All posts by Michael Shindler

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Rand Paul’s Objection was Justified

Earlier this month, Senator John McCain spoke in support of a bill to advance Montenegro’s bid to join NATO. Sen. Rand Paul objected, exited the Senate chamber, and as the door closed behind him, Sen. McCain said to his colleagues, “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

On Tuesday, the bill came to a vote and every senator but Sen. Paul and Sen. Mike Lee voted in its favor. Even though Sen. Paul’s objection was fruitless, it was justified: allowing Montenegro into NATO is counter to American interests.  

Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation boasting a GDP of $3.97 billion and a population of 622,388, has doggedly pursued membership in NATO since it declared its independence in 2006. Over the last year, the possibility of Montenegro’s accession to NATO has grown increasingly likely, as its bid has received ratification by one member state after another. Now that the United States has lent its support, Montenegro needs only Spain’s approval to succeed. This bodes well for Montenegro, but Americans are liable to suffer.

Montenegro is neither strategically necessary to the prevention of existential threats to American security, nor is it likely to meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending benchmark set by NATO for member countries—it currently spends only 1.6 percent of its GDP ($63.52 million) on defense. Furthermore, Montenegrin accession to NATO could do substantial harm to U.S.-Russia relations.

If Montenegro joins NATO, the United States would be obligated under Article 5 of the NATO treaty to come to Montenegro’s aid if attacked. Since Montenegro is currently mired in an ongoing geopolitical feud with Russia — the latest antics of which include a failed coup orchestrated by Russian nationals —the Senate’s vote in favor of Montenegrin accession to NATO might have had the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood of a conflict between the U.S. and Russia.  

A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin told the BBC in 2015 that Montenegrin accession to NATO would result in “retaliatory actions.” The spokesperson, however, left the exact nature of these prospective actions to legislators’ imaginations.

It is entirely possible that talk of retaliation is nothing but a bluff intended to preserve Russia’s sphere of influence and reduce the potential consequences of increased Russian activity in Montenegrin affairs, yet the United States has no particularly compelling reasons to call Russia out on this bluff.

If Montenegro wins Spain’s support, Montenegro stands to gain access to American aid if Russian interest in Montenegrin affairs escalates, but America would have nothing to gain besides the likelihood of an even larger financial burden and the possibility of having to, one day, deploy American forces to protect the interests of a tiny, relatively new, country.

In that vein and in response to the remarks made by Sen. McCain after his exit, Sen. Paul jibed in an interview with MSNBC that Sen. McCain “makes a really strong case for term limits,” before adding in a more somber tone, “there is a bipartisan consensus that’s incorrect that we should have the whole world be in NATO. For example, if we had Ukraine and Georgia in NATO—and this is something McCain and the other neocons have advocated for—we would be at war now.”

Sen. Paul is right; tensions between the United States and Russia are higher now than they have ever been since the height of the Cold War and the Senate should be working to reduce these tensions and lay the groundwork for a relationship based on mutual interests instead of gambling with America’s national security.

Michael Shindler is an Advocate with Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Don’t Let Defense Wreck the Budget

Now that President Donald Trump is in office, the temptation to pass legislation to either raise or remove the spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) is enormous, and Senator John McCain recently released a proposal that would do just that.

McCain’s proposal comes in response to claims that the American military has been neutered by the Obama administration’s inattention to proper funding. These claims have been a central part of the narrative employed not only by Trump during his campaign but also by rank-and-file legislators eager to demonstrate their commitment to a renewal of American strength and vitality.

The premise that underlies this crusade is deeply flawed. American military spending is already sizeable, and though the military’s footprint has declined, it remains strong. Repealing the BCA would unnecessarily boost military spending while leaving less funding available for other increasingly costly areas of the budget like healthcare, education, and infrastructure spending.

In 2011, a deeply divided Congress, in an effort to produce a legislative mechanism so grim that both parties would have no choice but to engage in bipartisan deficit reduction, passed the BCA. The bill was designed to trim a projected $984 billion from the budget over the next decade.

Continue reading at RealClearDefense.

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Don’t Let Defense Wreck the Budget

Now that President Donald Trump is in office, the temptation to pass legislation to either raise or remove the spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) is enormous, and Senator John McCain recently released a proposal that would do just that.

McCain’s proposal comes in response to claims that the American military has been neutered by the Obama administration’s inattention to proper funding. These claims have been a central part of the narrative employed not only by Trump during his campaign but also by rank-and-file legislators eager to demonstrate their commitment to a renewal of American strength and vitality.

The premise that underlies this crusade is deeply flawed. American military spending is already sizeable, and though the military’s footprint has declined, it remains strong. Repealing the BCA would unnecessarily boost military spending while leaving less funding available for other increasingly costly areas of the budget like healthcare, education, and infrastructure spending.

In 2011, a deeply divided Congress, in an effort to produce a legislative mechanism so grim that both parties would have no choice but to engage in bipartisan deficit reduction, passed the BCA. The bill was designed to trim a projected $984 billion from the budget over the next decade.

Read the rest at RealClearDefense…

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Trump should rein in the Export-Import Bank

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump promised to revolutionize trade policy for the benefit of American workers and industry. He should begin by stopping the Export-Import Bank from purveying corporate welfare.

Ex-Im is a federal agency established to help American exporters by providing taxpayer-backed financing to governments and businesses in developing foreign markets without access to the necessary means to buy American products. In its youth, Ex-Im did just that and bolstered exports in the interwar period to Cuba, Haiti and Burma. Over the last 50 years, though, it has ventured far from its original purpose and has become a vehicle for ruinous market distortion.

According to the Mercatus Center, some of the largest beneficiaries of Ex-Im financing are companies like Boeing, Bechtel Power, General Electric and Caterpillar — all multinational conglomerates that could conceivably get financing directly from private lenders.

Continue reading at Washington Examiner.

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Could Social Security Still Survive? New Bill Attempts Reform Without Raising Taxes

Since January 1937, Americans have dutifully paid into Social Security trusting that its benefits will be there for them when they retire. Yet, that faith now seems unfounded with Social Security hemorrhaging cash. According to the latest report by Social Security’s Trustees, the program’s combined trust funds will be unable to deliver full benefits in 2034, forcing future beneficiaries to suffer a 21 percent benefit cut. In order for the program to survive, comprehensive reform is necessary.

Earlier this month, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) introduced the Social Security Reform Act of 2016, a bill that aims to prevent the forecasted cuts by implementing a wide series of structural reforms to the program. According to the Social Security Administration’s Chief Actuary Stephen Goss, if the reforms outlined in the bill are implemented, “the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds would be fully solvent…throughout the 75-year projection period.”

There are no new ideas in this bill, nor does it aim to radically change the structure of Social Security. Rather, it’s a plan which would not involve raising taxes. In general terms, the plan outlined in the bill would affect Social Security in two ways: the mechanics of Social Security would be updated to account for modern economic conditions, and the program would further redirect funds towards poorer beneficiaries.

Continue reading at Townhall.