The 2011 Congressional Agenda

The year 2011 is noteworthy since it will be the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  It is also a year when the Republicans will gain control of the House and have a strong say in the Senate.  American Thinker interviewed some influential congressmen and former CIA officials to gain insight on what can be expected in 2011.

Mike Rogers (R-MI), the newly appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wants to challenge and review the status quo presented by the Obama administration by asking the hard questions through public and closed-door hearings.  He is going to make sure that this administration talks "about the issues.  There has been no oversight of this administration over the last two years."

One of the important issues that must be addressed is whether the terrorists should be dealt with through law enforcement or from an intelligence-based approach.  Rogers, who was a former FBI agent and served on the Intelligence Committee since 2003, felt that "telling terrorists who are not American citizens they have the right to remain silent is not the way to gain information.  We should have never taken the way we collect information off the table."  

Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, concurs, and he believes that interrogating terrorists should be about "the prevention of the next attack.  We are not doing this for the purpose of prosecution, but are doing it for the purpose of gaining information.  If we place intelligence in a law enforcement model, it will feel like September tenth, an attitude we adopt at our own peril."

American Thinker asked Rogers if he thought that there was a differentiation between the Department of Defense and the CIA's assessment of the Afghanistan policy, a review released earlier in December.  According to Rogers, "the intelligence community sees the bigger policy is not working because the political, military, and intelligence missions are not aligned under this administration."  A former CIA official explained that there will always be discrepancies since the DOD assessments are always more optimistic, while an intelligence analyst has to look for the bad news -- "someone who, when they smell roses, immediately looks for the coffin.  It's a healthy trait when not carried to extremes."  Everyone agreed that the situation is fragile but has improved.  The strategy of mingling with and protecting the population should be combined with conducting counter-terrorism raids that kill or capture Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders.

Is the Predator program successful?  Although those interviewed neither confirmed nor denied the Predator operation's efficacy, they did point out that in the last few years, very few important terrorists have been captured.  Speaking in general terms, Rogers commented that "there appears to be a sharp reduction in the information gathered through interrogating the subjects.  There is a need to do everything, disrupting the networks and training as well as debriefing terrorists.  I plan on making sure there will be an honest dialogue with this administration about these issues."  One must hope that the administration will be convinced to combine the use of tactical weapons that disrupt the terrorists and keep them off-balance, with the capture of some to gain information.

Another issue is the Democrats' policy of trying to sneak through an illegal immigration amnesty program.  The DREAM Act is a controversial bill that would allow illegal immigrants to become citizens if they enroll in a higher education program or serve in the U.S. military.  Because there were not enough votes to pass it, the bill was tabled.  Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-CA), the chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, labeled the DREAM Act a reward that should never have been considered since "it sends a mixed message to those who come here illegally and those who employ them.  The employers' and politicians' actions and discussions are causing people to risk their lives every day.  An environment is created where people who attempt to enter the country illegally are being slaughtered, mutilated, and beheaded by cartels."

Bilbray would like the 2011 Congress to pass an E-Verify bill which will make it easier for the employers to determine who is illegal and who is legal.  The bill would require that every company and every governmental agency use E-Verify.  Since it is an internet-based system, the time lag would be eliminated.  An employer using information reported on an applicant's form could determine the eligibility of that employee to work in the United States.  Bilbray also feels that this bill would actually help the working class in the United States by preventing more people from coming into this country illegally to drive down wages in the job market.

This bill is a litmus test for Democrats as well as Republicans in which Bilbray wants his fellow congressmen to show that they are "serious about stopping illegal immigration instead of playing the political game.  They can't continue to say, 'I want to get tough on the border, but don't want to force employers to get tough on who they hire.'  This is one issue everyone can agree on regardless of what perspective you are on regarding the illegal immigration issue.  When both Massachusetts and Arizona agree on E-Verify, it is a huge leap."

Bilbray would also like to see the oversight committee investigate the University of California's application process, which openly accommodates those in the country illegally.  In 2010, the California Supreme Court upheld a law that allows some illegal immigrants to pay lower, in-state tuition, preserving the benefit for thousands of students.  What this means is that there are numerous illegal immigrants accepted into California universities, taking spots away from legal California residents.  Bilbray is appalled that those applicants without a social security number are told to place "000-00-0000" on their application.  He described to American Thinker his personal experience of "having to show a tax return and a private document to prove my residency because my children went to a high school out of state.  If you are undocumented, you only have to show a utility bill.  There is a higher standard of evidence for those in the country legally.  The oversight committee needs to look into the lack of equal enforcement and equal protection against U.S. citizens."

Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the Armed Services Caucus, also sees the illegal immigration issue as a top priority for the 2011 Congress.  He wants to implement stricter border security measures that would include physical barriers, technology sensors, and more border agents to prevent drugs, gang members, and terrorists from coming into this country illegally. 

Besides illegal immigration, Hunter expects the new Congress to focus on all the threats facing America, whether related to terrorism or to conventional warfare; "the Armed Services Committee will essentially turn into a war committee."  What should be done with defense spending, given the goal of reducing the debt?  Hunter cited the statistic that today, the defense spending is lower than what President Kennedy and President Reagan spent during their administrations.  For Hunter, the problem is that "there are real threats out there, and to combat them becomes very expensive.  We are going to do some serious analysis of the Department of Defense budget from scratch.  What are the threats facing America, and what do we need in order to confront those threats?  There is the conventional threat and the terrorism threat.  The problem is you have to prepare for both of them.  It's short-sighted of anybody who would say they know what warfare would be in the next fifty years."  An example Hunter gave was the drastic reduction in the number of Navy ships.  The Blue Panel recommendation was for a minimum of 330 ships, but currently, there are approximately 280.

Hunter wants to make sure that American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have what they need in a timely fashion, including a timetable that is not arbitrary, hard and fast, or public.  American troops should leave Afghanistan when the Afghans are ready to take over the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.  Hunter strongly believes that America's enemies should not be alerted to "what the timetable is because they can just wait us out.  As a congressman, I don't need to know, because I don't make military policy."

Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) has the same sentiment about national security in that "protecting our country is more important than political parties."  He cites the closing of Guantánamo Bay and granting foreign terrorists the same rights as American citizens as major issues for the 2011 Congress.  Rooney intends to reintroduce the "Detainee Trials at Gitmo Act."  This bill, similar to the Senate Bill, would prevent the terrorists from being transferred to America's homeland and would require that they be tried by military commissions in the courtroom at Guantánamo Bay.  Because Gitmo has a state-of-the-art courtroom facility, Rooney argues that "it makes no sense for us to spend additional millions to try terrorists in civilian courts in the U.S. when we already have the facility and process to do this at Guantánamo.  Military commissions have been used from the early years of our nation, so what has changed about this process that now makes it unacceptable?"  With a Republican majority in the 2011 Congress, Rooney is hopeful that the bill will move forward and be passed.

Over the last two years, President Obama seems to have been more concerned with catering to his liberal base than with focusing on immigration, defense, and national security issues that will keep America safe.  Hopefully, the new Republican majority will fulfill their pledge to protect, defend, and secure America.  If Representatives Bilbray, Hunter, Rogers, and Rooney are any indication of the new congressional leadership, then the American people can be reassured.