A dysfunctional Congress could potentially damage U.S. national security interests, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report released Monday, the latest in a slew of reports over the years complaining of legislative gridlock and its consequences.
"Congress's inability to tackle tough problems, both domestic and international, has serious national security consequences, in part because it leads the world to question U.S. global leadership," Kay King, the council's vice president of Washington initiatives who wrote the report, said in a statement accompanying its release. "When Congress fails to perform, national security suffers thanks to ill-considered policies, delayed or inadequate resources, and insufficient personnel," she said.
Referring to the current lame-duck session of Congress, the council's report said, "It remains to be seen whether the congressional dysfunction has spread to the defense [authorization] bill."
This year, partisan disagreements and conflict between the legislative and executive branches "threaten to derail enactment of the annual defense authorization bill" for the first time in more than 40 years, the report said.
Disputes over the bill's provision repealing the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military and the Obama administration's decision to cancel the F-35 alternate engine program have brought the fiscal 2011 authorization process to a halt, the report said. Congress recessed before the November elections without a clear plan to take up the bill in the lame-duck session, which potentially foreshadows more extreme Capitol Hill dysfunction to come.
Intelligence sharing-or lack thereof-has become another flashpoint of dysfunction as well, the report said. Intelligence committees have "struggled to keep pace with the growing demands for intelligence" ever since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it said.
While the agencies must also take steps to share more intelligence with lawmakers, Congress for its part should consider steps to increase its own expertise in the national security realm so that it can become a true partner to the executive branch in advancing U.S. objectives around the globe, the report said. "The proliferation and interconnection of global issues and the demands of a 24/7, wired world require greater, more nuanced expertise," the report said.
A reduction in numbers of committee and subcommittee assignments for House and Senate members would free up time for lawmakers to "better focus their attention and to develop greater depth of expertise on specific issues," the report recommended.