notable mainly for the president’s comedy routine aimed at depicting those who haven’t bought into every aspect of the radical environmentalist agenda as extremists with a screw loose. The reason for this strategy is easy to understand.

If Obama’s talking about regulations, he’s losing. If he’s talking about carbon caps for power plants or energy emissions for air conditioners, no one cares. But if he’s talking about crazy Republicans who don’t make any sense—and by the way, are putting children at risk, he charges—well, that’s an argument he can wrap his arms around.

Given the stranglehold that the global warming crowd has on the mainstream media and, even more importantly, in popular culture, the president’s confidence that a majority of Americans may agree with him on climate issues is well founded. But the gap between a general belief that the earth may be warming and a suspicion that human activity may be causing it and support for some of the administration’s prescriptions to address these issues is considerable.

As even the president acknowledged in his speech, his attempt to get rid of coal-fired power plants and force car manufacturers to alter their plans will have economic consequences. But the disconnect here isn’t merely a matter of marketing and better communication, as the White House seems to think.

As I noted back in March, polls have consistently shown that while the American people may believe the climate is changing, they don’t consider this to be a priority when it comes to government action. Liberals tend to think the reason for this is that the public is not yet sufficiently alarmed by the prospect of global warming. But instead of attempting to make a reasonable case for changes that will send electricity and gas prices skyrocketing and the refusal to undertake projects, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, that would increase America’s available resources, they engage in scare tactics that, generally, backfire.

That’s because what the public wants is not so much mockery of skeptics or hysterical and wildly exaggerated predictions of a warming apocalypse but a measured analysis of the cost/benefit ratio of climate legislation. And that is exactly what is lacking in the president’s comedy routine. Even if the courts have given the president the power to enact far-reaching changes without benefit of congressional approval, that doesn’t translate into widespread approval for carbon regulations that will damage the economy and cause genuine economic hardship. Nor will that problem be solved be reports filled with alarmist predictions funded by wealthy activists like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg that liberals cite to justify the suffering that will be imposed on the public. Though most Americans may think the climate is changing, they don’t think the apocalypse is at hand and aren’t interested in lowering their standard of living merely to gratify extremist ideology.

Merely branding his opponents as crazy won’t resolve this problem. Nor will the usual amorphous rhetoric about the power of green jobs that never seem to materialize and new technologies that will leapfrog over current difficulties that may take decades before they can take the place of fossil fuels, if, in fact, they ever do. In the meantime, they are left facing the prospect of Obama’s proposals creating economic havoc. As some Democrats in energy-producing states are learning, Obama may be getting laughs from coastal elites but his backing for environmentalist extremism may cost his party some Senate seats to the same Republicans he’s been mocking. While he may be thinking in terms of his 2008 boast about turning back the oceans, that seems a poor exchange for unpopular policies even if most Americans don’t agree with the skeptics.

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Proroguing the Congress

The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

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The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

It ruled, unanimously, that President Obama had overstepped his powers when he made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was holding pro-forma sessions. In other words, the Senate, not the president, gets to decide when it is in session.

I have not yet read the opinion, which is a long one, but five justices (the four liberal ones and Justice Kennedy), decided to sustain the long-standing practice of presidents making appointments during intra-session recesses (for holidays, etc.) not just inter-session recesses when the Senate has recessed sine die (Latin for “without a day,” i.e. without setting a date to resume). It also ruled that vacancies don’t need to occur during the recess to be filled by the recess appointment power. Again, this is long-standing practice, but it is not what the Constitution says.

The recess appointment clause (Article II, Section 2) says that “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, …” and the D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled that it meant what it said: “the recess,” not “a recess,” and vacancies must occur during the recess, not simply exist during the recess. In today’s world, the recess of the Senate is very short. They rarely adjourn before the middle of December and the next session begins, under the 20th Amendment, on January 3. Had the Supreme Court followed that reasoning, and four justices led by Justice Scalia argued forcefully that it should have, the recess appointment power would have been, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Now the long-standing but unconstitutional practice has the imprimatur of the Supreme Court. All sorts of mischief can occur as a result. If the presidency and the two houses of Congress are in the hands of one party, there’s no problem. But if the Senate is in the hands of the other party, it can prevent recess appointments only by staying in pro-forma sessions. If the Senate is in the hands of the president’s party, but the House is not, as is the case presently, then the House can prevent a recess by simply staying in session itself. Neither house can adjourn for more than three days without the agreement of the other house (Article I, Section 5).

But there’s a little noticed clause in the Constitution (Article II, Section 3) that says, “… in Case of Disagreement between them [the two houses], with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he [the president] may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; …” As far as I know, this power has never been exercised. But here’s a scenario. Obama wants to appoint someone who would have trouble being approved by the Senate, so Harry Reid moves to adjourn the Senate for a week, the House refuses to go along, and the president then adjourns them for two weeks, and appoints his man.

The king of England lost his power to prorogue Parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Supreme Court may well have given it back to the president of the United States.

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Suing the President

Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he will ask the House to sue the president. “My view is the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” he said. “What we have seen clearly over the last five years is an effort to erode the power of the Legislative Branch.”

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Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he will ask the House to sue the president. “My view is the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” he said. “What we have seen clearly over the last five years is an effort to erode the power of the Legislative Branch.”

What Boehner is referring to is such presidential actions as unilaterally rewriting large sections of the Affordable Care Act, and ordering the Immigration service to not enforce the portions of immigration law that would have been repealed had Congress passed the “Dream Act,” which it did not. All presidents, other than, perhaps, James Madison, sought to extend their powers, but President Obama has been far more aggressive than most.

But it is difficult to rein in a president through legal action, as no one, including individual members of Congress, has standing to sue to get the courts to require the president to faithfully execute the laws as Congress passed them. As far as I know, neither Congress nor either of its houses has ever sued the president as a body. But that is what Boehner is now proposing. It will be interesting to see how far it gets as the courts have always been notably reluctant to decide a “political question.”

But as George Will writes, “Congress cannot reverse egregious executive aggressions such as Obama’s without robust judicial assistance.” Without it, Congress’s only weapon to protect its constitutional powers is the thermonuclear one of impeachment. He writes,

David Rivkin, a Washington lawyer, and Elizabeth Price Foley of Florida International University have studied the case law and believe that standing can be obtained conditional on four things:

That a majority of one congressional chamber explicitly authorizes a lawsuit. That the lawsuit concern the president’s “benevolent” suspension of an unambiguous provision of law that, by pleasing a private faction, precludes the appearance of a private plaintiff. That Congress cannot administer political self-help by remedying the presidential action by simply repealing the law. And that the injury amounts to nullification of Congress’s power.

But Lyle Denniston of the National Constitution Center has his doubts the courts will get involved:

The courts can be jealous guardians of their notion of what the Constitution allows, or does not allow, in terms of judicial review. The resistance to resolving political disputes is quite deeply set.  One might suggest that it would take an inter-branch controversy of monumental proportions to cause them to give up that reluctance. Is the feud over President Obama’s use of his White House powers of that dimension? That may well be debatable.

This should be interesting.

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Senate Iran Letter Ends Sanctions Fight

Supporters of tough sanctions on Iran hailed the publication of a letter from 83 members of the U.S. Senate to President Obama calling on him to negotiate a deal with the Islamist regime that would preclude any chance that it could gain a nuclear weapon. The letter said that any agreement reached with Iran must deny it the right to uranium enrichment, dismantle its enrichment and nuclear military research facilities as well as its plutonium plant, and be subjected to the kind of inspections that would prevent it from evading detection of violations and receive no further sanctions relief until the other terms are satisfied. AIPAC praised it as an “overwhelming demonstration by the U.S. Senate of its determination to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.”

But those who are dismissing the letter as the last gasp of a once formidable congressional coalition on behalf of sanctions on Iran are right. As the Al Monitor crowed in the headline of its article on the letter, what had happened was not so much a reaffirmation of principle but recognition that Congress had given the president “a window for Iran talks.” The terms laid down in the letter for an Iran nuclear deal are sufficient to stop Tehran. But the amorphous language it employs about what would happen if the agreement the administration produces with Iran falls short of that standard left considerable doubt as to whether failure would result in the passage of the crippling sanctions that the Senate tried but failed to pass earlier this year. Combined with the weaker language of a similar Iran letter signed by 395 members of the House of Representatives, the administration will interpret these developments as a green light to pursue a deal with Iran that will fall considerably short of the standard set in the Senate letter.

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Supporters of tough sanctions on Iran hailed the publication of a letter from 83 members of the U.S. Senate to President Obama calling on him to negotiate a deal with the Islamist regime that would preclude any chance that it could gain a nuclear weapon. The letter said that any agreement reached with Iran must deny it the right to uranium enrichment, dismantle its enrichment and nuclear military research facilities as well as its plutonium plant, and be subjected to the kind of inspections that would prevent it from evading detection of violations and receive no further sanctions relief until the other terms are satisfied. AIPAC praised it as an “overwhelming demonstration by the U.S. Senate of its determination to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.”

But those who are dismissing the letter as the last gasp of a once formidable congressional coalition on behalf of sanctions on Iran are right. As the Al Monitor crowed in the headline of its article on the letter, what had happened was not so much a reaffirmation of principle but recognition that Congress had given the president “a window for Iran talks.” The terms laid down in the letter for an Iran nuclear deal are sufficient to stop Tehran. But the amorphous language it employs about what would happen if the agreement the administration produces with Iran falls short of that standard left considerable doubt as to whether failure would result in the passage of the crippling sanctions that the Senate tried but failed to pass earlier this year. Combined with the weaker language of a similar Iran letter signed by 395 members of the House of Representatives, the administration will interpret these developments as a green light to pursue a deal with Iran that will fall considerably short of the standard set in the Senate letter.

It was no accident that the overwhelming bipartisan turnout for the Senate letter had one significant omission: Majority Leader Harry Reid. While Reid had previously been a stalwart supporter of AIPAC and the pro-Israel community, the majority leader was able to exercise an effective veto on further Iran sanctions legislation this year. Reid’s opposition combined with a threat of a presidential veto of new sanctions on Iran sent many Democrats running for cover, despite the fact that 58 members of the Senate had endorsed the bill.

What happened this year surprised many in the pro-Israel community who assumed that a bipartisan coalition in favor of tougher sanctions on Iran could not be stopped. With Democrat Robert Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, championing the bill and a clear majority of the Senate ready to vote for legislation that had already been passed last year by the House, opponents seemed outgunned.

The new sanctions would have tightened the noose around Iran’s still booming international oil sales, but they would not have gone into effect until the next stage of diplomacy had clearly failed. Yet even that was too much for President Obama, who claimed that even sanctions that were based on a hypothetical would “break faith” with his Iranian partners. The administration, which had fought the sanctions that brought Iran to the table tooth and nail in his first term, wanted nothing that would strengthen the hands of the Western negotiators in the P5+1 talks.

The refusal to even contemplate more sanctions has sent a message to Iran that they have little to fear if they stand their ground in the talks and insist on retaining their nuclear program. The Senate letter won’t change their minds. They already know the president will ignore the Senate’s advice on acceptable terms for a nuclear deal since the interim agreement signed by Secretary of State Kerry last November already flouted those principles by tacitly recognizing an Iranian right to enrichment and beginning the process by which international sanctions will start to unravel. The failure to include language that would ensure that Congress would pass the additional sanctions if the deal fails to meet those standards tells Obama and the Iranians the letter can be safely deposited in the circular file and forgotten.

Those worried about an administration push for diplomacy that seems more like a drive for détente with Iran than an effort to stop their nuclear program should take no comfort from these congressional letters. What has just happened is the end of an important fight that ended in defeat for the forces most concerned with averting the peril of an Iranian bomb. The president has been given all the time he needs to reach a deal with Iran that will keep his promise to halt their nuclear quest. If, as is most likely, he breaks his promise, it will be up to Congress to take up the issue again and not be talked out of doing the right thing by a president who is willing to do anything to avoid accountability on this vital issue.

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Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

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This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

Let’s concede that the combative spirit of the House GOP caucus won’t be made any less confrontational by a victory in November. But the dynamic of Congress isn’t only defined by the institutional rivalries that Waldman discusses. By controlling the Senate, Democrats have exercised a pocket veto on everything the House produces, whether the product of centrist consensus or Tea Party fantasy. The unrealistic nature of much of the debate that has taken place on the House side is in no small measure the product of a situation in which nothing they do really matters so long as Harry Reid can frustrate them at will. If Reid is replaced by Mitch McConnell at the majority leader’s desk, that changes. At that point, the House caucus stops being a glorified debating society and becomes part of a governing majority. That won’t magically transform them or their Senate colleagues into a collection of legislative geniuses, but it will mean that suicidal gestures born in despair at their inability to pass bills will be a thing of the past.

Nor should Republicans fear—and Democrats anticipate with glee—the prospect of debates about fixes or alternatives to ObamaCare. Contrary to the liberal talking points echoed by many in the media, there are a number of realistic GOP proposals on health care out there that have been ignored because a Democratic Senate makes any new approaches to the misnamed Affordable Care Act impossible.

It is true that the continued presence of Barack Obama in the White House will mean the GOP will still not be governing the nation. He may well use his veto power more than before and frustrate Republican legislative initiatives. But by the same token, the ability of Republicans to hamstring Obama’s liberal agenda and subject his administration to probes will be enhanced.

The president may respond by accelerating his effort to bypass Congress and to govern by means of executive orders. But doing so as a lame duck will not only strike most voters as problematic from a constitutional point of view; it will also place a burden on Democrats in 2016 that they will be hard-pressed to cope with.

Most importantly, a Republican Senate would end any chance that Supreme Court retirements would allow the president to create a liberal court that could stand for decades or to continue his project of packing the appeals courts with like-minded jurists.

A Republican Congress won’t be able to undo everything Barack Obama has done or impose a Tea Party agenda on the nation. But it will act as a far more effective break on a liberal president than the current split Congress and also give Republicans more forums from which they can promote their ideas as they look to 2016. Any Democrat who doesn’t think that will materially damage his party or its leader will learn differently if the GOP vindicates the pundits and sweeps the board this November.

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Will Obama Bypass Congress on Iran?

Over the past several weeks, the White House has been waging an increasingly nasty fight to stop congressional action to put new Iran sanctions in place in the event that the current round of nuclear talks fail. Although 58 senators have co-sponsored the proposed legislation that would tighten the restrictions on doing business with the tyrannical Islamist regime, the Obama administration seems to have acquired the upper hand in the battle. This is largely because of specious arguments claiming those who want to give the president more leverage in the next round of negotiations are actually seeking war rather than a diplomatic solution when the reality is just the opposite. The only hope for a deal that would avert an outcome in which the U.S. would have to choose between the use of force and a nuclear Iran is the adoption of tougher sanctions that would force the ayatollahs to give up their nuclear dreams.

But the current uphill struggle by a majority of the Senate to ensure that the end of the current talks doesn’t lead to a collapse of the sanctions may be only a sideshow to the real fight over Iran that lies ahead in 2014. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, the administration is thinking ahead to the next step in the debate over Iran and exploring the possibility of lifting sanctions without congressional approval.

Congressional insiders say that the White House is worried Congress will exert oversight of the deal and demand tougher nuclear restrictions on Tehran in exchange for sanctions relief.

Top White House aides have been “talking about ways to do that [lift sanctions] without Congress and we have no idea yet what that means,” said one senior congressional aide who works on sanctions. “They’re looking for a way to lift them by fiat, overrule U.S. law, drive over the sanctions, and declare that they are lifted.”

Although only Congress has the power to revoke the sanctions it has enacted, this is not a far-fetched scenario. It is entirely possible that the president may wish to end sanctions on his own. That could come as the result of a nuclear deal that failed to satisfy those who rightly worry about the possibility of an agreement that left Iran with its nuclear infrastructure intact. Or it might be part of a further effort to appease Tehran by scaling back sanctions in order to entice it to sign a deal. And the president believes he can achieve these ends by executive action that would come dangerously close to unconstitutional behavior, but for which Congress might have no remedy.

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Over the past several weeks, the White House has been waging an increasingly nasty fight to stop congressional action to put new Iran sanctions in place in the event that the current round of nuclear talks fail. Although 58 senators have co-sponsored the proposed legislation that would tighten the restrictions on doing business with the tyrannical Islamist regime, the Obama administration seems to have acquired the upper hand in the battle. This is largely because of specious arguments claiming those who want to give the president more leverage in the next round of negotiations are actually seeking war rather than a diplomatic solution when the reality is just the opposite. The only hope for a deal that would avert an outcome in which the U.S. would have to choose between the use of force and a nuclear Iran is the adoption of tougher sanctions that would force the ayatollahs to give up their nuclear dreams.

But the current uphill struggle by a majority of the Senate to ensure that the end of the current talks doesn’t lead to a collapse of the sanctions may be only a sideshow to the real fight over Iran that lies ahead in 2014. As the Washington Free Beacon reports, the administration is thinking ahead to the next step in the debate over Iran and exploring the possibility of lifting sanctions without congressional approval.

Congressional insiders say that the White House is worried Congress will exert oversight of the deal and demand tougher nuclear restrictions on Tehran in exchange for sanctions relief.

Top White House aides have been “talking about ways to do that [lift sanctions] without Congress and we have no idea yet what that means,” said one senior congressional aide who works on sanctions. “They’re looking for a way to lift them by fiat, overrule U.S. law, drive over the sanctions, and declare that they are lifted.”

Although only Congress has the power to revoke the sanctions it has enacted, this is not a far-fetched scenario. It is entirely possible that the president may wish to end sanctions on his own. That could come as the result of a nuclear deal that failed to satisfy those who rightly worry about the possibility of an agreement that left Iran with its nuclear infrastructure intact. Or it might be part of a further effort to appease Tehran by scaling back sanctions in order to entice it to sign a deal. And the president believes he can achieve these ends by executive action that would come dangerously close to unconstitutional behavior, but for which Congress might have no remedy.

The key to any unilateral action by the president on sanctions is effective enforcement. It has long been understood by insiders that the U.S. government has only selectively enforced the existing sanctions on Iran. In 2010, the New York Times reported that more than 10,000 exemptions had already been granted by the Treasury Department to companies wishing to transact business with Iran. Since then there have been worries that the administration has been slow to open new cases by which suspicious economic activity with Iran could be proscribed.

As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted in a paper published in November 2013, the president can legitimize a policy of non-enforcement by the granting of waivers that could effectively gut any and all sanctions enacted by Congress. The only effective check on such a decision would be the political firestorm that would inevitably follow a relaxation of the sanctions that would be accurately viewed as a craven offering to the ayatollahs and also an affront to both Congress and America’s Middle East allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia that rightly fear a nuclear Iran.

The administration has already made clear on other contentious issues, such as the application of immigration law, that it will only enforce laws with which it agrees. This is clearly unconstitutional, but as we have already seen with the president’s unilateral actions on immigration, Congress cannot prevent him from doing what he likes in these matters. The same might be true on Iran sanctions, especially if he is prepared to double down on inflammatory arguments falsely labeling sanctions proponents as warmongers.

Having begun the process of loosening sanctions on Iran with the interim deal signed in November and seemingly intent on promoting a new détente with Tehran, it requires no great leap of imagination to envision the next step in this process. Unless the president produces a deal that truly ends the Iranian nuclear threat—something that would require the dismantling of Iran’s facilities and ensuring it could not possibly continue enriching uranium or building plutonium plants—a confrontation with Congress is likely. In that event, it appears probable that the president will choose to run roughshod over the will of Congress and the rule of law.

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Will GOP Rescue Obama with Debt Fight?

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw down the gauntlet again on the debt ceiling. Speaking to reporters in Washington, McConnell made it clear that Senate Republicans wouldn’t consider putting through a “clean” debt ceiling bill that would merely rubber stamp the latest installment of out-of-control government spending. The issue was specifically left out of the pragmatic deal cut between the two parties by Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray that eliminated the possibility of another government shutdown for two years. But are Republicans really sanguine about the prospect of another bruising fight about the debt ceiling as well as of the attendant dire and somewhat self-fulfilling prophecies about default and the collapse of the economy?

The budget agreement seemed to indicate that the GOP—or at least House Speaker John Boehner—had learned its lesson from the series of debilitating and largely self-destructive fights they’ve engage in over both the budget and the debt in the last two years, but McConnell’s comments seem to indicate that we may be in for another one sometime early in 2014. But given the beating Republicans have taken over previous attempts to exact concessions from Democrats in such situations, the White House may be hoping that McConnell makes good on his threat. While McConnell and other conservatives are right to believe extending the debt ceiling ought to be accompanied by some gesture from the government that indicates a move toward reform, they need to consider whether another skirmish of this sort will do more to harm their cause than help it.

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Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw down the gauntlet again on the debt ceiling. Speaking to reporters in Washington, McConnell made it clear that Senate Republicans wouldn’t consider putting through a “clean” debt ceiling bill that would merely rubber stamp the latest installment of out-of-control government spending. The issue was specifically left out of the pragmatic deal cut between the two parties by Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray that eliminated the possibility of another government shutdown for two years. But are Republicans really sanguine about the prospect of another bruising fight about the debt ceiling as well as of the attendant dire and somewhat self-fulfilling prophecies about default and the collapse of the economy?

The budget agreement seemed to indicate that the GOP—or at least House Speaker John Boehner—had learned its lesson from the series of debilitating and largely self-destructive fights they’ve engage in over both the budget and the debt in the last two years, but McConnell’s comments seem to indicate that we may be in for another one sometime early in 2014. But given the beating Republicans have taken over previous attempts to exact concessions from Democrats in such situations, the White House may be hoping that McConnell makes good on his threat. While McConnell and other conservatives are right to believe extending the debt ceiling ought to be accompanied by some gesture from the government that indicates a move toward reform, they need to consider whether another skirmish of this sort will do more to harm their cause than help it.

After a year in which a string of scandals and then a disastrous rollout of his signature health-care bill have caused President Obama’s approval ratings to collapse, the White House is looking for a way to change the subject from broken promises and dysfunctional websites.

Their strategy appears to be one in which the president finally makes good on the promises of his 2013 State-of the Union speech and pivots hard left. That’s part of the reason veteran liberal strategist John Podesta has been drafted to help shore up the team of presidential advisors. Obama’s recent speech attempting to make income inequality the fulcrum of the national political debate was largely unpersuasive ideological cant. That’s what the Democratic base wants to hear, but it’s not the sort of thing that will do much to help reelect vulnerable Democrats in red states and keep the Senate out of Republican hands. Nor will it divert the public or even the mainstream media from coverage of the ongoing fiasco that is ObamaCare. But if Republicans throw Obama a lifeline in the form of another debt ceiling crisis, they might provide him with just the opening he needs to both bury the ObamaCare story and to resurrect his favorite campaign theme about GOP extremists who are willing to sacrifice the nation in pursuit of partisan goals.

Such a characterization of Republican efforts to rein in government spending and taxes before agreeing to go on expanding the debt is patently unfair. Tea Party activists and some of their GOP congressional hostages, like McConnell, are in the right on this issue. Raising the debt ceiling isn’t merely paying the bills, it’s a gesture that enables more irresponsibility and has done just that every time it has been raised.

But it needs to be reiterated that with control of only one half of one third of the government, neither House Republicans nor the GOP minority in the Senate have the ability to force Obama and the Democrats to agree to any of the commonsense ideas they propose. Going to the brink over this is a political loser. It is a given that neither Speaker Boehner nor Senator McConnell is really willing to see the nation go over the fiscal cliff over this. Whether the dire predictions heard from liberals are false or not it can’t be denied that the uncertainty will hurt the economy and that Republicans will take the brunt of the blame. Doing so in an election year will only help Democrats reframe the issues in a way that could revive Obama’s increasingly dismal second term and give their party the boost they need to hold onto the Senate.

Conservatives and Tea Partiers will dismiss such warnings as cynical political gamesmanship and brand, as they’ve done every commonsense thing congressional Republicans have done in the past year (like ending the government shutdown or passing the Ryan compromise budget), as a sellout. But the same realism that pushed them to abandon suicidal tactics in the past shouldn’t be ignored now. If conservatives are serious about changing Washington, they are going to have to start by winning the 2014 midterms. A debt-ceiling crisis, like the shutdown, will be a gift to Democrats allowing them to evade questions about presidential misrule and the devastating impact ObamaCare is having on millions of Americans.

Its understandable that McConnell and other Republicans who face stiff primary challenges from the right this year don’t want to be called RINOs and thus are talking about going to the brink again. But if McConnell wants to win in November and move to the majority leader’s desk, he’s going to have to find a way to avoid a debt debacle.

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Kerry May Play by the Rules; Iran Won’t

In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, Secretary of State John Kerry had two objectives. One was to justify the nuclear deal he signed with Iran that gave the Islamist regime some sanctions relief and tacitly recognized their “right” to enrich uranium and continue their nuclear program in exchange for a six-month freeze on various actions that could be easily reversed and more intrusive inspections of their facilities. But his real goal was to try and head off efforts by some in Congress to toughen the sanctions already in place to make it even harder for the Iranians to sell their oil and thereby keep their government and its nuclear enterprise funded. He was met with widespread skepticism from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans and Democrats expressed worry that he had set in motion a process that will not stop the Iranians and might undermine the economic restrictions that had already been put in place. The members of the committee also were puzzled as to why passing a bill that would not go into effect until after the six-month period that is covered by the interim accord signed in Geneva would in any way inhibit the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Indeed, a number of them pointed out that having these sanctions in place and ready to be enforced if the talks failed would actually strengthen Kerry’s hand in talks with Iran.

Kerry’s answer to these well-taken points was to say that passing sanctions now would “break faith” with Iran as well as with the other members of the P5+1 group that had negotiated the deal. It would, he said with a tone that clearly illustrated his disdain for his critics, show that the U.S. “wasn’t playing by the rules.” Though he continued to insist that the deal wasn’t based on trust but rather on an interest in testing the intentions of the Iranians, he seems to think they would either be scared away from talks or use the sanctions as an excuse to break off negotiations. Given that the only reason the Iranians have been forced to the table was their worries about the impact of the existing sanctions, this makes little sense. If their goal were to lift the sanctions, why would the threat of more cause them to give up the only way of causing the West to drop the ones they are already struggling to deal with? The real answer to the question would likely undermine support for his diplomacy.

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In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, Secretary of State John Kerry had two objectives. One was to justify the nuclear deal he signed with Iran that gave the Islamist regime some sanctions relief and tacitly recognized their “right” to enrich uranium and continue their nuclear program in exchange for a six-month freeze on various actions that could be easily reversed and more intrusive inspections of their facilities. But his real goal was to try and head off efforts by some in Congress to toughen the sanctions already in place to make it even harder for the Iranians to sell their oil and thereby keep their government and its nuclear enterprise funded. He was met with widespread skepticism from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans and Democrats expressed worry that he had set in motion a process that will not stop the Iranians and might undermine the economic restrictions that had already been put in place. The members of the committee also were puzzled as to why passing a bill that would not go into effect until after the six-month period that is covered by the interim accord signed in Geneva would in any way inhibit the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Indeed, a number of them pointed out that having these sanctions in place and ready to be enforced if the talks failed would actually strengthen Kerry’s hand in talks with Iran.

Kerry’s answer to these well-taken points was to say that passing sanctions now would “break faith” with Iran as well as with the other members of the P5+1 group that had negotiated the deal. It would, he said with a tone that clearly illustrated his disdain for his critics, show that the U.S. “wasn’t playing by the rules.” Though he continued to insist that the deal wasn’t based on trust but rather on an interest in testing the intentions of the Iranians, he seems to think they would either be scared away from talks or use the sanctions as an excuse to break off negotiations. Given that the only reason the Iranians have been forced to the table was their worries about the impact of the existing sanctions, this makes little sense. If their goal were to lift the sanctions, why would the threat of more cause them to give up the only way of causing the West to drop the ones they are already struggling to deal with? The real answer to the question would likely undermine support for his diplomacy.

Kerry’s line dovetailed with the threats issued by the Iranian foreign minister who has already warned the U.S. that he will walk away from the process if Congress votes for more sanctions. Kerry fears the Iranians will torpedo negotiations because, contrary to his characterization of the talks, they are not acting out of weakness or fear. By getting sanctions relief of any sort without giving an inch on enrichment or dismantling a single centrifuge, let alone giving up their stockpile, they have operated as if they, not the U.S., are in the driver’s seat. By expressing the worry that the Iranians will “race” to a bomb if more sanctions are passed, Kerry is accepting this equation in which it seems as if they are doing the Americans a favor by deigning to negotiate with him. Like the president, Kerry believes it is impossible to force Iran to give up its nuclear program. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to believe the follow-up talks have much chance of helping the administration make good on its promise never to allow Iran to get a bomb.

The disconnect between the secretary and his congressional critics is clear. Kerry thinks the only point of sanctions was to create room for diplomacy, not to put Tehran’s feet to the fire. As a number of committee members noted, they did not pass sanctions merely for the sake of negotiating but to pressure Iran to give up their nuclear ambition.

Kerry’s only coherent argument was an appeal for more time. In six months, he said, we would see whether he was right that a serious process that would make the world safer had been initiated. Indeed, we shall. But given his less-than-candid briefing on the terms of the agreement in which he exaggerated the difficulties Iran would have in re-converting its uranium stockpile to dangerous levels, Congress should be prepared to be told that diplomacy was still viable next summer no matter what actually happens in the months to come. Indeed, if, as Kerry says, the Europeans abandon sanctions merely because of the possibility that the U.S. will toughen them, how can he argue that they will stick with the restrictions in the coming months once he has already begun to unravel them?

Will Kerry succeed in stifling congressional action? The jury is out on that question. The administration has a consistent record of opposing all sanctions on Iran in spite of the fact that it currently brags about the impact of those measures that were forced upon it by an aroused Congress in the past. And it hopes it can count on Majority Leader Harry Reid to protect it from embarrassment if push comes to shove.

But having discarded their existing leverage over Iran and begging Congress not to give them more, Kerry has undermined confidence in his negotiating ability, if not his credibility on the issue. For him, diplomacy has always seemed to exist as a goal for its own sake as a game with rules that the players should respect regardless of outcomes. But while he wants to play by the rules, the Iranians have proved time and again that they do not.

Performances like the one Kerry put on today did little to enhance the chances that some key Senate Democrats will back his play. As war-weary as Americans may be, a diplomatic process whose premise is based on an American refusal to increase pressure and an Iranian resolve never to give up its key nuclear objectives is one that is hard to believe in. Passing the new sanctions bill would warn the Iranians that although they may have hoodwinked Kerry, Congress will hold him and the administration accountable for failure. By talking down to Congress today and asking them to have faith in him rather than pay attention to Iran’s record, he may have made the job of his critics a little easier. 

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Two Cheers for a Do-Nothing Congress

As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

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As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

At the heart of the debate about what happened during the first session of the 113th Congress in the history of our republic is an assumption that its primary duty is to pass laws to keep expanding the power of the federal government and to feed its insatiable appetite for more money. Congress’s job is to consider legislation, not to merely pile more layers on the federal government. But its critics seem to think that any reluctance to keep feeding the governmental leviathan is a sin. If some members of Congress are insisting on a fundamental reform of this mess rather than merely being good soldiers and rubber-stamping a continuation of past boondoggles, that is not something for which they should be castigated.

Nor is fair to place all the blame on Congress, as liberal Post blogger Ezra Klein does, for the nation’s lackluster economic recovery. Klein cites statistics that bolster his claim that the congressional tussles over the budget and then ObamaCare that led to the government shutdown set back the economy. The shutdown was an ill-advised maneuver that accomplished nothing for the Republicans or the country, but to assume that without it and the GOP’s disagreement over Democratic objectives that the economy would be purring along on all cylinders is unwarranted. What goes on in Washington does affect the economy. But the underlying problems that have made this the most anemic recovery from a downturn in recent history have far more to do with President Obama’s policies and structural problems than anything dreamed up by the House GOP leadership.

Klein also harps on the fact that the House has, in his opinion, wasted a lot of time in futile attempts to repeal ObamaCare. But in making that argument, he is actually highlighting why a Congress that will pass controversial pieces of legislation at all costs is far worse than one than is reluctant to pass anything. The 111th Congress that sat during the first two years of the Obama administration was under the sole control of the Democrats and largely did the president’s bidding. That caused it to push through a massive stimulus package that cost the country close to a trillion dollars but did little to help the economy. It followed up that dubious achievement by railroading ObamaCare through both bodies via legislative tricks on a party-line vote. The pitfalls of approving a bill that then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would have to be passed before it could be understood is now readily apparent to both parties.

Rather than harping on the 113th Congress’s failure to do as the president said, what we should be doing now is regretting the willingness of its predecessors to pass bills that were not fully thought out and which didn’t have the broad support of the American people. By not adding new ObamaCares to the nation’s burden, the 113th did its job. Would that the 111th been similarly stalemated.

As Klein rightly notes, this is a highly polarized Congress. In the past, both parties had large non-ideological contingents that worked together rather than contended over ideas. Such moderates are less common today in part because of gerrymandered districts. But it is also the product of a sense on the part of both liberals and conservatives that filling Congress with time-serving career politicians more intent on feathering their own nests than on addressing core issues was a bad idea.

In some ways that is an unfortunate development as civility on the Hill has declined. But it is not so much a product of dysfunction as it is of democracy. Members of Congress have a duty to see that the government keeps functioning, something that some of them forgot during the shutdown. But its obligation is to serve and reflect the views of the voters, not the federal bureaucracy, the executive branch, or even the press. At the moment, Americans are divided on many key issues and that is reflected in the decision of the voters last year to keep in place a Republican House alongside a Democratic Senate and president. That is frustrating for partisans on both sides as well as to those who work in and serve the federal establishment. Though the members of the governing class would like this problem to be overcome by a new birth of bipartisanship that would allow the liberal project to continue unhindered, they should not be surprised that those who fault past Congresses—including those run by Republicans in the last decade—for feeding the government’s tax-and-spend addictions don’t share their opinions.

Let’s hope Congress finds a way to pass a budget by the end of the year. Even if it does, it won’t go down as one of the great ones in our history and it—and its successors—are likely to continue in their role as the nation’s political whipping boys (and girls). But the desire to blast it as the worst ever has more to do with liberal anger at the willingness of the GOP to say no to President Obama and the Democrats. If that’s what it takes to prevent more ObamaCares, let’s hope the second session of this Congress and all those that follow are similarly dysfunctional.

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Only Congress Can Keep Obama Honest on Iran

Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

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Judging from the reaction from the White House and its cheering section in the liberal media, the administration is convinced that the nuclear deal it struck with Iran this week is the first step toward a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. By agreeing to legitimize Iran’s nuclear program and loosening sanctions in exchange for cosmetic concessions from Iran that did not roll back the regime’s dramatic advances toward its ambition to get a bomb in the last five years, President Obama has finally achieved his dream of initiating a détente with the ayatollahs that he first articulated during the 2008 presidential campaign. In doing so, he seeks to change the calculus in the Middle East and swing U.S. policy away from its traditional alliances with Israel and moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

The president thinks this strategy will deter Iran from getting a bomb while also utilizing the help of the mullahs to settle things in Afghanistan and Syria. While defended by his apologists as a realist take on foreign policy, this is exactly the sort of magical thinking about Iran that characterized Jimmy Carter’s disastrous engagement with the ayatollahs. While, as I wrote yesterday, the chances that Iran will keep its word and not use American weakness and gullibility to move closer to a bomb are not zero, they are not much more than that. As for changing the region, by granting Iran a second huge victory (the first being his retreat on Syria that ensured Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad would stay in power), he has set in motion a chain of events that will further destabilize the region, make a nuclear arms race inevitable and emboldened terrorist groups allied with Iran. While this does represent a profound shift in U.S. policy, it is one that will leave the U.S. weaker, less secure, and less able to influence events than it is already.

Is there anything that can be done about this? While the president is right to think that no American ally can deter him from pursuing détente with the murderous Iranian regime–as his disdain for both Israel and Saudi Arabia makes clear–there is one factor that could obstruct his misguided attempt to essentially withdraw the U.S. from the Middle East: Congress. Only Congress has the ability to keep Obama honest on Iran.

While much of the mainstream media reacted to the Iran deal with relief at an opportunity to step back from the need to confront the nuclear peril, congressional reaction was both sober and appropriately critical. Both Republicans and Democrats rightly pointed out that the agreement the president grabbed was an unsatisfactory retreat from his past promises. Does this matter? In one sense, the answer is no. Congress is powerless to prevent Obama from signing any deal he wants with Iran. His executive powers allow him to release the billions in frozen assets that are being use to bribe the Iranians to sign the piece of paper in Geneva. But the sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy cannot be abrogated by presidential fiat. It will take congressional approval to do that, and if Iran is allowed to keep its nuclear toys and go on enriching uranium, that won’t happen.

Thus, despite his urging, it appears that the Senate will move ahead to pass the next round of tougher sanctions on Iran that have already been passed by the House. This bill will tighten the noose on the Iranian economy and make it even more difficult for the regime to go on selling its oil. But far from a breach of faith with Iran, as the administration claimed in recent weeks, passing the new sanctions will be the only thing that can keep the president honest on the subject.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez indicated yesterday, the sanctions will probably be amended to postpone their implementation until after the six-month period during which the administration claims it will be negotiating a follow-up agreement with the Iranians. That will give President Obama a chance to prove that his deal is not merely an effort to appease Iran and that he is still serious about halting their push toward a weapon. But if six months from now the Iranians have still not agreed to dismantle a single centrifuge or given up their stockpile of enriched uranium, the sanctions will not be delayed.

As most members of Congress seem to recognize, the choice here was not between war and an unsatisfactory nuclear deal. They rightly disagree with the idea that Iran is too strong to be further opposed or that it is unrealistic to suppose the West can force the regime to give up their nuclear dream. While the signal of weakness from the administration to the Iranians may have convinced them they need not fear the use of force or continued sanctions, a determined stand by Congress may be the only thing that can act as any sort of deterrent against an Iranian nuclear breakout.

The push to pass sanctions will likely be criticized as the work of the dreaded “Israel Lobby,” and we have already begun to hear calumnies of those pushing to restrain Obama’s appeasement as being merely a function of the Jewish state’s instructions. One such statement came last week from Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who tweeted, “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.” If “best policy team” means most hostile to Israel, he’s probably right. But the key here is the attempt to brand members of Congress who won’t buy into Iran détente as being, in New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s phrase, “bought by the Jewish lobby.”

But I doubt Democrats like Menendez or Chuck Schumer or Republicans like Bob Corker or Lindsey Graham will be deterred by this kind of slander that borders on open anti-Semitism.

While Congress can’t stop the president from embarking on this potentially disastrous course of action toward Iran, it can make it impossible for him to further reward the ayatollahs if they continue their past policy of deceiving the West. The president may hope that once agreements are signed, the world will stop caring about Iranian nukes. But the House and the Senate should use their power of the purse to obstruct such a craven retreat from American responsibility. They are the only ones who have any hope of keeping Obama honest on Iran. And they should not be intimidated from doing so by anti-Semitic slanders.

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The Ongoing Case for Public Morality

Back in September, I celebrated the defeats of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer in Democratic primary elections in New York City and put forward the notion that perhaps the belated end of the political careers of these scandal-mired characters should cause us to not shy away from putting forward a case for public morality in the future. That’s a proposition most of our chattering classes reject since they tend to believe that when liberals mired in scandals are considered useful or popular (paging Bill Clinton), they tell us not to confuse private conduct with public duties. But it is all the more necessary to return to the topic today now that a Republican has become one of this week’s prime subjects for late-night comedy humor.

Rep. Trey Radel’s arrest in a drug sting for cocaine possession may seem like something straight out of House of Cards. Yet his apparent intention to stay in office requires both liberals and conservatives to come to grips with the question of whether Congress ought to tolerate having lawbreakers in their midst even when they are preemptively seeking to invoke a redemption storyline to gain sympathy. By claiming a leave of absence from Congress to go to rehab during which he will forgo pay, Radel is seeking to silence calls for his resignation. He’s not contesting the facts of the case against him and seemed to be thanking the police for giving him a “wake-up call” to get his life back together as a result of the arrest. “I’m struggling with this disease, but I can overcome it,” he vowed.

I hope he wins that fight. Drug addiction is a disease and those who suffer from it are faced with a lifelong battle for which they deserve our sympathy and encouragement. But that doesn’t entitle them to a seat in Congress. Rep. Radel needs to go home and members of the Republican caucus shouldn’t refrain from pointing this out to him.

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Back in September, I celebrated the defeats of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer in Democratic primary elections in New York City and put forward the notion that perhaps the belated end of the political careers of these scandal-mired characters should cause us to not shy away from putting forward a case for public morality in the future. That’s a proposition most of our chattering classes reject since they tend to believe that when liberals mired in scandals are considered useful or popular (paging Bill Clinton), they tell us not to confuse private conduct with public duties. But it is all the more necessary to return to the topic today now that a Republican has become one of this week’s prime subjects for late-night comedy humor.

Rep. Trey Radel’s arrest in a drug sting for cocaine possession may seem like something straight out of House of Cards. Yet his apparent intention to stay in office requires both liberals and conservatives to come to grips with the question of whether Congress ought to tolerate having lawbreakers in their midst even when they are preemptively seeking to invoke a redemption storyline to gain sympathy. By claiming a leave of absence from Congress to go to rehab during which he will forgo pay, Radel is seeking to silence calls for his resignation. He’s not contesting the facts of the case against him and seemed to be thanking the police for giving him a “wake-up call” to get his life back together as a result of the arrest. “I’m struggling with this disease, but I can overcome it,” he vowed.

I hope he wins that fight. Drug addiction is a disease and those who suffer from it are faced with a lifelong battle for which they deserve our sympathy and encouragement. But that doesn’t entitle them to a seat in Congress. Rep. Radel needs to go home and members of the Republican caucus shouldn’t refrain from pointing this out to him.

Let us concede that all of us are fallible and no one should expect moral perfection or the façade of it from public officials. But all too often politicians seem to forget that public office is a public trust, not an entitlement. In their egotism, they seem to think their power gives them the impunity to misbehave. And when they get in trouble, they slip into redemption mode and ask us to love them because they are reformed sinners. Sometimes this ploy works better than others (Mark Sanford as opposed to Anthony Weiner) but the main point of these pieces of cheap theater is to perpetuate their grip on power and position.

In the past, House Speaker John Boehner has taken a dim view of scandal-plagued Republicans and quickly shown them the door. It should be recalled that a few months before Anthony Weiner imploded on Twitter in 2011, Rep. Chris Lee, a New York Republican, got in trouble when the married congressman was found to be soliciting women on the Internet. With a firm push from his leadership, he quickly resigned. The question today is why was Lee’s transgression considered political poison but Radel’s lawbreaking is worthy of possible forgiveness? That’s the implication of Boehner’s decision to hold off on pressure on Radel to leave office.

Let’s remember that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has rightly called for “zero tolerance” of ethical issues. What’s changed?

Anyone who gets into hot water in Washington can always point to the pass President John F. Kennedy got from the press for his scandalous doings behind the scenes in the White House even as the public was fed a fairy story about the first family of Camelot. They can also cite the pass President Bill Clinton received from Democrats and the way he has become a political elder statesman whose past disgrace is never thrown in his face. That’s regrettable, but perhaps as a nation we have “evolved” to the point when we no longer consider the spectacle of a powerful middle-aged public official sexually exploiting an intern a big deal. But have we also gotten to the point where we are prepared to tolerate junkies in Congress?

Whatever your position about the utility of the war on drugs or legalization, their use is a plague on society and does enormous damage. Congress’s image may be so bad these days that no one considers them role models, but are we really prepared to normalize lawbreaking associated with their use to the point that we are prepared to “move on” (as Clinton’s defenders said) and welcome them back to Capitol Hill after they return from rehab or the courthouse? Not to mention the hypocrisy of his getting arrested for drugs days after voting for drug tests for people who get food stamps.

The wake-up call here is not just for Radel. It’s for a political class that has too often tolerated wrongdoers in their midst. The American people have a right to expect that those entrusted with high office behave as if it is a public trust. That involves, at a minimum, avoiding public misbehavior. Lawbreaking and drug use ought to be beyond the pale.

Radel holds a safe Republican seat in Florida and, as Sanford proved, Southern voters seem to love a reformed sinner. But Boehner and Cantor ought not even consider allowing Radel to hold on until November 2014. He needs to resign. Now.

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Kerry Wants Congress to Ignore Israel; It May Ignore Him Instead

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

Kerry’s remarks were in keeping with the tone of Kerry’s temper tantrum during a press interview last week in Israel, during which he vented his frustration about Israel’s opposition to his proposed deal with Iran and placed all the blame for the failure of the peace talks he has pushed with Palestinians on the Jewish state and even seemed to rationalize Palestinian violence.

But the unwillingness to take Kerry at his word isn’t just a matter of being shocked at his animus toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. It’s also because senators who remember the U.S. missteps that led to North Korea getting a bomb have seen this movie before. As Kirk noted, Wendy Sherman, Kerry’s aide who is leading the U.S. participation in the P5+1 talks with Iran, has little credibility when it comes to nuclear negotiations:

Kirk also criticized Sherman, whose “record on North Korea is a total failure and embarrassment to her service.” Sherman was part of the U.S. negotiating team that focused on North Korea in the 1990s.

“Wendy wants you to forget her service on North Korea,” Kirk said. “You shouldn’t allow her.”

This is significant because Kerry wants the Senate to believe that he knows what he’s doing in advocating a deal that would have left in place Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and did nothing to halt construction on its plutonium reactor. Those terms were so transparently weak that even the French couldn’t stomach the effort to appease Iran, resulting in Kerry leaving Geneva last weekend without the accord that he’s so desperate to sign.

His claims that more restrictions on Iran’s ability to sell oil to fund terrorism and nukes would “break faith” with Iran are also puzzling and will only feed speculation that the U.S. has been conducting secret back-channel talks with Tehran that have been predicated on Obama administration promises to give the ayatollahs the sanctions relief they want while getting little or nothing in return.

But by throwing down the gauntlet on Israel in this fashion in a Congress where a wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support for the Jewish state exists may have been a stunning miscalculation. Kerry has dared the Senate to call him out for a campaign of feckless diplomacy that seems motivated more by a desire to achieve détente with the Islamist tyrants of Tehran and resentment of Israel than concern about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Whatever little credibility the secretary had left after the foreign-policy disasters concerning Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East peace process that he has presided over this year seems to have gone down the drain in another fit of temper. Kerry may want Congress to ignore Israel, but judging by the poor reviews he got yesterday, it’s a lot more likely that it will ignore him and ratify more Iran sanctions.

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Why Congress Must Act Now on Iran

The administration is in full damage-control mode today as the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to make a nuclear deal with Iran has exposed the true nature of its diplomatic agenda. While both the president and Kerry have consistently claimed that their only goal was preventing Iran from going nuclear, the botched effort to rush to a deal last week was based on a decision to accept in principle the Islamist regime’s longstanding claim that it had a “right” to enrich uranium. While many in the Senate think the administration is making a terrible mistake, the White House and its defenders are claiming there is no real choice. As the New York Times asks in its editorial defending a faltering Kerry, “what is the alternative?”

But the administration and the Times are asking the wrong question.

By getting trapped in a diplomatic tangle that can only be resolved by a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure, its uranium enrichment process, and its plutonium option in place, Kerry is accepting Iran’s point of view about the dispute. In essence, he is telling Congress, Israel, and the Saudis that there is no way the Iranians will ever give up their reactors, centrifuges or their stockpile of enriched uranium so all we can do is get them to accept limits that, even if they will be easily evaded, will at least avoid the threat of further confrontation or war. If the question they are really posing to critics is not whether this course of action is the best way to avoid a nuclear Iran but whether it is the best way to avoid a messy and unpredictable conflict, Kerry is right.

But if we change the question from how best to come to some agreement with the ayatollahs to how to stop them from getting a bomb, the answer is very different. And that is why Congress must use the pause in the talks to step up and demand that the president and Kerry stick to what has always been America’s goal: preventing a nuclear Iran. And the only way to do that is to tighten sanctions and to insist that any deal be predicated on eliminating any chance that the Islamist regime will not do as the North Koreans have already done and simply negotiate and delay their way to a bomb.

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The administration is in full damage-control mode today as the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to make a nuclear deal with Iran has exposed the true nature of its diplomatic agenda. While both the president and Kerry have consistently claimed that their only goal was preventing Iran from going nuclear, the botched effort to rush to a deal last week was based on a decision to accept in principle the Islamist regime’s longstanding claim that it had a “right” to enrich uranium. While many in the Senate think the administration is making a terrible mistake, the White House and its defenders are claiming there is no real choice. As the New York Times asks in its editorial defending a faltering Kerry, “what is the alternative?”

But the administration and the Times are asking the wrong question.

By getting trapped in a diplomatic tangle that can only be resolved by a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure, its uranium enrichment process, and its plutonium option in place, Kerry is accepting Iran’s point of view about the dispute. In essence, he is telling Congress, Israel, and the Saudis that there is no way the Iranians will ever give up their reactors, centrifuges or their stockpile of enriched uranium so all we can do is get them to accept limits that, even if they will be easily evaded, will at least avoid the threat of further confrontation or war. If the question they are really posing to critics is not whether this course of action is the best way to avoid a nuclear Iran but whether it is the best way to avoid a messy and unpredictable conflict, Kerry is right.

But if we change the question from how best to come to some agreement with the ayatollahs to how to stop them from getting a bomb, the answer is very different. And that is why Congress must use the pause in the talks to step up and demand that the president and Kerry stick to what has always been America’s goal: preventing a nuclear Iran. And the only way to do that is to tighten sanctions and to insist that any deal be predicated on eliminating any chance that the Islamist regime will not do as the North Koreans have already done and simply negotiate and delay their way to a bomb.

What almost happened last weekend in Geneva was so dangerous precisely because by presenting a fait accompli to the world, Kerry would have permanently altered the terms of the debate about Iran. The proposed accord that Kerry planned to sign, had not the French intervened at the last minute to insist on better terms for the West, would have left in place the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and made the achievement of their nuclear capacity inevitable and taken tougher sanctions and the use of force off the table for good. Though Kerry is acting as if this is only a temporary setback that will be rectified later this month when the parties reconvene, it did not escape Iran’s notice that Kerry was hot for a weaker deal than was ultimately offered. That means they will continue to hold out for those easily transgressed terms since they reason that sooner or later the U.S. will tell the French to pipe down and let diplomacy triumph.

That is why it is crucial that Congress act in such a way as to strengthen the West’s resolve not to settle for a bad deal now. There is little chance that Iran will ever give up its nuclear quest, as it has become a fundamental issue for the regime. But a sanctions bill now will signal to Tehran that its belief that America is the weak link in the international community’s efforts to rein them in is mistaken.

The whole point of Kerry’s haste to put a deal with Iran in place is that he wanted to avoid a debate on its terms and to head off any effort by Congress to tighten sanctions. The Senate should move ahead on the sanctions that will make it more difficult for Iran to continue selling its oil and using the proceeds to fund terrorism and its nuclear project. Kerry’s latest follies make it imperative that what we have now is not so much an argument about tactics but also one about the goal of American diplomacy.

What must be rejected are not only the terms of a weak diplomatic deal that was so repugnant that even the French couldn’t stomach them, but the mindset that made it possible. After years of failed diplomacy, the administration is now accepting the notion that rollback of Iran’s nuclear program is impossible. That’s why even though no agreement was signed in Geneva, the latest negotiations were such a triumph for Iran.

Instead of conceding defeat, an America that was truly dedicated to frustrating Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be doubling down on sanctions rather than offering to weaken them. Iran has proved time and again that it regards diplomacy as merely a way to delay and prevaricate until they reach their nuclear goal. But even if we were to hold onto hope that diplomacy could succeed, the only way that could possibly happen is by increasing pressure on the Iranians now that they are finally feeling the impact of sanctions. If every chance must be given to diplomacy, then what is needed now is an approach that illustrates to Iran’s supreme leader that his only alternative to war is a surrender of his country’s “right” to enrichment and the rest of their nuclear toys.

Thus, the responsibility now for members of the Senate is not so much to poke a stick in Kerry’s eye by ignoring the administration’s pleas and passing the tough sanctions that were already approved by the House as it is for them to help restart the discussion about what America’s goals are. If the rush to appeasement of Iran is to be halted, now is the moment for action.

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Sebelius and the Arrogance of Power

At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

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At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

Sebelius came to the committee with plenty of notice after delaying her appearance by a week, but arrived armed with no firm answers on how the website problems had occurred, why the preparations for it were inadequate, and how her team had failed to note the questions that had been raised about its ability to function. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, but no one in Sebelius’s department appears to have been capable of briefing her on this or even to supply simple answers to questions about the decision-making process that allowed the debacle to proceed. She tried to portray herself as a remote spectator to the process that led to the debacle even as she sought to pretend that she was the one to blame.

Sebelius contradicted herself almost continually. At one point she blamed crashes on Verizon and other times, as she told Pitts, she claimed there were no crashes. She claimed 700,000 persons had been enrolled, but when pressed for details about the numbers, she said that the website problems meant there was no reliable data to report. She said at one point that the problems would be fixed by November 30 but then qualified that to say that what we could expect was merely a gradual improvement with no end date at which all problems would be resolved.

Yet the consistent theme of her testimony was that a program the entire country knows is malfunctioning was working just fine. The cost increases and plan cancellations that so many Americans were facing in the coming months were mere technicalities. She denied that she and the president had lied about people keeping their coverage but then said that those who had lost their plans should just “go shopping.”

Sebelius could barely contain her contempt for the questions Republicans asked her about these points (since almost all the Democrats on the committee used their time to merely criticize the GOP for talking about the problems). Her eye rolling and barely concealed impatience with demands for accountability never stopped. While this was a stylistic failure, it betrayed more about ObamaCare and the spirit with which it is being imposed on the country than she may have thought.

ObamaCare was a bill that was rammed through Congress on a partisan vote in which the normal legislative process was ignored and questions were swept under the rug. It was sold to the public with lies and it is now being implemented in a fashion that is hurting at least as many citizens as those it is supposed to help. But at no point in this process has the administration shown itself willing to listen to the people being inconvenienced or harmed or even, as Sebelius repeated today, to give an exemption or a delay in the personal mandate as a result of the website debacle.

In a perverse way this makes sense, since it is in keeping with the top-down spirit of this attempt to have the government begin the process of taking over American health care. In the view of the president and Sebelius, the lies and the failures are mere details that are insignificant when compared to their ambitions and what they believe are their good intentions.

There is no better example of the arrogance of unchecked power than this legislation and the manner in which its authors have foisted it upon the country. While a divided Congress is unlikely to hold Sebelius or the administration accountable for this, it will be up to the American people to remember this awful, arrogant performance and the huge credibility gap of this administration the next chance they have to hold Washington, if not Sebelius, accountable.

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Congress Won’t Spoil Iran Diplomacy

With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

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With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

This is a dismaying prospect for those who, like the president and Secretary of State John Kerry, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the Rouhani charm offensive. That effort has a two-fold purpose. One is to give Western governments whose heart was never really in the effort to stop Iran an excuse to back away from the sanctions that have ruined the Islamist regime’s economy. As I wrote yesterday, the Europeans are already signaling that they wish to go in this direction and are also warning Israel that there is little chance they will stick to a position that requires the Iranians to give up all enrichment of uranium or to scrap their plutonium option.

There is little reason to trust Rouhani, a veteran of Iran’s bait-and-switch diplomacy as well as a faithful servant of a hateful, anti-Semitic terrorist-sponsoring regime. Nor is there any reason to think that he is any less interested in preserving Iran’s nuclear options than his far-less-presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But those who are appalled at President Obama’s consistent rhetorical stand threatening the Iranians with force if they don’t back down and give up their nukes (a group that may include the president himself) have used Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s fake democratic election as an excuse to reboot a diplomatic process that the Iranians had seemingly finally ended earlier this year. But with the international press buying into Rouhani’s appeal, a path may have been cleared that will lead to Western recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and putting in place safeguards that will be as easily ignored once the sanctions are scrapped as were similar efforts to stop North Korea from going nuclear.

But that’s where Congress comes in. Unlike most of the foreign-policy establishment, few there are buying into the Rouhani ruse. Indeed, one Iran appeaser lamented to the Times that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Iranian threat in which he rightly labeled Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” was “widely ridiculed in this town but it largely reflects the views of many members of Congress.”

He’s right. There is a solid bipartisan majority in both houses that understands that the only measures short of war that can impact the situation are draconian sanctions. The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for businesses to deal with Iran and for the regime to go on using the sale of oil to finance their nuclear and terrorist activities. Had it not been for the determined efforts of senators like Republican Mark Kirk or Democrat Robert Menendez, the administration might well have succeeded in spiking past sanctions bills that it now brags about having enforced.

It should also be understood that the notion that Congress will give ammunition to Iranian hardliners and hurt Rouhani’s peaceful efforts is an absurd reading of what is happening in Tehran. His boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is using Rouhani as a human shield. But nothing has changed about Iran’s policies or its intentions, as their successful recent military efforts in Syria prove.

If diplomacy has any chance at all it will only be because Congress has forced Obama’s hand via enacting measures that have manufactured economic pressure on Iran. That’s as true today as it was two years ago. Just as important, the excuses that will be used to put off more sanctions once next week’s Geneva meeting proves as much a failure as past gatherings need to be discounted in advance. The whole point of the Iranian diplomatic strategy is to create delay. The Times accurately summarizes the rationale for delaying sanctions:

The problem, say former administration officials, is that this round of talks is unlikely to produce a tangible proposal. While Iran may signal a commitment to negotiate, they say, it is not expected to offer to suspend its enrichment of uranium or mothball suspect facilities.

“If people on the Hill are waiting for dramatic results on the evening of Oct. 16 to decide whether to pass sanctions, that’s wrong,” said Robert Einhorn, a former special adviser for nonproliferation in the State Department. “One shouldn’t set up a situation where unless major progress is being made, we impose new sanctions.”

Actually, that’s exactly what the U.S. should be doing. Nothing short of a total economic embargo of Iran will convince the ayatollahs that their latest effort to pull the wool over the West’s eyes won’t work. If Congress listens to the voices calling for them to pull their punches on Iran, the result won’t be a diplomatic breakthrough. What will follow will be more months and perhaps years of delay that will enhance the chances that Iran will get its bomb long before President Obama summons the will to do something about it.

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ObamaCare Exemption Is GOP Landmine

Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

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Now that President Obama’s humiliation at the hands of Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons has made it safe for Americans to go back to ignoring foreign policy, conservatives are set to resume their own civil war on funding ObamaCare. The efforts of some on the right to try and force the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to play chicken with the administration on defunding ObamaCare implementation remains a priority for Tea Partiers. In the unlikely event that they succeed in buffaloing the House leadership into going along with a plan that has zero chance of success in stopping ObamaCare, it would give a faltering President Obama the only chance he has of reversing the downward spiral of his lame-duck presidency. But the members of the suicide caucus that back this mad plan aren’t the only Republicans who are blind to political reality. Those Republicans and their staffers who are seeking to aid Democrats in stopping Senator David Vitter’s drive to prevent Congress from giving itself an exemption from ObamaCare are just as stupid. Should the GOP go along with the inside-the-beltway campaign to protect the generous federal subsidies given to congressional employees, it is playing with political dynamite.

As I wrote last Friday, the fight about the subsidies has gotten personal. Anger over Vitter’s efforts to tie up the Senate in order to derail the Democratic majority’s efforts to protect the subsidies—which are illegal under current legislation that mandates that Congress must live by the same flawed ObamaCare system it has imposed on the rest of the country—crosses party lines. Both members of Congress and, just importantly, their staffs, will suffer financially should they be forced into Obama-created health exchanges. According to Politico:

 Sources said that multiple Republican offices have reached out to Democrats to ensure that either the [Vitter] amendment doesn’t get a vote or that if it does, it fails.

If this is true, and I don’t doubt that it is, that poses an interesting question for Republicans. While they may believe that defying an ill-considered Tea Party campaign to force them to defund the government over ObamaCare will not lead to a revolt from the grass roots, do they really think they can get away with exempting themselves from the consequences of ObamaCare? If so, they may be in for a rude surprise.

Much of the discussion about the Vitter amendment has focused on the personal attacks launched by Democrats against the Louisiana senator. In an effort to humiliate Vitter and/or to blackmail him into dropping his objections to the exemption, the Senate majority is considering including its own amendment to the bill preventing any member who is suspected of soliciting prostitutes from getting a subsidy. Since Vitter’s disgraceful role in the “D.C. Madam” scandal makes him the only senator that we know of that fits into that category, there is no doubt of its purpose. The public already holds Congress in low repute, but this sort of thing can only make things worse.

Vitter has largely escaped any accountability for his involvement in the scandal (and thanks to Louisiana’s ethically challenged political culture was reelected in 2010), but the use of his past against him in this manner is more of an ethical violation than his misdeeds. Though it’s hard to believe that the Senate would actually pass legislation that would be the moral equivalent of a bill of attainder, the willingness to play hardball with Vitter shows just how determined many in Congress are to keep their sweet health-care deals even as the rest of the country is forced into ObamaCare.

But as dangerous as such a double standard would be for the entire institution, it would be doubly so for Republicans, especially those facing reelection next year. Whatever anyone thinks of Vitter as an individual, he is dead right about opposing the exemption. He’s also right that the law should be extended to requiring White House officials and other federal political appointees to be forced into the exchanges along with the rest of the hoi polloi.

Should he fail and the exemption is preserved and if Republicans had a hand in such a crooked, self-interested deal, you can bet that everyone that supports it will face a primary opponent that will use such a vote as a cudgel to beat them.

While many Republicans rightly fear the consequences of such a bloodletting that might lead to the defeat of many GOP members and candidates who are far more electable than their Tea Party opponents, this is the sort of issue that will not go away or be explained.

Those who say that forcing Congress into ObamaCare will cost the institution many skilled and experienced staffers are right. That would be a shame. Any further financial hardships imposed on them and on members, most of whom labor under the burden of having to maintain two households on an inadequate salary (even though it is more than most voters make) would also be unfortunate. But like state legislatures that raise their pay on the assumption that the public understands that the measure is reasonable, Republicans who preserve the ObamaCare exemption will learn that there are some sins that the public just doesn’t forgive.

Instead of joining efforts to sandbag Vitter, GOP members need to stand with him. If they don’t, they will live to regret it.

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Obama Has the Authority to Act on Syria

The British Parliament’s refusal to support action in Syria, even in principle, means that if President Obama does decide to act, he will be, in some sense, acting even more “unilaterally” than President Bush did in Iraq. Bush, after all, had the support of our second-oldest and closest ally—that would be the United Kingdom. He had numerous UN resolutions he could point to which Saddam Hussein had violated, even if, then as now, the UN has not been willing to authorize the use of military force to uphold international law. And he had overwhelming support in both houses of Congress for resolutions authorizing him to use military force.

Obama has none of those things. As a result many Republicans are lambasting him for supposedly unlawful use of force by an imperial chief executive. Not so. Obama’s use of force in Syria may be unwise—we will have to see about that—but it is certainly not unlawful. As the law professor John Yoo notes, the Founders gave Congress the power to “declare” war but gave the commander-in-chief the power to “engage” in war. The distinction may seem arcane but it means that presidents have ample executive authority to conduct hostilities, at least on a limited basis, without immediate authorization from Congress.

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The British Parliament’s refusal to support action in Syria, even in principle, means that if President Obama does decide to act, he will be, in some sense, acting even more “unilaterally” than President Bush did in Iraq. Bush, after all, had the support of our second-oldest and closest ally—that would be the United Kingdom. He had numerous UN resolutions he could point to which Saddam Hussein had violated, even if, then as now, the UN has not been willing to authorize the use of military force to uphold international law. And he had overwhelming support in both houses of Congress for resolutions authorizing him to use military force.

Obama has none of those things. As a result many Republicans are lambasting him for supposedly unlawful use of force by an imperial chief executive. Not so. Obama’s use of force in Syria may be unwise—we will have to see about that—but it is certainly not unlawful. As the law professor John Yoo notes, the Founders gave Congress the power to “declare” war but gave the commander-in-chief the power to “engage” in war. The distinction may seem arcane but it means that presidents have ample executive authority to conduct hostilities, at least on a limited basis, without immediate authorization from Congress.

This is not a new development. As I argued in my book The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (which is coming out in a revised edition in 2014), presidents have been employing military force on their own authority ever since the early days of the Republic to fight Barbary pirates, Indian tribes, and other perceived menaces. More recently this power has been utilized by numerous presidents of both parties, whether it was Ford rescuing the USS Mayaguez crew in 1975, Carter trying to free the hostages in Iran in 1980, Reagan sending a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon in 1983 and bombing Libya in 1986), Bush the elder sending military forces to Somalia in 1992, Clinton bombing al-Qaeda camps in 1998, or Obama bombing Libya in 2011.

As a practical matter there is no necessity for the president to get a formal authorization from Congress to use force on a limited basis. (Obviously it’s a different matter if a major war is in the offing.) Getting such authorization is still a good idea, however, if it’s practical to do so, not least because it will help inoculate the president to some limited extent if things go wrong. (I stress limited extent—most members of Congress quickly forgot they had ever ratified the invasion of Iraq.) It is a matter of prudential calculation, then, whether President Obama should seek Congress’s blessing before the use of force in Syria, which turns on whether such blessing is likely to be forthcoming.

I would hope that it is, because there is an important international norm against the use of weapons of mass destruction which needs to be upheld. I hope most Republicans can see that even if Labour and Tory “Little Englanders” (the British version of isolationists) did not.

Instead of trying to block the president, Republicans would be well advised to push him to make the looming military action in Syria more wide-ranging and strategically significant than news accounts currently depict. Obama vows to send a “shot across the bow” of the Assad regime with cruise missiles. He would be better advised to use air power in cooperation with ground action by vetted rebel forces to cripple and ultimately bring down Assad’s regime, making impossible further atrocities such as the use of chemical weapons last week.

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Congress Can’t Weasel Out of ObamaCare

During the course of the long, contentious and often under-handed battle to pass ObamaCare, Congress did do one honorable thing: it included the Grassley Amendment in the legislation that ensured that the government could not offer members of the House and Senate and their staffs any insurance plans but those created by the bill or those that were part of the exchanges set up in association with it. The principle was clear. If Congress, acting at the behest of President Obama, was going to shove this unpopular idea down the throats of an unwilling nation, those involved in making the law were going to have to live with it the same as the rest of the country. But three years later and with only six months to go before this provision goes into effect, it appears a new bipartisan consensus has emerged in the Congress about the misnamed Affordable Care Act: they want no part of it.

Though Democrats have mocked the more than three dozen attempts by House Republicans to repeal the act, the party leadership views the impending deadline with horror since the prospect of being forced into ObamaCare insurance has set off a mass exodus of members and their senior staffs. As Politico reports, there could be a surge in resignations before December 31 since doing so will allow representatives, senators and other congressional employees to retain their old federal insurance plans. That has led the same Democrats who pushed for the passage of ObamaCare to demand that it be changed to let the inhabitants of Capitol Hill of the hook. But even though Republicans have just as much incentive to want to amend the bill to save their own members and their staffs, their answer should be no. If Congress doesn’t want to cope with the far higher costs and poorer coverage that ObamaCare will ensure, they can scrap the entire misbegotten bill rather than just change it to suit their own interests.

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During the course of the long, contentious and often under-handed battle to pass ObamaCare, Congress did do one honorable thing: it included the Grassley Amendment in the legislation that ensured that the government could not offer members of the House and Senate and their staffs any insurance plans but those created by the bill or those that were part of the exchanges set up in association with it. The principle was clear. If Congress, acting at the behest of President Obama, was going to shove this unpopular idea down the throats of an unwilling nation, those involved in making the law were going to have to live with it the same as the rest of the country. But three years later and with only six months to go before this provision goes into effect, it appears a new bipartisan consensus has emerged in the Congress about the misnamed Affordable Care Act: they want no part of it.

Though Democrats have mocked the more than three dozen attempts by House Republicans to repeal the act, the party leadership views the impending deadline with horror since the prospect of being forced into ObamaCare insurance has set off a mass exodus of members and their senior staffs. As Politico reports, there could be a surge in resignations before December 31 since doing so will allow representatives, senators and other congressional employees to retain their old federal insurance plans. That has led the same Democrats who pushed for the passage of ObamaCare to demand that it be changed to let the inhabitants of Capitol Hill of the hook. But even though Republicans have just as much incentive to want to amend the bill to save their own members and their staffs, their answer should be no. If Congress doesn’t want to cope with the far higher costs and poorer coverage that ObamaCare will ensure, they can scrap the entire misbegotten bill rather than just change it to suit their own interests.

If a Democratic leader like Connecticut’s John Larson thinks it’s unfair to expect his employees to be put in the same boat as his constituents, then maybe he should rethink the entire measure that he played a pivotal role in passing when his party controlled Congress.

Most Americans, who already think little of Congress, will shed no tears for the travails of these servants of the people. Nor will they think the surge to the exits on the part of members and staff will do the country much harm. But, to be fair, if the kind of turnover that Politico discusses today really happens, a brain drain of experienced staffers and veteran politicians will make the Hill an even more dysfunctional place than it already has become.

That’s not good, but the answer to this mess simply cannot be for the Congress to allow its own members and employees to opt out of the catastrophe that is about to land on the necks of their fellow citizens. Republicans may be as miserable as Democrats about this mess, but they need to understand that if they vote for a fix that will exempt Congress they are signing their own political death warrants. Any Republican that votes for such a “fix” will be betraying the voters and the political principles of their party. Losing their staffs (who provide much of the expertise and institutional memory of this branch of government) may be a disaster, but Congress must suffer along with the rest of us if they are to retain even a shred of credibility. 

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ObamaCare and the Congressional Circus

Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.

The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.

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Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.

The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.

Democrats thought they had won the battle by meeting Grassley’s dare head-on. But there was a problem: the law excludes from those exchanges, in most cases, large employers–a category that includes the federal government. Which meant Hill staffers might have to foot the entire bill for their health insurance–of course made even more expensive thanks to ObamaCare–because the Grassley amendment, which Democrats so proudly accepted, put them into a strange new category Klein refers to as a regulatory limbo. They’ve been arguing ever since over what this means, with the fear that their staffers will all quit on them when they see the price tag on their shiny new health insurance plans.

In other words, the United States Congress has no idea what the law says or how to comply with it. But at least they’re not hypocrites, so don’t you feel better?

Klein is fairly sanguine about the whole thing, since it turned out to just be a terrible misunderstanding. But I actually think that’s the story. Congress started by trying to pass a massive bureaucratic overhaul of nearly one-fifth of the American economy, stared blankly at thousands of pages of regulations they wouldn’t even consider reading, and voted to make it the law of the land. Along the way, they treated the amendment process like a game of frat house beer pong, and their personal pride determined which amendments got through. Unsurprisingly, they passed amendments that made a hash of the law, because they didn’t read the law before enacting it.

When Nancy Pelosi suggested that it would just be tremendously exciting if no one looked at the bill and then we all found out together afterward to what extent Congress had just wrecked an entire industry, she was speaking for members of Congress as well as the public. So when Congress found out what Congress had wrought, they got to work trying to undo part of what they had done (the part, naturally, that affected them the most).

But that brought up another problem (just as we Jews famously answer questions with questions, so Congress “solves” problems with other problems): namely, that it would be quite a bummer if the public found out what they were up to. That’s because there are only two possible explanations for what they were doing, and neither sounded good. Either it would be exposed that they had no idea what was in the health care bill they passed, or it would seem like they did and now were trying to weasel out of part of it. And of course, by doing this in secret in a town where there are no secrets, they ensured the public would have both reactions.

Now that the public found out, Reid says there’s no need to take any action, that the law as written won’t do what they thought it might (he’s probably right). But Reid is a senator, not emperor, so he doesn’t get to make that decision–it’s up to the Office of Personnel Management. Reid’s statement, Klein notes, “doesn’t say much about what will happen if OPM doesn’t rule as Reid hopes.” It’s almost as if he’s not planning ahead. Klein continues:

If OPM doesn’t rule as Reid expects, I’ll be surprised to see this get fixed, at least quickly. Republicans view any chaos around Obamacare as a win for them. As of today, they’re telling me that that even extends to chaos caused by a Republican senator’s amendment that mainly effects (sic) their health insurance. I don’t think they’ll hold out long on that if it turns out they actually have to shoulder the full cost of their premiums. But it will be tough to preemptively back down too.

More games, more bluffing, more staring contests in response to the chaos they’ve created. Welcome to Congress.

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