After meeting for fewer legislative days than the “Do Nothing Congress” of 1948, the 109th Congress will recess at the end of this week without enacting a budget resolution, without extending a package of non-controversial tax cuts, and without passing nine of the 11 annual laws that fund government agencies.
Conservatives in Congress are leaving numerous critical national security matters unresolved so they can rush home to campaign for reelection on national security issues. Congress only enacted a law regarding the treatment of terrorist detainees (a matter that should have been resolved five years ago), the annual Defense Appropriations bill that funds Pentagon operations each fiscal year, and the Defense Authorization bill.
Enactment of these three laws, however, cannot overshadow the unfinished work on America’s national security. As Congress prepares to adjourn for the fall elections, one of the defense appropriations measures that it did manage to complete is already being overtaken by events. Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker has withheld his 2008 budget plan because of insufficient funding from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to pay for ongoing operations in Iraq and other critical Army missions.
The Army estimates that it needs $66 billion to fully reset the force. Meanwhile, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a similarly large toll on Marine Corps equipment, with total reset estimates at about $10-15 billion. The defense appropriations bill, however, includes just $22.9 billion to reset the Army and Marines.
That’s hardly an accomplishment. Yet as congressional leaders prepare to take the rest of the fall off, they leave the following essential national security matters unresolved.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Address Warrantless Wiretapping Program
President Bush wants Congress to endorse his secret warrantless wiretapping program, but jockeying among the leaders in the House, Senate, and White House undercut efforts to produce a solid legal footing for a program that President Bush has called “vital” to the war on terrorism. The latest proposal would establish a legal framework for a program that former CIA and FBI directors say would return “surveillance law to ‘murky waters.’”
Congressional Leaders Fail to Pass Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Bill
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, referred to as the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs law in the House, must pass in order to get the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs bureau the money they need to implement the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The legislation is also essential to meet the needs of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Until Congress enacts annual appropriations for these agencies, these programs must rely on a stopgap “continuing resolution” that only funds veterans affairs at last year’s level. Because the congressional leadership failed to act in a timely manner, the VA will now be expected to take care of more veterans with fewer resources.
Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office (the budget watchdog for Congress) recently released a stinging assessment that the VA is $3 billion in the hole since 2005 because the administration failed to properly account for the costs of war. The bill that passed the House continues similar budget gimmickry.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Pass Comprehensive Chemical Facility Security Bill
The homeland security committees of both the House and Senate passed comprehensive strategies to give the Department of Homeland Security necessary and far-reaching authorities to improve security at the nation’s chemical facilities. Unfortunately, conservatives in both the House and Senate capitulated to chemical industry pressure and approved legislation with broad exemptions and minimal authorities.
Rather than settle on strong, far-reaching and permanent standards, Congress was only able to agree to interim regulations that expire in three years. That bill allows the Department of Homeland Security to set security standards for high-risk chemical facilities, but it does not allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to mandate specific security improvements.
What’s worse, the legislation exempts 3,000 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities that use hazardous chlorine gas for disinfection from having to switch to other compounds or technologies that cannot be exploited by terrorists. It also fails to address the transportation of dangerous chemicals through major urban centers, which is directly related to the terrorism threat from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Pass Foreign Operations and State Department Bill
In a recent nonpartisan survey of terrorism experts, the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine found that 87 percent of experts believe that the State Department requires more funding. Nevertheless, Congress is leaving town without passing the Foreign Operations and State Department Appropriations law that funds U.S. diplomatic, economic development, military assistance, and counterterrorism programs. At the same time, the annual law that funds the Department of Justice and its counterterrorism programs—including the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices—remains incomplete.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Pass the Intelligence Authorization bill, Again
For the second consecutive year, Congress will fail to enact a law that is its principal tool for overseeing the intelligence community. Prior to 2005, this law had been enacted in each of the previous 25 years. This failure comes amid the largest reorganization of America’s intelligence community since the National Security Act of 1947—at a moment when intelligence should be our greatest asset in the war on terrorism.
In addition, several key recommendations from the bipartisan 9/11 Commission still have not been enacted by Congress. In December 2005—more than 16 months after the recommendations were first made public—9/11 Commissioners issued a report card that graded the government’s performance in implementing the 41 different recommendations of the Commission. Seventeen of the 41 grades were D’s or F’s, including such critical areas as “radio spectrum for first responders,” “checked bag and cargo screening,” and “maximum effort to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD.”
In none of these critical areas has this Congress made significant progress. Indeed, in securing nuclear materials Congress has deferred acting on the law that funds efforts to lockdown loose Russian nuclear materials.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Pass Energy and Water Appropriations Bill
Nearly 10 months after the president declared that America was addicted to oil, congressional leaders are preparing to adjourn Congress without having taken concrete action to cure America of that addiction. Amid record high gas prices this summer, Congress refused to mandate increases in fuel economy or to consider new ways to create incentives for American automakers to reduce oil consumption.
Furthermore, the Energy and Water Appropriations law that would fund research and development of new, cleaner burning, American grown biofuels (as well as fund efforts to lockdown loose Russian nuclear materials) will also have to wait for members of Congress to return to Washington after taking care of their more pressing efforts to ensure reelection.
Congressional Leaders Fail to Enact Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Our immigration system is broken. Undocumented immigration is at an all time high. There are as many as 12 million people living in the shadows of our society. Yet instead of tackling these issues and providing our country with a modern immigration system that would protect our security, economy, and values, Congress decided to throw taxpayer money away pursuing border enforcement-only proposals that have not and cannot work.
We’ve tried and failed the border enforcement-alone approach. Despite tripling the size of the U.S. Border Patrol along the southern border between 1990 and 2005 and increasing its funding tenfold between 1986 and 2002, the undocumented population in the United States doubled in size, the death rate of border crossings tripled, and the per-apprehension cost increased from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002.
Moreover, expert after expert dismisses the notion that building a wall between the United States and Mexico should be a homeland security priority. With a comprehensive approachof regulating the flow of immigrants into the country and drawing the undocumented out of the shadows, we would be able to focus our resources and manpower on targeting those who want to harm us and thus make us safer.
The 109th Congress leaves America woefully unprepared to fight our enemies, defend our homeland, support our troops, enhance our intelligence-gathering capabilities, and modernize our immigration system. With almost nothing accomplished, congressional leaders this week will adjourn one of the most ineffective sessions of Congress in recent American history.
Experts Available for Comment
Joe Cirincione, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy
Joseph Cirincione is the Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy. Prior to joining the Center, he was Director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. He is one of America’s best-known weapons experts, a frequent commentator on these issues in the media, and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Mr. Cirincione also worked for nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations, and served as staff director of the Military Reform Caucus. He is the author of numerous articles on nuclear weapons issues, the editor of Repairing the Regime (Routledge, 2000), the publisher and editor of the Internet site, ProliferationNews.org, and producer of two DVDs on proliferation. He has held positions at the Henry L. Stimson Center, the U.S. Information Agency, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
His books include Bomb Scare: The History, Theory and Future of Nuclear Weapons (Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2006), Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, (Second Edition, 2005), and as co-author, Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security (March 2005).
He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is an honors graduate of Boston College and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
Peter Rundlet, Vice President for National Security and International Affairs, Center for American Progress
Peter Rundlet is the Vice President for National Security and International Affairs at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, Peter was Counsel for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the “9/11 Commission”), where he focused on domestic intelligence and law enforcement policy, including related civil liberties issues. In 1997, Peter was selected to be a White House Fellow, serving in the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President. After his fellowship year, he was appointed Associate Counsel to the President and was responsible for a range of policy and constitutional law issues until the end of the Clinton administration.
After his White House tenure, Peter was an attorney in the political law department of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Earlier in his career, Peter received the Skadden Public Interest Law Fellowship and was an Assistant Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he litigated voting rights, housing, school desegregation, and employment discrimination cases. Peter was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Peter Ogden, program coordinator for National Security and International Policy
Peter Ogden is the Program Coordinator for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. He works on energy security, military manpower, nuclear nonproliferation, and other related U.S. foreign policy issues. Ogden’s writings have been published in a number of major journals and newspapers, including Foreign Affairs (November 2006), The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Interest, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Army Times, and The Baltimore Sun. He served on the task force for Energy Security in the 21st Century: A New National Strategy National Security Task Force on Energy, CAP 2006, co-authored The Road to Nuclear Security (CAP 2004), and co-edited Resources for Global Growth: Agriculture, Energy, and Trade (CAP 2005) and Terror in the Shadows: Trafficking in Money, Weapons, and People (CAP 2004). Ogden has also lived and worked in Japan. He received his master’s degree from
Brian Katulis, Director of Democracy and Public Diplomacy, Center for American Progress
Brian Katulis is Director of Democracy and Public Diplomacy on the National Security Team at the Center for American Progress. His previous experience includes work in the Near East and South Asian Directorate of the National Security Council and the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State during the Clinton administration.
Katulis also serves as a senior analyst and consultant on the Middle East at the U.S. Institute for Peace, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute. Over the past ten years, he has lived and worked for human rights and democracy promotion organizations in several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and the Palestinian territories. He has published articles in The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. Katulis received a graduate degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. He speaks Arabic.
Denis McDonough, Senior Fellow and Senior Adviser to Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle, Center for American Progress
Denis McDonough is Senior Fellow and Senior Adviser to Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, Denis was Legislative Director for Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. From July 2000 to December 2004, Denis was Foreign Policy Adviser to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. In that role, Denis worked extensively on legislation related to the war on terrorism, the response to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, Iraq and the greater Middle East.
Prior to his time working in the Senate Leadership, Denis was a Fellow with the Robert Bosch Foundation of Stuttgart, Germany from 1999 to 2000. During that yearlong fellowship, Denis worked with the Bundestag in Berlin and the German Chapter of Transparency International in Munich. From 1996 to 1999, Denis was a member of the Democratic Professional Staff of the House International Relations Committee, where he was focused on U.S. policy in Latin America. He earned a Masters Degree from Georgetown University (1996) and graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN (1992).
Dan Restrepo, Senior Policy Advisor in charge of America’s Project, Center for American Progress
Dan Restrepo is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress. In his role, Dan is responsible for the Center’s work related to the United States and its place in and relationship with the rest of the Americas. Dan, a first-generation American of Colombian and Spanish parents, previously served as the Director of Congressional Affairs at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining the Center, Dan spent three years as an associate at the law firm of Williams & Connolly LLP. Prior to that, Dan served as an attorney for the Florida Democratic Party during the 2000 election recount. From August through November 2000, he worked as the Research Director for the Florida Democratic Coordinated Campaign. From 1993 to 1996, Dan served on the Democratic staff of the House International Relations Committee. There he focused on all aspects of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including U.S. policy toward Haiti during political transitions, U.S. counter-narcotics programs and policies, the consolidation of the Central American peace processes, U.S.-Cuba policy and the Mexican debt crisis, among other matters. During his tenure on the International Relations Committee staff, Dan also traveled extensively throughout the hemisphere, meeting with government officials, civil society leaders, and opposition party officials.
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