Congress Needs a Global Competition Caucus
Today’s legislative stovepipes are hobbling America’s ability to compete with China.
If the United States expects to continue to thrive as a global leader, economically and otherwise, committees in Congress must find a way to work better across their strict jurisdictional stovepipes to invigorate a societal-level understanding and approach to great power competition.
Our era—the Information Age—is dominated by unprecedented global interconnectedness and economic interdependence. A single person can speak to millions of others via social media. A small ripple in one nation’s markets can produce a tsunami elsewhere. And state actors have developed cost-effective means of political and economic manipulation and coercion. America’s institutions are starting to grapple with these new dynamics in global competition, but the response is far from synchronized.
The last time the United States competed effectively at a societal level, the stakes and players were different. We did not depend on the Soviet Union economically during the Cold War, nor Germany or Japan during World War II, competitions in which the confluence of American-style democracy and free enterprise proved sufficient. But today, we are tightly bound, in a globalized economy, to China, whose government has methodically mobilized its levers of national power to gain advantage. Ensuring our future security and economic vibrancy will require careful coordination of the public square and private enterprise.
The key is Congress, which alone possesses the power to make law and move money. Yet its archaic organization and institutional processes lack a way to harmonize a societal-level approach to competition. Its jurisdictional parsing of policy complicates its ability to unleash the coordinated best of our free markets and open society.
Various Congressional committees and groups are developing pertinent pieces of the puzzle. Recent recommendations made by the House Armed Service Committee’s Future of Defense Task Force provide plausible bipartisan opportunities to address societal-level challenges of great power competition. As do the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Endless Frontier Act (recently broadened to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act) and the bipartisan MADE in the Americas Act referred to several House committees. Yet these and others are disconnected from any concerted strategic approach. There is no joint select committee on great power competition, no internal forum or framework to assess, prioritize, and coordinate on policy holistically, at a societal level, across instruments of national power.
A “competition roundtable” could fill that void. This would be a forum of chairs and ranking members (or staff directors) of key committees from the House and Senate. Leaders of the intelligence committees need the opportunity to scheme with those overseeing financial services, commerce, science, energy, homeland security, the armed services, and others that guide the levers of national power that underwrite our competitive advantage. Together, they would work to grease policy and political skids toward societal-level approaches to competition while preserving democratic process, values, and adherence to free-market principles.
This kind of collaborative body might face opposition from the constituencies (and members) who gain most from legislative stovepipes: those who pit issues against each another for political points or nuanced policy wins. Others may view it as a threat to their power base. But those with true policy and political acumen will recognize the body’s greater value. The potential to wheel, deal, and “win” on critical societal-level issues (with a rider or two, perhaps) that enjoy broad support across the political spectrum is arguably more enticing and consequential for rank-and-file members just trying to do their best to represent the American people.
Ultimately, our core institutions, starting with Congress, must re-learn the nature of great power competition and adapt to deal with it. They must be adjusted for the 21st century, especially if we are to maintain a friendly competitive advantage in the face of credible rising threats. A competition roundtable in Congress is a meaningful, tangible way to start.
Tim Welter is a senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and holds a doctorate in political science. He has served in the U.S. Air Force, on Capitol Hill, and in the Pentagon. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the official stance of the U.S. Department of Defense or the Potomac Institute.
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