Healthcare and Foreign Affairs
Due to its arcane rules, the Senate faces a September 30 deadline for voting on a plan to replace Obamacare that requires a simple majority, not a 60-vote supermajority, for its passage. Current efforts center on the plan put forward chiefly by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
The House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare months ago, and it was frustrating to see the summer slip by with no movement on this issue by the Senate. If it manages to act by the end of the month, the House will have no options beside yes or no on the Graham-Cassidy plan. This makes it impossible for us to follow normal process and have a conference committee on the differences between the two houses. This is not a good way to legislate.
Challenges Around the Globe
The 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York in September. Among the world leaders who addressed the meeting was President Trump, who gave an important speech outlining how his “America First” policies would guide U.S. relations with other nations.
While much attention was paid to the leaders who participated in the General Assembly, some who weren’t there were instead engaged in activities of deep importance to the United States and its allies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the General Assembly. Instead, he attended a large-scale military exercise in the western part of his country and in Belarus. The exercise likely involved more troops than Russia publicly claimed, and they practiced with state-of-the-art equipment.
The exercises rightly unnerved Russia’s neighbors along its western border, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, which have long been targets of Russian power and suffered under decades of Soviet domination.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also was not present at the United Nations, as his country’s Communist Party Congress nears. Under his tenure, China has widened its reach around the globe, both economically and militarily.
In the South China Sea, through which an estimated one-third of global shipping travels, China’s expansive territorial claims put it at odds with several other countries, including the United States. With attention focused on other hot spots, China has asserted itself more in this region. Previously, it had built islands on reefs in dispute for military airbases. This year, China has bullied other countries to stop them from engaging in commercial activities such as drilling, in particular Vietnam. This past summer, it reportedly threatened to attack Vietnamese military bases if that country didn’t stop a gas-drilling project. Vietnam complied and ordered the project to stop.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un didn’t appear at the U.N., in keeping with his regime’s rogue character. Despite its isolation, his country poses a growing danger to the United States and allies in the Pacific. North Korea continues testing nuclear devices and missile systems that could deliver nuclear payloads. A nuclear-armed North Korea destabilizes the Korean Peninsula and alters the balance of power in Asia. It could strike the United States and allies such as South Korea and Japan or sell its weaponry to other rogue regimes or terrorist groups.
To increase pressure on North Korea, President Trump issued an executive order on September 21 imposing new sanctions on the country’s trade and financial sectors. By undercutting North Korea’s economy, it may have difficulty funding its nuclear program and have to come to the bargaining table, but China will have to truly participate in the sanctions for this to happen.
The activities described above each challenge the security and prosperity of the United States, although in different ways. North Korea is an avowed enemy of the United States, and the recent developments in its nuclear program are the latest in a series of provocations. The Trump Administration recognizes the gravity of this threat. Other countries need to as well. Trying to “be sweet” and placate the North Koreans hasn’t had a positive effect, so President Trump is right to take a tougher stance.
As for Russia, its military drill along the western border offers an uncomfortable reminder of its Soviet and imperial past. It should be discouraged from acting on any dreams to restore its empire. China, in contrast, is a rising power, but its rise should not be aided by bullying tactics in an area that has great importance to our economy and the economy of the rest of the world.
U.S. diplomats have a lot of work to do, but a lot is at stake.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.