Tag Archives: United States Congress

Opinion: (Everyone Should) Focus on 2014, not 2016

23 Jan

I have usually thought of Congress as the most powerful branch, but most agree that title belongs to the Executive.  (Also, the Legislative Branch is explained in Article I while the Executive is in Article II.)  I always liked the fact that the aggregation, combination, and/or chaos of the House and the Senate is a good indicator of where the American people, for better or worse.  Unfortunately, our electoral system usually biases/skews that representation due to redistricting, state size, or other factors.  As it stands now, the Republican wave within the state houses and the governors’ mansions allowed them to unilaterally create districts to maximize the amount of Republicans for the upcoming decade, all else equal.  (Look at USC’s Annenberg Center’s ReDistricting Game to get a fuller understanding of that particular process.)  Of course Democrats did the same, but they really only had one state to make that difference in Illinois (Chicago Tribune).  With the 2014 elections coming, no serious political analyst sees Democrats making a gain, especially in the midterm of the 2nd term of a President as evidenced in the below (President Clinton’s 2nd term was an exception to the rule).

Midterm Madness: As a general rule, the president's party does poorly in midterm elections. Especially the second midterm of a two-term administration.

Midterm Madness: As a general rule, the president’s party does poorly in midterm elections. Especially the second midterm of a two-term administration.

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Is it really an accomplishment?

8 Jun
U.S. Congressman Dingell

U.S. Congressman Dingell

I know that there has been a lot of news about Rep. John Dingell’s (D-MI) distinction as the longest-serving congressman in the history of the United States.  However, I would counter that it is just a number.  He said it best himself: Continue reading

Leadership Changes

16 Nov

With the election (basically) done, it’s really interesting how party label does not always determine which party the leader will be.  The New York Senate‘s leadership is always unknown, as written by the article by Tim Storey (The Thicket | “Leadership Intrigue”).  There always seem to be some rogue Democrats threatening (and actually) caucusing with the Republicans, but it seems that there might be a 3rd caucus.  (Wow, so much drama.) I don’t know if they’re standing up for their principles or just being power-hungry, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly the latter.   This is almost as exciting as when Kent Williams became Speaker of the House of the Tennessee legislature (The Tennessean | “How Kent Williams…” &  Nashville Business Journal | “Tennessee Legislature…”).

The national legislature (US Congress) is another matter.  Basically, the status quo rules with only minor changes in the lower rungs of the leadership of both houses (Politico | “Senate Leadership…”).   Yawn.

Sorry for the short blog post.  I just got back to CA from IN for the Thanksgiving Break and am trying to recuperate from jet lag and such and also reverting back to my super-objective news mode for a little bit.

Congress: Stereotypical Drama Queen

17 Dec

I think the only way that Congress can get the public’s attention is by going to the brink of government disaster.  It seems obvious to me that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is being held hostage by the self-described Tea Party.  I wish that he would heed his own call to remove the extreme partisanship that exists in the legislative body he commands.  I don’t understand why the Republicans think that everything must be their way, they only control half of one branch of government.  The hallmark of legislating is compromise, and in order to get the best ideas of all in the proportion of which the members are a part of, there needs to be some give-and-take.  The job of Speaker is to pass prudent legislation of which the median of the House wants; however, it seems that he always just wants Republicans to approve legislation.  The perfect Congress would have around 50% of each party voting for various bills.  Of course, this is just me being idealistic, but oh, wouldn’t it be nice.


Bipartisanship? Is it Possible?

15 Nov

I really like articles where legislators from both sides of the aisle talk about a serious subject, come up with a serious solution, and seem genuine to make it happen.  The entire ‘Opinion’ section by Sens. Chris Coons and Marco Rubio was just perfect about how to fix the economy and the mindset to do it.  Now…to put it into action, that’s a whole other ball game.  My comments will be short, because the entire article should be most of my post because it is just that great:

There is no question that America is in a jobs crisis. More than 14 million Americans are unemployed, millions more are underemployed and too many have just given up looking for work altogether.

Washington’s dysfunctional political process has not encouraged certainty among growing businesses, or confidence among the general public about the ability of policymakers to work together. Week after week, the Senate shoots down proposals from each party designed to create jobs, adding to a long line of fruitless efforts to grow the economy.

The gridlock may be rooted in the fundamental differences between our parties, but it’s been compounded by a focus on short-term political gain over the pursuit of a genuine bipartisan consensus. This has made real action on our jobs crisis nearly impossible.

But even with stark ideological differences and a divided government, there are policy proposals we can act on immediately to promote growth and get unemployed Americans back to work.

President Barack Obama and both parties in Congress this fall put forward plans for job creation, as has the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Every day, members of Congress introduce legislation aimed at jump-starting the economy.

Many of these ideas are ambitious and will take time to achieve. Many are simply non-starters for one side or the other. But many are non-controversial, bipartisan and would help boost the economy right away. We should act on them now.

As freshman senators from states hit hard by the recession, we believe Congress can’t afford to spend the next year spinning its wheels — scoring political points in a debate that is more about protecting political jobs in 2012 elections than getting the jobless back to work. We should unite behind policy ideas we all agree on and that would likely be signed into law if we stop letting politics get in the way.

Today we are introducing legislation that includes some of these ideas. Our bill would extend tax relief for small businesses — to help them purchase new equipment so they can grow and create jobs. It includes modernizing and improving the research and development tax credit; encouraging hiring of returning veterans and reforming burdensome regulations.

It will take steps toward boosting high-skilled legal immigration, so we can attract and retain talented individuals with extraordinary capacities, to create high-paying jobs in America. It will also protect our businesses against the illegal theft of intellectual property, with strict enforcement of laws already on the books.

Our plan borrows heavily from legislation introduced by both parties and in both chambers of Congress — Republicans in the House, and Democrats in the Senate. All the provisions have garnered bipartisan support in today’s political climate, and all would help encourage job creation today.

These shorter-term policy fixes clearly won’t be a substitute for the comprehensive economic reforms we need. Nor will they save critical entitlement programs for future generations, or fundamentally make the federal government more efficient. These types of changes will only be realized after a vigorous debate over the proper role of government in our lives and in the economy.

But as we engage in this broader conversation about our long-term future, we can still act on things we agree on.

The American people, particularly the 14 million unemployed, are looking for their elected officials to set aside their agendas and act now to reverse the trend of sluggish economy growth. We can give all Americans at least a little faith that, by working together, even Washington can do some things right.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) serves on the Budget Committee. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) serves on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Read more at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/68372.html.

Redistricting “California Style”

30 Oct

Ooh, I love the arbitrariness of drawing random lines that affect us more than the voting itself.  And of course California is at the forefront of all of this hullabaloo.  I am not, however, ashamed in any way by all the coverage.  Hopefully, the fact that we have a 14-member Redistricting Commission that almost unanimously approved the state senate, state assembly, U.S. Congressional, and Board of Equalization districts is a testament that the propositions that got this instituted was actually a great one.  Politicians no longer pick their voters, but districts are drawn based more on population, geography, and history and not political (well, not as much).  I don’t think that legislators should move to be reelected because they should be representing the area they reside in the best, but who am I to tell them what to do.  Because of the radical shift in the district boundaries, some legislators are either moving to another district or running against an incumbent:

In almost every state, redistricting involves difficult choices for a few incumbent legislators about whether to run against a fellow incumbent, move to another district or leave the legislature. (http://ncsl.typepad.com/the_thicket/2011/10/diving-and-dodging-in-california.html)

With California’s top-two primary, much like Washington state, there is a great possibility that they will be running against each other twice (in both the primary and general).  An interesting pair of legislators are the Gaines who are have to move to a district in which both of them are able to run:

The new lines left Assemblywoman Beth Gaines in her current district, but put her husband, state Sen. Ted Gaines, in the same seat as Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale. Now the Roseville couple are considering relocating just a few miles away, to a home in a vacant Senate district, so both can run for re-election and live under the same roof.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/10/10/3971674/california-redistricting-means.html#ixzz1cHu67ooj

I love the politics of redistricting.  It only happens once a decade (and sometimes more cough cough Texas cough cough), but it is a great way to see that the bedrock of democracy is made by squiggly lines.

Working Together

17 Oct

Why does it seem that there needs to be legislation to get two sides to work together?  Well that’s what was needed to get Congress to cut the debt/deficit by creating the Supercommittee.  The Politico article, “Supercommittee ‘odd couple’ a source of hope” (October 16, 2011), details how Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) have to work together.  Legislators should already be working together through that thing called compromise.  However, that word is so dirty in the political world that it has become anathema.  I truly don’t see how a committee of 12 will be able to

com[e] up with $1.2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years that can win support of the 12-member panel and pass a House and Senate divided on nearly every major issue.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1011/66105.html#ixzz1b0RlpccA

Why can’t these people, who we vote for, do their job.  Oh yes, because we have a first-past-the-post system that makes it impossible for politicians to do what needs to be done.  Politicians can’t always be so altruistic, but sometimes they need to have more integrity for what they’re doing.  There needs to be some change in the political institution, but that will never happen if we always elect the same people to Congress.  There are some politicians that are trying to do what they think is right for their constituents, and wouldn’t it be great if the media actually covered that for once?  I know I briefly went through many points for a broken political system, but it takes all of us to do something about it.  What to do, well, that’s up to you, but don’t be apathetic, don’t be dismissive, take action, be engaged, and vote.
Boris Shor, PhD

Associate Professor, Dep't of Political Science, U. of Houston

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