MY VIEW: Bill Frenzel September 2013

The President's decision to ask for a congressional resolution authorizing military force in Syria has added to an already busy congressional schedule in September. In a Forbes op-ed, CRFB board member and former Representative Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) describes the current legislative climate surrounding Syria as "one of the worst of the bad old days." Frenzel points out that in earlier Congresses, members had to make tough decisions on problems with no apparent good choices or outcomes. The question of whether to intervene in Syria is contentious, as Democrats and Republicans both face competing political pressures.

Frenzel describes how President Obama put Congress in this tough place by asking for their approval; he did not seek similar approval before intervening in Libya. Now, both parties are faced with a tough decision that provides no political payoff.

Republicans, like the House leadership, may not trust the President, but they dare not leave the Republic swinging in the wind (the McCain argument). Democrats, whose normal nature is peaceful, may, with deep regret, feel obliged to support their President. Both sides would rather let him take responsibility, and some members may resent having this unhappy decision thrust upon them.

Much more important than the actual vote, Frenzel argues, is the political capital that Obama is using up in this fight - capital that should be used to address pressing long-term concerns. We discussed last week the potential budgetary implications of intervention in Syria, including the tightening of fiscal space that could occur with wider involvement. While Congress is discussing Syria, underlying issues with the budget, deficits, and the national debt are going unaddressed. Frenzel worries that domestic concerns will be pushed by the wayside as the government's focus continues to be on the question of intervention.

Worse, the decision comes at a time when Congressional energies ought to be focused on the FY14 CR, the sequester repair, and the Debt Ceiling extension. Congress is already a polarized battleground. Syria, because it is different, may relieve tensions. More likely, it will crank up animosities and resentments between parties, branches and houses. Surely, it will burn valuable negotiating time.

Syria is an important foreign policy/national security issue. But it’s a mouse compared to the elephantine domestic fiscal problem. It now seems probable that the Syria vote may delay and confuse settlement of the budget question, and exacerbate existing budget tensions.

Read the full post here.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.