Congress and the Law of the Seas
Julia Roberts: “Why is Congress always saying one thing and doing nothing?”
Tom Hanks: “Tradition, mostly.”
The scene from Charlie Wilson’s War taps into what most of the American public expects out of Congress for the rest of 2012: nothing. Few in DC or around the country expect Congress to get anything of substance accomplished before the presidential election in November. And, following the election, Congress will have a little over a month to finish a laundry list of to-dos: avoiding sequestration, debating the Bush Tax Cuts, avoiding a Social Security payroll tax hike, and extending a Medicare doctors fix.
Finishing the standard appropriations process and the items above would be a minor miracle in the eye of most congressional viewers. Addressing long-term issues like No Child Left Behind, immigration reform, and a comprehensive energy policy seem out of the question.
Congress has worked hard over the past year to solidify a reputation for short-term fixes and kicking-the-can down the road. But there is one big thing that even this Congress can do this year: ratify the treaty on the Law of the Seas.
Unlike taxes, health care, and gun control, this is not a partisan issue. The treaty was first submitted to Congress back in 1994 by President Clinton. And President Bush – twice – tried to get the Senate to approve it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on it in 2004 and 2007, and the treaty passed by a combined vote of 36 to 4.
What happened next? Nothing. Even with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, the treaty stalled both times. It shouldn’t have then and it shouldn’t now. There are two key constituencies supporting the treaty that we would be wise to listen to:
- The business community. Industry wants the treaty ratified for two reasons, it will provide certainty and predictability to business owners and it provides a legal basis for claims to natural resources on the ocean floor.
- The U.S. military. More specifically, the U.S. Navy. Every living Chief Naval Officer supports ratification of the treaty because the treaty is important for counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations. It also helps the Navy slow the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
So while American voters worry about the American economy lacking enough jobs and financial security and a world growing smaller and more dangerous, the United States Senate has an opportunity to make America safer and help American businesses by voting for a treaty that has bipartisan support, all in one-fell-swoop.
Will they do it? Maybe. It doesn’t sound as if they’re too busy doing something else.
Matt Rhoades is the Director of Legislative Affairs at the Truman National Security Project.