As Congress heads out of Washington for a month of getting back in touch with their constituents and “educational” travel, the list of unresolved issues is (as always) extremely long. How much of these issues Congress will manage to handle in September and October (and maybe November and December) is anybody’s guess. (Mine is not many). Some of these issues are more significant and may become part of the upcoming Republican Debates. I would like to focus on two: the Highway Bill and Iran.
Back in April, I did a post on the Iran Negotiations. Most of what I said then is even more true now that there is a deal. Iran has a right under international law to have a civilian nuclear power program. From the international communities perspective, the issue is what procedures need to be in place to guarantee that Iran does not use their civilian program to develop nuclear weapons. Previously, the U.S. was able to convince the rest of the world that Iran was not willing to give such assurances and the rest of the leading nations went along with the U.S. in imposing sanctions. The rest of the world (with the exception of those nations most at risk) view the current agreement as adequate. (For obvious reasons, the nations most at risk view any lifting as sanctions as bad because — even if Iran does not pursue nuclear weapons — the lifting of sanctions will allow Iran to devote more resources to other portions of their military.) If the U.S. decides to kill the deal, it is unclear what would happen next. How much of the agreement will the rest of the world insist that Iran comply with in exchange for lifting the sanctions if the U.S. is not part of the regime for enforcing the agreement.
At the Republican debate, it is unlikely that we will get any serious discussion of how the rest of the world would react if we walk away from the deal (or even the fact that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear power industry). Instead, the entire field (with the possible exception of Rand Paul) will say that the deal is not good enough, Some of them may imply that no deal would be good enough. Others will simply say the deal is bad without suggesting any additional terms that would satisfy them. None of them will acknowledge the role of the rest of the world in keeping Iran in check and that this agreement is a multilateral agreement.
The other lingering issue is the Highway Bill. For over six years, Congress has been unable to come up with a long-term reauthorization of highway spending. These bills are never easy. Every state wants a bigger share of the limited pie and members like earmarking some of the spending for specific projects. The continued practice of extending funding for three months or six months, however, prevents the states from planning ahead as they do not know how much federal money they will have to match state and local funds for construction and repair processes. For over sixty years, building and maintaining the nation’s transportation system has been viewed as a joint federal-state responsibility.
It would be nice if this issue was raised at the debate to force the Republicans to speak out about highway funding and their wishes for a highway bill. During the last four or five years, the Republican have tended to speak generally about infrastructure spending as if it was a bad thing. States, meanwhile, are dealing with an aging road system and bridges that either need major repairs or replacement to avoid catastrophe. You have four current Senators and eight present or former Governors running on the Republican side. If they were forced to discuss this issue, it would be enlightening and might crystalize the issue in a way that pressured Congress to finally resolve this issue — as well as separating the moderate conservatives who see a role for government from those who want to slash government spending for the purpose of slashing government spending. Of course, the current Republican Party and Fox News do not want to have that type of discussion; so it might have to wait for the CNN debate.