The Way Forward for Congress

by PSA Staff | May 14th, 2015 | |Subscribe
Lee Hamilton is a PSA Advisory Board member. He is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article originally appeared at Southernminn.com.

 The Way Forward for Congress

There have been encouraging signs on Capitol Hill of late that Congress’s long slide into irrelevance may be slowing.

Agreements on Medicare reimbursements and on Iran, No Child Left Behind, Pacific trade and other issues in various committees led last month to a chorus of relieved approval both in Washington and in the press. Just as important, the amendment process — at least in the Senate — is once again functioning as it’s supposed to.

But let’s not go overboard. Major challenges lie immediately ahead, chief among them how Congress handles the budget. If Congress finds that it likes feeling productive, then I’ve got some suggestions for turning these first, tentative steps into full-blown progress.

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Hamilton: Congress feels left out on foreign policy

by PSA Staff | April 6th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a PSA Advisory Board member, chairman of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and served as congressman from Indiana’s 9th Congressional District from 1965-1999. The original article appeared in The Detroit News.

Hamilton: Congress feels left out on foreign policy

Congress has developed a fondness for open letters when it comes to Iran. First came the warning shot signed by 47 Republican senators that touched off a storm of criticism. Not to be outdone, the House checked in with its own bipartisan and more diplomatically stated letter to President Barack Obama, warning that its members must be satisfied with any agreement before they’ll vote to reduce sanctions.

What lies behind these moves? I think Congress feels left out of foreign policymaking.

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HAMILTON: Congress and the President need to consult – and not just on Iran

by PSA Staff | April 3rd, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board Co-Chair to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. The article originally appeared in Your Houston News.

HAMILTON: Congress and the President need to consult – and not just on Iran

Congress has developed a fondness for open letters when it comes to Iran. First came the warning shot signed by 47 Republican senators that touched off a storm of criticism. Not to be outdone, the House checked in with its own bipartisan and more diplomatically stated letter to the President, warning that its members must be satisfied with any agreement before they’ll vote to reduce sanctions.

What lies behind these moves? I think Congress feels left out of foreign policy-making.

I have considerable sympathy for this impulse. Over the decades, too much power has drifted to the President when it comes to foreign affairs. The Congress has been deferential, even timid, in allowing this to happen. (more…)

Russia’s Grab for its Neighbors

by PSA Staff | March 30th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Paula Dobriansky is a PSA Advisory Board member, former undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, and a senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Program. Blaise Misztal is the program’s director. Original article appeared here in The Washington Times.

Russia’s Grab for its Neighbors

A bipartisan consensus is emerging that the United States should do more to address Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine. But Russian revanchism does not begin or end with Ukraine, nor are “little green men” its only foreign policy instrument. Moscow is actively engaged in subversive activities along Europe’s eastern flank, targeting the region’s economic and political stability. As Central European capitals grow increasingly concerned, Washington urgently needs to demonstrate its robust commitment not just to the region’s security but to its democratic future.

Moscow has long demanded that Western nations not encroach on its “sphere of influence,” defined by the borders of the old Iron Curtain. It is now seeking to regain its sway over its neighbors in order to, ultimately, control all aspects of their domestic, foreign and defense policies and separate them from the rest of Europe.

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It’s your country — join the fray

by PSA Staff | March 11th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is an Advisory Board member for the PSA and director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for 34 years. Article originally appeared in Press of Atlantic City.

It’s your country –join the fray

The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “OK, so what can I do about it?”

I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport, and citizens are not passive consumers. I’m always invigorated by running into people who understand this. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier.

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Lee Hamilton: What lies ahead

by PSA Staff | March 3rd, 2015 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and current Advisory Board member to the Partnership for a Secure America. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Original article appeared in the Rockford Advocate.

Lee Hamilton: What lies ahead

Given all the words and images devoted to the midterm elections over the past few weeks, you’d think the results had told us something vital about the future of the country. In reality, they were just a curtain-raiser. It’s the next few weeks and months that really matter.

The big question, as the old Congress reconvenes and prepares to make way for next year’s version, is whether the two parties will work more closely together to move the country forward or instead lapse back into confrontation and deadlock. I suspect the answer will be a mix: modest progress on a few issues, but no major reforms.

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Lee H. Hamilton: Can we have a regular Congress?

by PSA Staff | February 5th, 2015 | |Subscribe

PSA Advisory Board member Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. The article originally appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Lee H. Hamilton: Can we have a regular Congress?

You probably didn’t notice, but the Senate passed a milestone a couple of weeks back. Before 2015 was a month old, senators had already had a chance to vote up-or-down on more amendments than they did in all of 2014.

This is a promising sign that new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might have meant it when he declared last year that he wants the Senate to return to the “regular order” of debate and amendments. For the last few weeks, a favorite inside-the-Beltway guessing game has been whether he’d be willing to stick with it in the face of demands, sure to come, to reduce debate and amendments and expedite approval of bills.

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Andrew Semmel: How to Negotiate Anything- Lessons Learned From the Capitol Leaders Program

by PSA Staff | December 8th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Executive Director Dr. Andrew Semmel discusses PSA’s Harvard Negotiation Program and its potential for building bipartisanship. Article written by Rebecca Gale and published by  Roll Call.

Capitol Leaders Program

Forty House and Senate foreign affairs and national security staffers came together recently at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to learn the necessary skills to overcome gridlock in Congress. The program was organized by the Partnership for a Secure America and Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

But can such teamwork lessons be applied more broadly outside of a Harvard-sanctioned setting and in the halls of Congress? Yes, says Andrew Semmel, executive director of the Partnership for a Secure America. He shared his insights with Roll Call in a lightly edited Q and A.

Q: So you got 40 staffers in a room, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. How easy was it to cut through the rancor and find consensus?

A: On day one, we focused on several exercises and case studies that challenged the idea of negotiation being a zero-sum game — the “you win-I lose” calculus. Dissecting successful historic deals based on a collaborative model — including German reunification, the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and various corporate negotiations — helped establish a mindset on how to approach complex negotiations.

We believed, from the start, that most staff were tired and frustrated by congressional gridlock and low productivity and were eager to learn new skills and ways to improve the legislative process. We’re convinced, from our observations and analysis, that our initial beliefs were correct.

Q: The 40 staffers all came with foreign affairs backgrounds. Do you think foreign affairs is an issue area where partisanship is rampant? Why?

A: Foreign affairs is an area where partisanship exists, but it is not as rampant as in other policy areas. Policymakers generally have more latitude on foreign affairs than in domestic policy because voters are more disengaged on these issues.

Q: What surprised you most about the program?

A: “Active listening” was a surprisingly dominant theme over the course of the program. Humility, too, goes a long way in generating trust and strong relationships among negotiators. Case studies of the best negotiators demonstrated this time and again.

The other biggest surprise was the consistency of participation by staffers recruited for the program. We maintained a strict attendance policy, and they continued to arrive prepared and eager to engage with instructors and each other.

Q: What do you think was the greatest takeaway from the program?

A: That it is possible to create value during a negotiation so all parties can walk away with more than they thought they could achieve. The goal should be to increase the “size of the pie” first, and then negotiate dividing up the pie second.

Q: Why staffers? Do you think the partisan divide is greater at the staff level than at the member level?

A: U.S. congressional staff are more influential than in any other national legislature. Staffers are the gateway to members and help shape members’ views, priorities, and votes. To tackle gridlock and improve the culture of Congress, it is as important to work at the staff level as the member level.

The partisan divide may be less at the staff level. Staffers often live in or around D.C., enjoying more opportunities to interact across the aisle outside of the office. Fortunately, this provides fertile ground for building bipartisan relationships.

Q: How did you find staffers for the program?

A: For this program*, we recruited staffers responsible for national security and foreign policy issues in committee and personal offices — half Democrats and half Republicans, half House and half Senate.

Q. What would you recommend for staffers who want to improve their negotiation skills?

Negotiation skills are like any other skill — they improve with use. A staffer who is interested in improving his or her skills should proactively and consciously engage in negotiations wherever they occur. Remember to actively listen to understand the other party’s underlying interests behind a position, offer ideas for “expanding the pie” in a deal, and prepare, prepare, prepare with research on the issue and the other party. Help those across the table reach an agreement that works for you and them. Finally, keep in mind the words of Italian diplomat Daniele Vare, who said negotiation is “the art of letting them have your way.”

Q: Did staffers explain their reasons for partisanship? What was a common theme that emerged?

A: Staffers are as frustrated as many Americans by meaningless partisanship that yields no results. Many staff follow the lead of their members, and there is hiring selectivity that reinforces prevailing views. Compromise has become a dirty word. Staff (and members) must realize that today’s adversary can be tomorrow’s ally, and building good relations is central to success.

Q: With the wave election ushering in new staffers this January, what is the best piece of advice you would give them on how to negotiate most effectively?

A: Forging strong relationships with staffers from other offices — especially across the aisle — will be absolutely essential. Ninety percent of the work of a successful negotiator is building good rapport, credibility and trust with your counterparts within and between parties. But don’t wait until you need something to reach out to people. Establish those connections and solidify relationships even before there’s a negotiation on the horizon. Find out who the important players on your issues are — what offices, what committees — and reach out just to introduce yourself. Make an effort to meet them in person. Lunch lines, staff trips and after-hour social activities all play a part. This is very time consuming, but you will make a great impression and position yourself well to become an influential Capitol Hill staffer.

*Staffers interested in participating in a future negotiation session should contact Nathan Sermonis at sermonis@psaonline.org.

Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Tara Sonenshine: A Fulbright Is Not a Political Football

by PSA Staff | October 1st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine sits on the Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Advisors. She is a former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

A Fulbright is Not a Political Football

Every now and then Congress shows wisdom as in the recent decision by the House and Senate to reject a request from the Obama administration to cut funding for the famous Fulbright program from $237 to $204 million.

What’s a Fulbright and why should you care?

The Fulbright is the most competitive and highly sought academic fellowship in the world. Think of it as trade — the trading of great minds in the stead of peace.

The Fulbright premise is tried and true — built on a simple, highly effective concept of international exchanges among scholars to foster better understanding and relations among nations. The Fulbright program provides small grants to help American students and teachers learn and work abroad and foreign students and scholars to visit the United States. As Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder, said in 1945, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion… increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and fellowship.”

With over 355,000 alumni from over 155 countries, the Fulbright Program is important, symbolically and substantively for the United States at a time when we are trying to win more friends and fight more enemies. The Fulbright program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 US scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. In this exchange of knowledge comes the chance to build stronger civil societies based on common values and interests.

So why would anyone want to cut a program that builds and maintains robust educational, scientific, economic, and political partnerships; knowledge transfer; and competition in the global marketplace?

Well, in a world of economic choices there is always a temptation to save “cents” at the expense of “sense.” Mistakenly, some in the government thought of shifting resources from in-depth exchange programs like Fulbright — which last a full year and extend around the globe — to shorter programs targeted on regions like Africa or Asia. Taking an axe to a government program might sound appealing unless you know the facts:

Firstly, the Fulbright is not exclusively a U.S. government program. It uses cost-sharing and partnership agreements with other countries — some of which are America’s long-standing friends and most important allies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and in the Western Hemisphere. In many of the countries engaged in these exchanges, Fulbright Commissions administer the program. Their budgets come from multiple sources — the U.S. Department of State and other governments as well as private charitable donations. In many countries with Fulbright commissions, partner countries spend more funding Fulbright opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to go abroad and more for their own students and scholars to go to the United States than the U.S. government does. We should not undermine their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the program with $ 30 million cut that would jeopardize those revenue flows.

Geography matters. It is also important to keep the reach of Fulbright educational exchanges broad, not narrow. Shifting the diplomatic lens away from Europe, for example, during a period when we are building coalitions of the willing to fight ISIS, deal with the instability in Ukraine, and counter transnational threats makes no sense. This is a time when we need transatlantic cooperation through dialogue and exchange.

The Fulbright program yields some of the greatest peace dividends. Among its alumni are 29 former heads of state or government, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners from all regions of the world. Those who invest in the Fulbright program invest a full year because learning about another country takes time. Shorter programs that offer less substantive immersion for foreigners do not necessarily create lasting change. Cutting corners on education never quite works.

Lastly, there is an American economic imperative to invest in international education including bringing scholars from the around the world to the U.S. According to the Association of International Educators, international students contribute over $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and the Fulbright Program is one of the most respected programs among international educators in the United States and abroad.

The Fulbright program must stay fully funded. Stay tuned for more budget action as Congress makes final decisions on the FY15 appropriations bills although the way things are going, there may not be a final budget until the end of the year. In the meantime, America has to do it work to strengthen ties with other nations and promote international cooperation. Fulbright is one small way to maintain the world’s largest multilateral investment in public diplomacy.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.