The greatest challenge of our generation

By U.S. Sen. Angus King

    Serving as Maine’s new United States Senator has thus far been a truly remarkable experience — one I continue to learn and grow from each day. I feel blessed that the people of Maine have entrusted me with this immense responsibility and I’m inspired by the opportunities it presents. There can be no denying that we are at a precipice in our nation’s history — a moment in which the problems confronting us are arguably the greatest of our generation. However, we cannot be daunted by the magnitude of these challenges. We must seize this opportunity to be agents of change.

    Recently, I sat among my fellow members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to consider John Brennan’s nomination to become the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. While I did not agree with his answers on every question, his ability to be forthright and honest in his responses sat well with me. For example, he was asked by a committee member if he had changed his mind on whether torture techniques worked against terrorists. Brennan recalled that several years ago he had answered yes to this question, but following the information gathering that had been done by the committee on the issue, he no longer could be so sure. Rather, he responded, “I don’t know.” In my view, this was an honest answer and demonstrated an ability to not only step back from the heat of the moment, but also to be ready to change his mind when confronted with new information.

    During the hearing, the issue of unmanned drones was raised several times, particularly with respect to whether they should be used against U.S. citizens in foreign lands who are part of terrorist activities or engaged with terrorist networks. My primary concern is that, currently, the chief executive — the President — is the sole decider in using deadly military force against U.S. citizens. Under these circumstances, I have proposed that we use the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA) to create a court check on the President’s decisions when it comes to targeting our citizens. Regardless of whom the chief executive is – a second set of eyes on the issue of taking military action against an American citizen abroad is a responsible approach. As I understand it, drone strikes do not happen within a matter of minutes or hours, but are delegated to longer time frames. That lapse should allow enough time to produce the evidence before a FISA court.

    In the coming weeks, we will be discussing the automatic budget cuts – known as the sequester – which are scheduled to go into effect on March 1st and the implications those cuts will have if nothing is done. In the broadest of terms, it would reduce budgets by ten percent in the non-discretionary spending area, which is what most people think of when they think of the federal government. Additionally, they would have a major impact on countless other programs — from Head Start and veterans’ services to all aspects of our national security budget. As applied to Maine, for example, jobs at Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are at risk — and the ripple effects would spread throughout the Maine economy.

    We undoubtedly need to cut spending, including indirect spending through the tax code, but sequestration is not the way to do it. Across the board cuts are not a smart approach and our country and its people deserve better. We need to roll up our sleeves and make intelligent choices – after all that’s what you sent us here to do.

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