Economists struggle to agree on much of anything, but one thing they all seem to agree on is the benefit of trade. The expansion of free trade between 1950 and 2016 increased the size of the U.S. economy by $2.1 trillion, which is equivalent to an $18,000 increase in the income of every American household each year.

Yet if you listen to President Donald Trump or leading Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, you might assume trade is a loser for America. This simply isn’t true. Free trade’s benefits far outweigh its costs. The challenge is to ensure its benefits are more evenly distributed.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the campaign trail rhetoric, a record 64% of Americans support free trade according to a recent Gallup poll. But the benefits and downsides of trade are not shared equally, and many communities that have been harmed are in the industrial swing states likely to decide the outcome of the 2020 election.

The next president needs to embrace trade, but with a more comprehensive plan that ensures benefits are shared broadly and equitably across America. Some ideas to help us get there include:

Click here to read the full paper – Making Trade Work For All: An Economic Agenda for the 21st Century

In the wake of America’s lethal strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the debate over presidential war powers is once again front and center. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, largely along party lines, to curb President Trump’s authority to order military strikes on Iran. 

Below, The New Center offers a primer on the legal underpinnings of the executive’s use of military force.

The War Powers Act

The War Powers Act of 1973 is a federal law intended to check the U.S. president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of  Congress. The law states that the president can send U.S. Armed Forces into action abroad only by declaration of war by Congress, “statutory authorization,” or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

The War Powers Act requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without congressional authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) or a declaration of war by the United States. 

A major issue with the War Powers Act is its vague definition of war or conflict, which is characterized as “the introduction of U.S. Armed Forces” in the legislation. This definition requires that “there exists an imminent threat that such [U.S. armed] forces will become engaged, in hostilities.” This vague definition has allowed for a loose interpretation of the law when it comes to the deployment of drone strikes, strategic bombing, and other uses of military force that do not immediately risk further hostile engagement between U.S. troops and foreign military forces.

Historical Background

U.S. military forces had been involved in intense conflict in both the Korean and Vietnam wars without there being an official declaration of war. During this time, members of Congress became concerned with the erosion of congressional authority to decide when the United States should become involved in a war. The War Powers Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but no armed conflict since World War II has received a formal declaration of war. Congress was eventually spurred to action when President Nixon was found to have conducted secret bombings of Cambodia during the Vietnam War without notifying Congress.

The War Powers Act was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate but was then vetoed by President Richard Nixon. By a two-thirds vote in each chamber, Congress overrode the veto and enacted the joint resolution into law on November 7, 1973.

President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush would later begrudgingly recognize the congressional authority provided by the War Powers Act, despite their shared belief that the president should hold complete authority over the use of armed forces. President Reagan reached a compromise resolution with Congress for the continued deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon for an additional 18 months during the Lebanese Civil War in 1983. President George H.W. Bush reached a compromise resolution with Congress in the leadup to the deployment of armed forces in the Gulf War in 1991. While President Reagan and President H.W. Bush respected the War Powers Act, the constitutionality of the law would be called into question by following presidential administrations.

Kosovo and Libya Case Study

In 1999, during Operation Noble Anvil, President Bill Clinton approved of a joint operation with NATO to conduct a bombing campaign in Kosovo. This bombing campaign continued for more than two weeks after the 60-day deadline had passed for authorization under the War Powers Resolution. Having obtained some funding for the bombing campaign from an emergency appropriations bill passed by Congress, the Clinton administration argued that they had implicit authorization to continue the bombing campaign. President Clinton’s actions in the bombing campaign of Kosovo were eventually challenged in D.C.’s District Court by members of Congress for violating the War Powers Act, but the court found that Congress lacked standing to sue the President and instead must rely on their legislative authority. Additionally, since air forces were withdrawn from the region 12 days prior to the 90-day required deadline, the Clinton administration was found to have complied with the War Powers Act. 

During Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Obama administration conducted military operations in Libya in 2011 past the 60-day statutory limit on unauthorized military actions. Similar to the bombing campaign in Kosovo, Obama administration made legal arguments justifying and authorizing  continued military operations in Libya without Congressional approval, stating that there was no “hostility” in Libya and that the military operations were limited in scope rather than targeting regime change. 

War Powers Act in Yemen and Iran

More recently, in an effort to invoke the War Powers Act to end U.S. support of the ongoing Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill in 2018 which was approved in both houses of Congress. (Approved in the Senate by a vote of 54 to 46 and in the House of Representatives by a vote of 247-175) However, President Trump vetoed the bill on April 16, 2019, and the Senate failed to reach a two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto.

On January 3, 2020, missiles shot from an American drone killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian Major General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian armed forces, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi military commander of the Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary group supported by Iran. President Trump met the 48-hour deadline to notify Congress of the drone strike, but the document is classified and no version has yet been released to the public. 

The Trump administration has argued that the drone strike was justified because it both thwarted an imminent attack and was carried out in accordance with the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001 AUMF), a resolution passed in 2001 that gave the President the authority to use military force against those determined to have planned, authorized, committed, or aided the 9/11 attacks. Since the IRGC was designated a terrorist organization by the Trump administration in 2019, and as argued by Vice President Mike Pence, Iran helped transport some of the al Qaeda hijackers responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Trump administration believes the 2001 AUMF justifies the strike. 

Democrats in the House of Representatives disagree, as evidenced by their vote to curb Trump’s war making powers this week. But the House resolution is not binding and is unlikely to pass in the Senate.

In the days since the strike on Solemani, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have also been pressing the Trump administration for more evidence that Soleimani was indeed planning “imminent” attacks.

Therefore, the debate over presidential war powers won’t be resolved anytime soon and could emerge as a key issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Last Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Facebook expects a $3-5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violations of a 2011 consent agreement that required Facebook to obtain consent from users before it shared their data with third parties. The FTC likely views the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a breach of the consent agreement.  Facebook also likely violated its consent agreement when it gave certain partner companies special access to user data without obtaining explicit consent, as detailed by another New York Times investigation last December.

This would represent the most significant punitive action the FTC has ever taken against a tech company.  It is an encouraging sign that the FTC is willing to hold huge companies like Facebook accountable for their business practices, something it’s been criticized for failing to do in the past.

But given the fact that Facebook had almost $56 billion in revenue in 2018 alone, a $5 billion fine for ethically questionable but highly lucrative data sharing arrangements could simply be viewed as the cost of doing business, rather than as an effective deterrent against such activity.

Fines also cannot address many of the structural challenges of regulating data privacy.  As of now, the U.S. lacks a concrete definition of what a data privacy violation even is.  Per FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, the FTC is allowed to regulate improper data security as an unfair business practice. However, the burden of proof for an unfair business practice is very high; if tech companies begin challenging and overturning FTC rulings in court, it could set a legal precedent that protects some of the questionable privacy practices we see now.  

Rather than relying on a case-by-case system of adjudication, the U.S. needs a national data privacy law that outlines specific rights that users have over their data and imposes firm requirements of transparency and accountability from companies that collect, share, and process user data.  Such a bill would not only facilitate the FTC’s regulatory efforts, but it would also simplify requirements for private companies by enacting one single standard to supplant the complicated, state-by-state legal landscape they currently operate in.

Evan Burke is a former policy analyst for The New Center, which aims to establish the intellectual basis for a viable political center in today’s America.

On March 11th, President Trump released his 2020 budget proposal. This first step in the budget process lays out the basic framework for government spending, which can then be adjusted or amended by Congress. However, as we explain below, President Trump’s budget proposal – like that of most recent presidents – is essentially a political document. It’s more of a wish list and framework for his 2020 campaign than it is a blueprint for how and where Washington will spend taxpayer dollars in the year ahead. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that the budget proposal was dead on arrival by saying, “The cruel and shortsighted cuts in President Trump’s budget request are a roadmap to a sicker, weaker America. House Democrats will reject this toxic, destructive budget request which would hollow out our national strength and fail to meet the needs of the American people.”  

Changes in funding that are unpopular among Democrats include: 

Here, the New Center outlines President Trump’s budget request and explains why it’s going nowhere—fast. 

THE TRUMP BUDGET 

President Trump’s 2020 budget broadly aims to “end wasteful spending” and “expand economic growth and opportunity.” The $4.75 trillion budget, the largest in federal history, simultaneously makes sharp cuts to domestic programs and relies on previous tax cuts to spur growth.  

The president’s budget request emphasizes ten pillars of reform that are consistent with his administration’s priorities since taking office: 

Preserving Peace Through Strength 

Building the Wall 

Rebuilding Infrastructure 

Supporting American Working Families 

Protecting Our Veterans 

Combatting Opioid Addiction 

Fighting High Medical Drug Prices 

Moving from Welfare to Work 

More Pathways to Affordable Education and Well-Paying Jobs 

Promoting School Choice 

THE BROKEN BUDGET PROCESS 

How is the federal government actually meant to create a budget?

  1. The president submits a budget request to Congress 
  2. The House and Senate pass budget resolutions that are supposed to set overall spending levels for different parts of the government 
  3. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees “markup” the appropriations bills that actually authorize the spending for various government agencies 
  4. The House and Senate vote on appropriations bills and reconcile differences 
  5. The president signs each appropriations bill and the budget becomes law 

This is how it is supposed to work. But it almost never does. 

1996 was the last time that Congress managed to complete all of its spending bills before the government’s new fiscal year started on October 1st. The budget process has become a vehicle for partisan gamesmanship where members of Congress can host their political disagreements. 

Although the president’s budget request is meant to inform the House and Senate budget resolutions, it does not have to. Presidential and congressional budget proposals have often conflicted in recent years. House Democrats may not even bother to issue a budget resolution in 2019. 

If the budget process is not completed before the end of the fiscal year – and it almost certainly won’t be – Congress may pass a continuing resolution so that agencies continue to receive funding until the full budget is in place.  A continuing resolution provides temporary funding for federal agencies until the new budgeting bills become law. These resolutions are short-term fixes that keep the government open, but allow Congress to punt on the larger budget debate until another day. Committees often draft continuing resolutions by slightly increasing a program or agency’s funding from the previous year.  

If Congress does not pass a budget or continuing resolution in time, a government shutdown ensues.

Zane Heflin is a policy analyst for The New Center, which aims to establish the intellectual basis for a viable political center in today’s America.