Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
The Associated Press
Mar. 25, 2015
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on President Obama trying to bypass Congress in Iran talks:
Because the facts of this matter are so astounding, let's make sure we have this straight.
President Barack Obama is attempting to deny Congress a voice on a possible deal being negotiated with Iran that has huge national security implications.
At the same time, the media is reporting Obama may submit such a deal to the United Nations Security Council for approval. The implications of this are simply staggering.
With "friends" like Russia and China on the Security Council, could the U.S. expect meaningful help down the road if Iran chose, for example, to deny inspectors access to their nuclear sites?
A bipartisan bill is pending in Congress, with 65 supporters, that would allow Congress to approve any pending deal. The administration has threatened to veto it if passed.
Quite clearly, this is part of a continuing pattern by this White House to try to govern by executive decree.
During the Cold War, presidents of both parties submitted nuclear arms control agreements to Congress for approval.
Admittedly there have been other accords the administration correctly points out where this didn't happen.
One that comes to mind was a nuclear accord with North Korea over 15 years ago. We all know how well that turned out.
One point reportedly being negotiated with Iran is the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on that country. The fact Congress enacted the legislation imposing sanctions only strengthens the argument that they should have a voice in any agreement that lifts those sanctions.
Given Obama's effort to bypass Congress, it should not surprise anyone that 47 Senate Republicans took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to Iran's supreme leader pointing out the unstable foundation of any accord not reviewed by Congress.
Obama was quick to denounce their action, but the aforementioned bill now pending clearly demonstrates that unease over this deal and the administration's track record in foreign affairs extends across party lines.
Given some of Obama's debacles in foreign affairs, this is hardly surprising. We submit his dismissal of ISIS and the admission there was no strategy for combating ISIS as junior varsity.
In his January State of the Union, the president cited Yemen as one of our success stories.
Another case in point is Syria. Obama drew red lines warning the U.S. would take action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
After Syria repeatedly ignored these red lines, our commander in chief passed the ball off to Congress to decide whether to respond.
It's rich that Obama passed this hot potato to Congress to deal with and can now argue with a straight face that the people's representatives have no role to play in a nuclear agreement with a radical regime that not only hates us, but is a threat to our safety and to the safety of our allies in the Middle East.
New York Times on Republican budget games:
Congress generally has little trouble achieving broad agreement on defense spending. One reason is a well-established and, indeed, almost reflexive belief that throwing more money at the Pentagon will solve the security challenges that America faces. That general inclination is still there; what is not there is agreement, especially among the ruling Republicans, on how to do it this time.
The party's defense hawks seem perfectly willing to tap into an emergency war fund originally set up to underwrite American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The party's fiscal conservatives see this as a betrayal of agreed-upon budget targets.
In a 2011 deficit showdown, President Obama and Congressional Republicans agreed to severe budget cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years that would apply to both domestic and defense programs.
This Congress seems content to leave undisturbed the mandated cuts for domestic programs, many of which affect the poor and middle class, but Republicans as well as some Democrats are now seeking a hefty increase of as much as $100 billion in Pentagon spending from a base budget of $499 billion. The question is whether to do it honestly or not: whether to engage in a straightforward exercise that would require honestly confronting the 2011 budget agreement; or whether to pump more money into the Pentagon's Overseas Contingency Operations account, or O.C.O.
This would represent a further corruption of an account created to underwrite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but has since been used for purposes unrelated to these conflicts, like the bombing in Syria. What makes the account particularly useful to cynical legislators is that it is an off-budget fund that allows them to increase defense spending and break the caps they agreed to while insisting that they remain as fiscally upright as ever.
Disregarding the distinction between the normal defense budget and war spending in this way "would set the stage for O.C.O. to become a permanent slush fund for defense" and set a dangerous precedent, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The debate on how to proceed is playing out this week as the House and Senate votes on competing versions of a budget resolution. The Republicans are plainly divided on how to proceed, and where they eventually come out will tell a lot about the party's professed allegiance to fiscal discipline ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
In fiscal 2015-16, President Obama has proposed a base budget of $534 billion for the Pentagon (thus also exceeding the budget caps) and an O.C.O. account of $51 billion. Unlike the Republicans, he also would increase financing for some domestic programs. Republicans in the House and Senate armed services committees have now proposed budgets consistent with the $499 billion in the 2011 budget agreement but suggested raising the O.C.O. account from Mr. Obama's $51 billion to around $90 billion.
The nation's security needs are not static. Right now, for instance, America is facing serious new security threats, including Islamic State forces marauding across Iraq and Syria, and there is every reason for the country to rethink the appropriate level of defense spending.
Yet those who argue for funneling billions more to the Pentagon stand on very shaky ground when billions of dollars have been squandered on troubled weapons like the F-35 fighter jet, when billions more have been lost to waste and corruption in Afghanistan, and when the budget proposals from both Mr. Obama and Congress waste billions more on an overgrown nuclear arsenal.
Meanwhile, Congress has consistently refused to finance the State Department at the level needed to show a commitment to robust diplomacy through its staff, embassies and programs promoting democracy, trade, and the resolution of numerous conflicts around the world.
If lawmakers want to raise defense spending, they should address those issues first and then honestly own up to the fact that any major increase would require a significant and transparent rewriting of past agreements.
Press-Citizen, Iowa City, Iowa, on immigration:
It could be easy for us here in Iowa to dismiss the need for immigration reform, and delegate debate of the issue to our country's border states.
But as we've been reminded in heartbreaking fashion recently, our defective immigration system can tear apart families right here in the heart of the country.
Max Villatoro, a pastor at First Mennonite Church and a married father of four, was arrested outside his home in Iowa City on March 3 during a nationwide sweep by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that targeted convicted criminals living in the country illegally. After initially being held at the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids, he was relocated to the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, La., awaiting deportation to his home country of Honduras.
Villatoro came to the U.S. in 1995. Four years later, he pleaded guilty to tampering with records (trying to obtain a driver's license) and served a suspended sentence. He also has a past drunken driving conviction.
Villatoro said last week that he regrets his crimes and that his life has changed in the past 16 years.
He is not a danger to his community. Rather, many say, he was an asset as he and his wife, Gloria, have led Torre Fuerte, a Spanish-speaking congregation, at the First Mennonite Church in Iowa City, for the past five years.
He's one of the undocumented immigrants who work and worship alongside us that President Barack Obama had in mind when he unveiled the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans in November. It was thought the executive order could provide deportation relief and work authorization to up to 4.1 million adults living in the U.S. Before the order took effect, however, a Texas judge last month temporarily halted the program.
While we wait for Congress to pass true comprehensive immigration reform — reform that holds businesses accountable for hiring immigrants without documents; reform that creates a reasonable path for productive people to become legal residents; and reform that — we hope — is not so willing to separate families in which parents have done nothing more than come to the U.S. in search of a better life.
While we wait, we can help effect change right here in Iowa City.
— As presidential hopefuls begin crisscrossing the state leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, we must ask them about their plan for immigration reform and how they plan to make sure it's passed in Congress.
—We can make sure the voices of the local immigrant community — documented and undocumented — are heard in relation to how proposed ordinances and administrative procedures would directly affect them. This could be as simple as offering encouragement to speak up, helping with transportation or child care, or serving as a translator.
—Johnson County leaders are in the process of creating an identification card available to people throughout the county. The Community ID would be especially helpful for residents who lack the documentation needed for such common activities as cashing their paychecks, renting an apartment, purchasing medication or showing to a police officer after reporting a crime.
—We need to continue to make our voices heard. Write letters to Congressional leaders demanding action on immigration reform. Write letters to the editor. Organize and join your neighbors in marches and rallies.
— Attend a Center for Worker Justice Allies meeting to learn how to support campaigns for social and economic justice.
One resource that is lacking here and across the country, officials say, are more affordable legal services for undocumented workers. Very few of the estimated 12 million immigrants working in the U.S. without proper documentation have access to the level of legal support that they need to navigate the system.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study of Census Bureau data, 62 percent of undocumented workers have lived in the U.S. a decade or more, and one-fifth have lived here at least 20 years.
As we've said several times on this page, it's time for leaders from both parties to focus less on political strategy and more on creating policies that help immigrant families find a more secure role in the society in which they already are contributing members. We need to make sure that the American Dream remains as viable for today's immigrants as it has been for immigrants — documented and undocumented — over the past two centuries.
Immigration is not an abstract issue. There are real people — sometimes our neighbors — behind the statistics.
"We're not animals," Max Villatoro said last week. "We have feelings. We've got family."
Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California, on Obamacare still being a problem child:
During a 2014 Valentine's Day meet-up with House Democrats, President Obama thanked them for their unstinting support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "I think," he said, "10 years, five years from now, we're going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement."
Well, the president's health care law marks its fifth anniversary this week. And most Americans are not, in fact, looking back and saying the law enacted in 2010 - with not one Republican vote in either the House or Senate - was a monumental achievement.
Indeed, in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this month, a 44-34 plurality of respondents thought Obamacare a "bad idea." And a 62-22 percent majority said that what they had seen, read or heard in recent weeks about the Affordable Care Act had made them "less confident" about the law.
Some suggest the public's misgivings about Obamacare are almost entirely attributable to GOP opposition to the law. In a statement Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that "Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or undermine this critical law."
The law is a godsend, she argued. "More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance." Also, "health care spending is growing at its slowest rate in 50 years." And eight in 10 consumers "can now find a coverage plan for $100 or less per month after tax credits."
But here are a few inconvenient truths about Obamacare that Rep. Schultz neglected to mention:
Deductibles, co-payments and drug payments under the average Obamacare "silver" plan - the most popular - are $3,453, according to a CNNMoney analysis, compared with $1,217 under employer-provided health insurance.
Taxpayer subsidies may defray the cost for some of the 16 million Americans who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. However, Jackson Hewitt, the nation's second-largest tax preparation service, said that more than half its clients who received such subsidies will have to pay back all or some of the money.
That's why most Americans are in no mood this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the president's namesake law. And we can't say we blame them.
Boston Herald on President Obama withdrawing US troops:
President Obama has found in newly-elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a leader who seems to inspire trust, and who actually values the support of American troops as he works to improve his nation's security picture. And so Obama has decided, well, perhaps he isn't so wedded to his rigid timetable for troop withdrawal after all.
At the White House yesterday the president announced plans to slow the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, leaving a force that now numbers 9,800 until the end of this year.
His earlier plan, devised when the ever-erratic Hamid Karzai was still in charge, called for shrinking the U.S. presence to half that number by the end of 2015, and for a complete pullout by the end of 2016.
Obama does indeed still plan to vamoose from Afghanistan altogether by the time he leaves office; he made that clear in yesterday's joint appearance with a rather gracious Ghani.
But extending the deadline for withdrawal — difficult as it is personally for those service members who were ticketed for a trip home — is an acknowledgment of the dangerous reality on the ground. Afghanistan's security forces have improved, but are not yet fully capable of fending off the Taliban or of rendering Afghanistan off-limits to terror groups that would use it to wage a proxy terror war. A nearly-complete withdrawal based on an outdated timetable risks the possibility that the U.S. would eventually be forced to return in a combat role.
Ghani assured Obama that the U.S. "flexibility" on troop levels would be used to accelerate reforms, to ensure Afghan security forces can stand on their own. That is in the mutual interest of both countries.
The Telegraph, London, on David Cameron committing himself to Nato's target:
Last week's Budget displayed the fruits of the Government's fiscal conservatism: the private sector is growing, employment is at an all-time high and the recovery is strong. Now will come a debate about spending priorities. A significant body of opinion argues that defence should be a major area of interest for the next government. The world, after all, is highly unstable. The last few days have seen a horrific attack on a museum in Tunisia - a symbolic assault upon the cultural centre of a fragile democracy. Islamic State wreaks havoc in the Arab world. And Russia continues to gobble up parts of Ukraine.
The lesson of previous conflicts is not that a country can spend less by preparing for the variety of limited warfare that it would feel most comfortable fighting, but that it has to be prepared for anything and everything. Britain could not have predicted the Argentine invasion of the Falklands or Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. It has, however, made certain security commitments in the 21st century, and some Conservatives MPs argue that this means sticking to the Nato ambition of spending at least two per cent of the GDP on defence. Owen Paterson, a former Cabinet member and respected figure on the Tory Right, will make a robust case for better preparedness in a speech later this week. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has told this newspaper that he will fight hard to ensure that Britain makes an appropriate contribution to Western security. Fault lines for debate within the Conservative Party are obviously opening up.
Some will say that with the economy growing, a percentage target for UK spending on defence is unnecessary: two per cent in 2015 is worth more than it would have been in 2010. And some members of Nato not only fall well short of two per cent but actually short of one per cent. Nevertheless, the Western alliance has to honour its obligations and Britain's political leaders should make an unequivocal commitment to meeting the two per cent target. Shaving a little money off the appropriate spend on defence is a false economy. The price for upholding freedom is one worth paying.