Final “Lame-Duck” Session Puts Spotlight on Congress

November 29, 2010 By Madeleine Pryor

The 111th Congress returns today for its final “lame-duck” session of legislative business, which  could last for up to three consecutive weeks. In addition to dealing with all twelve FY 2011 appropriations bills, Congress must also decide whether to extend President Bush’s tax cuts and whether to approve the New START Treaty. The Continuing Resolution (CR) passed before the election expires on Friday.  Some members still favor an omnibus package, however, another CR is most likely.  It is possible the CR could be extended into the middle of December to give Congress more time, but it may also be extended into the early Spring—where it would be more vulnerable to cutting proposals—or for the rest of the fiscal year. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be sworn in later this afternoon, replacing Senator Roland Burris (D-IL). And on Wednesday, President Obama is scheduled to receive the final presentation from the Presidential Debt Commission, whose draft report was released earlier this month.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

Jack Lew has left the building (Josh Rogin – Foreign Policy Magazine)

After finally getting confirmed to become head of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew has officially left the State Department to begin his new role. “Stepping back from the day-to-day issues, I see three larger efforts that defined my tenure:  planning and presenting the budget, coordinating across government, and building civilian capacity in frontline states,” Lew wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after resigning Nov. 19 and being sworn in as OMB chief the same day. “I am proud of what we have accomplished in each area. But we are still at the beginning of a long journey, and continued progress will remain crucial in the years ahead.” In his letter, Lew thanked Clinton and other leadership at State and USAID while also expressing confidence that his successor, Thomas Nides, will be able to continue the reforms that Lew initiated but left unfinished.

Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories (Bill Gates – Wall Street Journal)

The science writer Matt Ridley’s latest book, “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” discusses the history of humanity, focusing on why our species has succeeded and how we should think about the future. Although I strongly disagree with what Mr. Ridley says in these pages about some of the critical issues facing the world today, his wider narrative is based on two ideas that are very important and powerful. The first is that the key to rising prosperity over the course of human history has been the exchange of goods. The second key idea in the book is, of course, “rational optimism.” Development in Africa is difficult to achieve, but I am optimistic that it will accelerate. Science will come up with vaccines for AIDS and malaria, and the “top-down” approach to aid criticized by Mr. Ridley (and by the economist William Easterly) will fund the delivery of these life-saving drugs. What Mr. Ridley fails to see is that worrying about the worst case—being pessimistic, to a degree—can actually help to drive a solution.

Smart Power

Review calls for State Department to focus more on civilian response to conflict (Marie Beth Sheridan – Washington Post)

A high-level State Department review in the works for more than a year will call for the diplomatic service to give much greater priority to improving the U.S. civilian response to conflict, according to a sneak preview released this month. The draft summary of the review, presented to congressional staffers, also would give the U.S. Agency for International Development a bigger role in running President Obama’s two main foreign aid initiatives – health and agriculture. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s answer to the Pentagon’s QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review). She has argued that the once-every-four-years process will help the State Department set priorities and justify its budget to Congress.

Public Diplomacy: “Out” for the U.S., “In” Overseas? (John Brown – Huffington Post)

Public diplomacy was coined by Dean Edmund Gullion and the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in the mid-1960’s. He and his colleagues wanted to find a way to characterize the many informational, educational, and cultural programs that were instituted, on an international level, after World War II, by US governmental and non-governmental entities. Public diplomacy — defined by the State Department as “engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences” — has become increasingly passé among American officials, scholars, and NGOs as a term and activity used to define how America should communicate with the outside world. Meanwhile, the governments of other countries — notably China and India — are enthusiastically embracing public diplomacy as a new and essential part of their foreign policy. Who’s the winner in such a situation — the USA or the rest of the world? Hard to say.

Politics/Foreign Policy

Administration hunts for GOP votes needed to approve arms pact (Walter Pincus and Mary Beth Sheridan – Washington Post)

While trying to satisfy a lawmaker’s concerns, the Obama administration is working around Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in an attempt to gather the nine Republican votes needed to pass the ratification resolution for the strategic arms treaty with Russia this year. Kyl, who has acted as the Republican negotiator on the issue, surprised the administration recently by saying the lame-duck session did not allow enough time to debate the treaty. Then last week he circulated a memo asking for guarantees that future presidents and congresses will allocate funds for upgrades of nuclear weapons facilities, something administration officials say cannot be done. Some of the Republican senators who seem most likely to vote for the New START pact say that Obama must do more to build public support if the document is to be ratified before a new Congress is sworn in.

Senator Lugar Charts His Course Against the Winds (Jennifer Steinhauer  – New York Times)

Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican, is standing against his party on a number of significant issues at a politically dangerous time to do so. Now, in the heat of the post-primary lame-duck Congressional session, he is defying his party on an earmark ban, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, a military spending authorization bill and an arms control treaty with Russia. Now Mr. Lugar’s willingness to buck his party is leading to talk that he will face a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate when he runs for re-election in 2012. It is a possibility that Mr. Lugar, who said the current environment in Washington was “disappointing” and “without a doubt” the most polarized he had seen since joining the Senate in 1977, understands clearly even as he declines to modify his positions.

WikiLeaks target: American power (Ben Smith – Politico)

The first victims of the leaked cables released Sunday are anyone who shared secrets with American diplomats, especially Arab leaders who saw their private security deals — and their insistence that those deals be kept from their people — published online with undiplomatic bluntness. But the main effect of the many details of American diplomacy revealed in the thousands of documents obtained and released by WikiLeaks was to deepen the damage to their intended targets: U.S. foreign policy, prestige and power. “The impression is of the world’s superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden,” wrote Sir Simon Jenkins in the left-leaning Guardian, one of the publications that were given the documents. And while his assessment of the documents themselves may be too harsh, the massive leak drives home yet again the limits of any American ability to control events around the world.

American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle (Karen Tumulty – Washington Post)

“American exceptionalism” is a phrase that, until recently, was rarely heard outside the confines of think tanks, opinion journals and university history departments. But with Republicans and tea party activists accusing President Obama and the Democrats of turning the country toward socialism, the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012. “This reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism is misguided and bankrupt,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney writes in his campaign setup book, “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness.” On Monday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is also considering a White House bid, is scheduled to address the Detroit Economic Club on “Restoring American Exceptionalism: A Vision for Economic Growth and Prosperity.”

How’s That New World Order Working Out? (Parag Khanna – Foreign Policy Magazine)

Looking for a sign of when the multipolar moment suddenly seemed real? You could do worse than mark the day when Brazil and Turkey — two of the world’s most avidly internationalist emerging powers — joined together this May to announce they had stepped in to broker a nuclear-fuel swap deal with Iran that potentially — though sadly not actually — paved the way toward a peaceful solution to the standoff. Turkey and Brazil aren’t superpowers, nor are they permanent U.N. Security Council members. But just as U.S. President Barack Obama came into office preaching a renewed focus on multilateralism, rising powers are reminding us that respect for hierarchy is no longer on anyone’s agenda. If there is any doubt as to the general lack of foresight that governs international relations today, just consider how America has ceased certain joint weapons production with Israel as punishment for Israel’s selling sensitive technology to China, which in turn sells missile technologies to Iran, whose leadership wishes to eradicate Israel from the map. Everyone is playing everyone else in what seem like endless single-iteration prisoner’s dilemma games.