Lee Hamilton: Governing by crisis isn’t governing

by PSA Staff | March 19th, 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 Battle Creek Enquirer.

Lee Hamilton: Governing by crisis isn’t governing

After Congress came a hair’s breadth from shutting down the Department of Homeland Security a few weeks ago, members of the leadership tried to reassure the American people. “We’re certainly not going to shut down the government or default on the national debt,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Congress, he said, would not lurch from crisis to crisis.

I wish I could be so confident. Because if you look at the year ahead, the congressional calendar is littered with opportunities to do just that. (more…)

What Navy’s New Maritime Strategy Should Say

by PSA Staff | March 13th, 2015 | |Subscribe

John F. Lehman PSA Advisory Board member served as Navy Secretary from 1981 to 1987. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. The article originally appeared in Breaking Defense.

What Navy’s New Maritime Strategy Should Say

After years of ill-considered budget cuts and a focus on large-scale land wars, the U.S. Navy had entered a period of qualitative and quantitative decline, diminished readiness, and a lack of confidence in its own mission and capabilities.

Foreign adversaries seemed ascendant, including a radical theocracy in Iran and an expansionist Russia. Many American political leaders seemed resigned to a significantly reduced global role, and the Navy showed signs of abandoning its historic inclination toward an aggressive, offensive-minded spirit. (more…)

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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Budget: President is the one who calls the shots

by PSA Staff | February 27th, 2015 | |Subscribe

 PSA Advisory Board Co-Chair Lee Hamilton directs 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 Times Herald.

Budget: President is the one who calls the shots

It may not be obvious from the news coverage, but a good bit of Congress’s 2015 agenda just landed on Capitol Hill with a thud. I mean this literally. The federal budget President Barack Obama submitted runs to 2,000 pages.

This is the most important government document produced each year, so its heft is more than physical. The budget is how we decide what share of this country’s economic resources we should devote to government — and how we should spend them. It’s where we set out our national priorities, sorting out how to allocate money among defense, the environment, education, medical research, food safety, public works … You get the idea. (more…)

Let’s Make the Deal with Iran

by PSA Staff | February 26th, 2015 | |Subscribe

William J. Perry is a former secretary of defense and PSA Advisory Board member. Sean O’Keefe is a former secretary of the Navy and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Adm. James Stavridis (ret.) served as NATO’s supreme commander. Joe R. Reeder is a former undersecretary of the Army. The article originally appeared in the Politico Magazine.

Let’s Make the Deal with Iran

We can’t let partisan infighting destroy what could be a historic nuclear pact.

America is the safest when its leaders work together to effectively meet national security and foreign policy challenges. Yet partisan infighting threatens to upend our nation’s best chance to stem the very real Iranian nuclear threat.

The latest round of negotiations has the United States and Iran mulling a nuclear agreement that would prevent Tehran from amassing enough material to make a bomb for at least 10 years. President Obama says he doesn’t need congressional approval, while lawmakers say they will pore over the terms or even force a vote. Congress also could effectively kill the agreement by refusing to lift or adding to existing sanctions against Iran. The equation gets even more complicated with the addition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech next week before a joint session of Congress, when he is expected to make the case against any pact with Iran.

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Welcome to the Money Primary

by PSA Staff | February 18th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart is a former US Senator and current Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America. The article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Welcome to the Money Primary

The first presidential primary is underway, not simply because the political press cannot wait but because he or she who signs up the most megabucks wins that primary and is well on the way to a nomination. Step right up and participate–that is if you can write a very large check.

This is the saddest commentary on the state of American “democracy” a concerned citizen can think of. Campaigns cost money, a lot of money. Somewhere between 75% and 90% of that money goes to media advertising, even as media commentators (whose salaries it pays) deplore how mercantile campaigns have become. What’s left over goes to compensate increasingly highly paid “strategists”, consultants, media advisors, time buyers, professional organizers, and so forth.

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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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The United States and Russia must repair their partnership on nuclear security

by PSA Staff | January 27th, 2015 | |Subscribe

Sam Nunn is co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a former U.S. senator from Georgia and member of PSA’s Advisory Board. Richard Lugar is president of the Lugar Center and a former U.S. senator from Indiana. The article originally appeared in The Washington Post.

The United States and Russia must repair their partnership on nuclear security

For more than two decades, the United States and Russia partnered to secure and eliminate dangerous nuclear materials — not as a favor to one another but as a common-sense commitment, born of mutual self-interest, to prevent catastrophic nuclear terrorism. The world’s two largest nuclear powers repeatedly set aside their political differences to cooperate on nuclear security to ensure that terrorists would not be able to detonate a nuclear bomb in New York, Moscow, Paris, Tel Aviv or elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this common-sense cooperation has become the latest casualty of the spiraling crisis in relations among the United States, Europe and Russia.

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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.

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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.