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How to Save Congress: Stop Meddling on Foreign Policy

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
December 10, 2013
Politico Magazine


The greatest threat to U.S. national security is not China or terrorism or Iran or anything else coming from beyond this country's shores. Rather, it is America's own political dysfunction. In that sense, fixing the epicenter of that dysfunction—the U.S. Congress—could not be more urgent.

Most often, congressional gridlock is dicussed in domestic terms: bills not passed, deals not cut, critical decisions not made. But the mess on Capitol Hill has enormous implications for America's foreign policy, too. It makes it difficult and often impossible for the United States to enact policies needed to maintain economic competitiveness and to generate the resources needed to promote and protect its interests around the world. It also dilutes the appeal of the American model (ironic to say the least given how much this country spends in trying to spread democracy) and introduces a degree of uncertainty that is inconsistent with the demands of global leadership in an era when so many countries depend on the United States for everything from the strength of its military to the strength of the dollar.

A number of internal reforms would make Washington a more effective place in the national security realm. One would be to rein in the Senate practice of holds, in which individual senators can make it impossible for a presidential nominee to be voted on. The practice often leads to hostage-taking, i.e., it is used to exact leverage over an unrelated person or issue. Holds can make it more difficult to put into place those people needed to design and implement policy. The current practice should be replaced by one that limits the amount of time any nominee can be delayed before a vote.

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