Rep. DesJarlais: Real Nation Building Should Start Here At Home

Friday, March 28, 2014 - by Rep. Scott DesJarlais

During my time as a congressman, one thing I have learned is that the devil is always in the details. Legislation with the grandest of intentions can lead to the most pernicious of outcomes. From federal efforts to fix our health insurance system that led us to Obamacare to state efforts to escape from No Child Left Behind that stuck Tennessee with Common Core, we should remain cautiously skeptical of even the sincerest of efforts that would cloak their details under the shadow of empathy and urgency. 

What is even worse, though, is an impromptu approach to set of details that conflates mere action with sound strategy. 

This could never have been clearer last year when I introduced a bill to prohibit President Obama from arming the Syrian rebels, many of whom would surely take up those arms against us subsequently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where militant Islamists and their terrorist allies seek to challenge democracy, human rights and rule of law. Later I voted against the President’s request to arm these rebels. 

That is why this week I was one of 19 representatives of the 435 in the U.S. House to vote against allowing President Obama to send tens of millions of dollars of aid to Ukraine. Earlier this month, I was one of 23 to vote against giving him the authority to loan Ukraine one billion taxpayer dollars. 

Let me be clear: I stand against President Putin’s meddling in Crimea and support efforts to punish Russia for its intransigence and its disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty. 

However, recently I met with veterans who are wondering why our men and women in uniform struggle to make ends meet and get squeezed by budgetary concerns in Congress.  I cannot in good conscience vote to support these types of assistance packages without some assurances that the aid rendered, whether through loan guarantees or direct aid, will be appropriately spent to secure our nation’s strategic interests. 

Economic aid involving the outlay of American taxpayer dollars, must be offered in ways that ensure that money will be paid back in full.  Past international efforts with a number of Ukrainian governments included promises of economic reforms such as allowing the local currency to float and the privatization of their natural gas operations.  Neither has occurred and has precipitated Ukraine’s perilous financial position.  I think it is reasonable to demand real movement on these issues before placing American capital aid in a risky investment that could eventually end up in the hands of corrupt officials and never paid back. 

That said, the United States should stand strong with its European allies in bringing pressure to bear on Russia. Removing Russia from the G8 and sanctioning Putin’s inner circle were positive first steps in sending a strong message of unity. However, you and I both know the old saying, “money talks.” 

Russia possesses an economic stranglehold on Ukraine by way of its own immense natural gas reserves and Ukraine’s energy needs. But with its nascent shale boon, the United States can play an important and effective role in loosening Russia’s grip. Right now, exporting natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. to most countries requires significant and arduous regulatory approval from the federal government. President Obama currently has 24 pending applications sitting on his desk, some for more than two years. If we were to loosen these restrictions, not only could we ease Ukraine’s reliance on Russia, but we could also boost our own economy and create good paying jobs here at home. 

Rather than giving blank checks to this President, Congress should work with the White House to bring more U.S. natural gas to market. By allowing the free market to ease Putin’s stranglehold on Ukraine, we could hit Putin and his oligarch friends in their pocket books, stand for democracy and human rights, and at the same time, support our own energy market and provide good paying jobs here at home. That is the kind of nation building I can get behind.

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