Goobergunch Political Report

27 January 2011

Redrawing the Lines: Delaware

Goobergunch @ 21:00 PT
Posted in: Redrawing the Lines
Tags: ,

This is Part 6 of a 50-part series examining the Congressional districts in place for the 2012-2020 election cycles.

We’re starting to run out of at-large Congressional seats, but there are are still a couple left. This week, it’s time for a look at Delaware, which last had a second Congressional seat in 1823. (And even then, both Representatives were elected at-large.) While legislative redistricting will occur later this year, Congressional redistricting has never been an issue for Delaware.

Delaware has a substantial minority population, especially in the Wilmington area, but as I’ve said before and will thankfully not have to say again for another decade, this obviously has no impact on the Congressional map.

DE-AL (Delaware)

Population: 897,934

Ethnicity (2009 est.): 73.9% white, 21.1% black

Incumbent: John Carney (D)

2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 62%, McCain 37%

2012 Outlook: Safe DEM Hold

Delaware has traditionally been amenable to moderate Republicans. Bill Roth represented the state in the Senate for three decades, and Mike Castle, a former Governor and 9-term Congressman, looked to be a shoo-in for the Senate seat formerly occupied by Vice President Biden. But then, surprisingly, Castle was defeated in the Republican primary by Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, who was in turn easily defeated by Democrat Chris Coons on the same night that Democrats reclaimed the at-large House seat. Democrats now control the state government, both Senate seats, and the House seat. While it’s conceivable that a moderate Republican could be competitive here, it’s much harder to see how such a moderate would actually get the nomination.

 

With 6 states considered, the notional partisan breakdown of the House prior to the 2012 election is: GOP 4, DEM 2. (No net change.)

25 January 2011

H.R. 359, the Presidential Campaign Fund (Removal) Bill

Goobergunch @ 23:00 PT
Posted in: Ways and Means

On Wednesday, 26 January 2011, the House will consider H.R. 359, a bill to remove public funding of Presidential campaigns and party conventions. For the text of the bill, see here.

This bill is pretty straightforward—it would eliminate the option to send $3 of one’s existing taxes to help publicly fund Presidential campaigns, and so eliminate public funds for that purpose. Any leftover funds designated for that purpose would go into the Treasury’s general fund. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill will save $617 million over 10 years.

The Federal Election Commission has a thorough description of the program that the bill would eliminate.

The Presidential nominee of each major party may become eligible for a public grant of $20 million (plus a cost-of-living adjustment) for campaigning in the general election. To be eligible to receive the public funds, the candidate must limit spending to the amount of the grant and may not accept private contributions for the campaign. Private contributions may, however, be accepted for a special account maintained exclusively to pay for legal and accounting expenses associated with complying with the campaign finance law. These legal and accounting expenses are not subject to the expenditure limit.

These spending restrictions are important—President Obama, for instance, opted out of public funding so his 2008 campaign could spend in excess of the caps. With the rise of increased spending in political campaigns, it’s possible that this program could effectively become dead due to candidates being unwilling to subject themselves to spending limits. However, CBO still estimates that $215 million dollars would be spent from the fund in 2012.

Speaking of the President, the White House has expressed its “strong opposition” to H.R. 359. It would prefer to strengthen the program so as to discourage opting out, and not eliminate it.

The House will be considering H.R. 359 under a modified open rule; after the usual hour of general debate, any amendment pre-printed in the Congressional Record may be considered under the five-minute rule. The amendments in order are:

  1. Requires money transferred to the Treasury from the fund’s removal to be used only for deficit reduction. (Peters (D-Oakland Co., MI).)
  2. Requires money transferred from the fund’s removal to be used to pay for national convention security costs. (Castor (D-Tampa, FL).)
  3. Replaces the Presidential Election Campaign Fund with a Presidential Nominating Convention Security Fund. (Castor (D-Tampa, FL).)
  4. Prohibits the use of any Federal funds for lobbying or Presidential campaigning. (Tsongas (D-Lowell and Lawrence, MA).)
  5. Substitute. Allows individuals to donate any amount of money to the campaign fund as an added tax. (Polis (D-Boulder, CO).)
  6. Substitute. Makes the $3 contribution an added tax rather than part of one’s existing tax return. (Moore (D-Milwaukee, WI).)

UPDATE [8:48 CST by Goobergunch]: Added amendments from this morning’s Record.

23 January 2011

A Different Way of Reading Bills

Goobergunch @ 21:00 PT
Posted in: Meta

Number 2: We want information…
information…
information!

As I’ve argued before, most people don’t actually care about reading bills before Congress. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for this is that many bills are hard to understand. Language like:

(B) TRANSFER OF EXCESS FUNDS TO GENERAL FUND- Section 9006 of such Code is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

`(d) Transfer of Funds Remaining After Termination- The Secretary shall transfer all amounts in the fund after the date of the enactment of this section to the general fund of the Treasury.’.

isn’t particularly intelligible unless you’re well-versed in the Internal Revenue Code. What I’m planning on doing, at least to the maximum extent practicable, is providing somewhat more readable versions of bills so that it’s possible to actually understand what they say. That language is from H.R. 359, which I’ve prepared a “GPR print” of here. Note that full context is provided for each of the sections that get amended. Additionally, I’ll have a summary post up, probably on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, describing the bill’s likely effect.

The goal is to have these prints prepared for each bill before Congress scheduled for full debate. Bills that go through the House and Senate through expedited procedures generally won’t get them, as not only do I not have infinite spare time, but those bills frequently have last-minute amendments adopted that pretty much make the exercise moot. I’m hoping to also incorporate descriptions of major amendments to bills, but I’m still working on a format for that such that strikeouts and inserts will be unambiguous—using the same symbols for changes in current law and changes in bills would just be confusing. Finally, the last part of this project is converting most of the existing law to a friendly, rapidly updating, HTML format, for use with the bills. That could obviously take a really long time, so don’t count on seeing it soon.

22 January 2011

A “Read the Bill” Progress Report

Goobergunch @ 18:00 PT
Posted in: Public Printing and Documents
Tags:

One of the big complaints that Republicans and various other right-wing forces had was that the public wasn’t getting enough time to read and comment on bills before they went to a vote. Last Tuesday, the House unanimously passed H.R. 292, which was introduced Wednesday of the previous week. One would think that this is enough time to read and comment on a fairly short bill before it was put to a vote. One would be wrong.

The trick here is that H.R. 292 was passed via a “motion to suspend the rules and pass, as amended”. The text of the amendment wasn’t, to my knowledge, provided on any public website prior to the vote—and it made some fairly major changes. The original bill, found here, would have eliminated the automatic printing of bills and substituted an electronic distribution requirement; members and committees could still get print copies if they ask for them. Contrast the text of the bill that the House actually passed. The bill now keeps all of the automatic printing except for the copies that each members of Congress gets. Those copies are eliminated, and members can’t get print copies even by request.

For this bill, the changes don’t do much for those of us living outside of the Beltway. But for some other bill, surprise amendments might make a real difference to many Americans. And of course, not many people actually care about bills on the “suspension of the rules” list, as those tend to be non-controversial anyway. While I’m still going to look over that list every week, I’m saving the more detailed bill discussions for bills that don’t need a two-thirds vote to pass.

21 January 2011

Redrawing the Lines: South Dakota

Goobergunch @ 21:00 PT
Posted in: Redrawing the Lines
Tags: ,

This is Part 5 of a 50-part series examining the Congressional districts in place for the 2012-2020 election cycles.

South Dakota, yet another state with an at-large Congressional seat, last had multiple Representatives in 1982. South Dakota legislators will vote on legislative redistricting plan by this fall, and of course, do not need to vote on Congressional redistricting, as that decision has been made for them.

While South Dakota is predominantly white, there are Voting Rights Act redistricting issues prompted by the state’s Native American population. These issues don’t impact Congressional lines, since there aren’t any, so there’s no harm in using the 2009 estimate here.

SD-AL (South Dakota)

Population: 814,180

Ethnicity (2009 est.): 87.9% white, 8.5% American Indian and Alaska Native

Incumbent: Kristi Noem (R)

2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 53%, Obama 45%

2012 Outlook: GOP Hold Favored

While it’s more conservative than its northern neighbor, South Dakota also has a tendency to vote more Democratic in Congressional races than its Presidential voting record would suggest. For a while, it was the home of the Senate Democratic Leader, and still has a Democratic Senator. But any Democratic hopes here must be tempered by the 2010 result, in which the moderate incumbent Democrat, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, lost by 2.1%. While not an extreme defeat, it underscores the Republican lean of this seat.

 

With 5 states considered, the notional partisan breakdown of the House prior to the 2012 election is: GOP 4, DEM 1. (No net change.)

20 January 2011

Schedule Slip

Goobergunch @ 23:50 PT
Posted in: Election 2012

Tiredness and an unusual amount of things that needed doing turned out to be a bad combination for writing about what South Dakota’s congressional district will look like after this redistricting cycle. In the spirit of having something better than “no change at all”, I’m pushing back Redrawing the Lines Part 5 to tomorrow. I’m sure this is a great disappointment to many of you.

There are a couple of more substantive posts that I’ve been working on, and I hope to have them ready pretty soon. The biggest one is the Delegate Count 2012 launch, which I’m really looking forward to. Tracking delegates for 2008 was unexpectedly exciting, and while I don’t expect the 2012 edition to be quite as engrossing, there’s no real telling what we’ll get until the numbers start coming in.

As for next week in Congress? The House looks to consider H. Res. 38, a resolution to cap “non-security” spending at FY 2008 levels (even though Rep. Paul Ryan can just do that unilaterally), and H.R. 359, which would eliminate public funding of Presidential election campaigns. H.R. 359 is the spawn of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “YouCut” program, which is a silly little thing that picks one of a few options offered by the Republican leadership for minor spending cuts through an online poll. (I have wondered how much the YouCut program itself costs.) I’ll have more on this bill next week.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the State of the Union is on Tuesday, at 9 PM Eastern. That can’t be too important, right?

15 January 2011

We Now Return You To…

Booth: Why do these red-necks always have three names? James Earl Ray, John Wilkes Booth…
Oswald: Lee Harvey Oswald!

There have been plenty of calls for civility and toning down political rhetoric after the Tucson shootings, including a particularly beautiful one from President Obama on Wednesday night. Will they go anywhere? Let’s look at the House:

In the wake of the shooting spree in Arizona, Democrats pressed Republicans to change the name of their health care repeal bill — the bluntly titled “Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Law Act.”

No luck. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says they’re sticking with that name.

At this point it seems pretty clear to me that Republican leaders aren’t interested in civility. A campaign cycle filled with violent imagery ended up with a Republican gain of 63 House seats, and the Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, and Eric Cantors won’t change something that’s working for them. If a few innocent people die on the way, due to some people taking their comments literally, that’s too bad but ultimately is the price that gets paid for the victory of the far right. It’s easy enough to dismiss last week’s incident as the product of a deranged lone actor, and it’s premature at best to say that Jared Lee Loughner was actually influenced by any of the usual suspects. (Although I’m surprised I haven’t seen much talk about Loughner’s ramblings about currency. That’s a strain of thought I haven’t really seen outside of the Beck/Paul circles.) But there are plenty of actual examples of violence apparently influenced by the American far right—Digby has a good list. It’s completely reckless to continue talking about “Second Amendment solutions” and their ilk because even if you think it’s just a joke, you can’t guarantee that all of your listeners do.

Despite the one-sidedness of the actual violent incidents, apparently it’s not Democrats who are the real victims. Let’s hear from Sarah Palin:

But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.

And now, to the Washington Times editorial page:

This is simply the latest round of an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers. The last two years have seen a proliferation of similar baseless charges of racism, sexism, bigotry, Islamophobia and inciting violence against those on the right who have presented ideas at odds with the establishment’s liberal orthodoxy.

Blood libel? Pogrom? Does the American Right—a group with substantial representation in both houses of the national legislature as well as most state governments—really think that they are the modern equivalent of Eastern European Jewry? That’s so amazingly stupid that it’s hard to know where to begin to refute it, but I think I’ll start with the bit where none of them are dying.

The latest civility push I’ve heard is the suggestion that Democrats and Republicans sit together at the State of the Union on the 25th. Personally, I don’t see the point in pretending that all of our political views are the same. Of course members of Congress should be willing to work together on issues of common agreement, and maybe even find a workable compromise that’s widely acceptable. That’s great. But there are quite a few issues that the parties greatly disagree with each other on. And that’s fine too. If Democrats and Republicans agreed on everything, there wouldn’t be much point to having an election. It’s a disservice to the American people to attempt to hide that. While admittedly the applause games at the State of the Union are a somewhat childish way of expressing these differences, it’s a better way of showing them then wasting 7 hours of the House’s time on a bill that will never become law.

If you want to look for actual bipartisanship this week, scheduled for Tuesday is H.R. 292. Under current law, when a public bill is introduced, 625 copies get printed and distributed. This means a lot of paper and ink get wasted on bills that aren’t going to go anywhere. H.R. 292 eliminates the automatic printing of bills, instead substituting an electronic distribution requirement. Members and committees can still get print copies if they ask for them. In the last Congress, a version of this bill picked up co-sponsors ranging from from Steve King (R-Western IA) to Jared Polis (D-Boulder, CO). Unlike H.R. 2, it may actually go somewhere in the Senate.

13 January 2011

Redrawing the Lines: Alaska

Goobergunch @ 21:00 PT
Posted in: Redrawing the Lines
Tags: ,

This is Part 4 of a 50-part series examining the Congressional districts in place for the 2012-2020 election cycles.

Our next stop while examining the at–large Congressional seats is Alaska, which has had one seat since achieving statehood in 1959. Legislative redistricting looks to occur in the middle of this year, featuring some of the physically largest districts in the country. In the U.S. House, Alaska simply has the largest district in the country.

Alaska, unusually for a small-population state, isn’t overwhelmingly white. The language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been invoked recently to ensure that speakers of Native Alaskan languages such as Yup’ik are not denied their right to cast an informed ballot. But while I’ll be somewhat interested to see the real 2010 Census ethnicity data, it’s ultimately irrelevant to how this at-large district will be drawn or vote.

AK-AL (Alaska)

Population: 710,231

Ethnicity (2009 est.): 68.5% white, 13.5% American Indian and Alaska Native

Incumbent: Don Young (R)

2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 59%, Obama 38%

2012 Outlook: Safe GOP Hold

While Alaska is best known in national politics for former governor Sarah Palin, it’s not quite as Republican as one would think. Alaska has one Democratic Senator and had a Democratic Governor as recently as 2002; in 2000, it gave Ralph Nader his largest vote share for President of any state.

But that doesn’t mean the Republicans have to worry about holding this House seat. Don Young has represented Alaska in the House since 1973. After surviving his tough 2008 challenge, coming amidst a swirl of corruption allegations, by a good 5 points, I’m convinced that he has this seat for as long as he wants it. Democrats might have a chance to win it when he retires, but even that would be a challenge.

 

With 4 states considered, the notional partisan breakdown of the House prior to the 2012 election is: GOP 3, DEM 1. (No net change.)

8 January 2011

Holy Fuck

Goobergunch @ 20:09 PT
Posted in: The Congress
Tags:

Well, cancel that last post about next week in the House. After today’s atrocity in Arizona that’s not happening. Here’s hoping Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and everyone else who has been injured today has a swift and successful recovery, and condolences to the loved ones of the six that died today. This is scary shit.

6 January 2011

At Bat: The Middle Schoolers

Goobergunch @ 21:25 PT
Posted in: Providing for the General Welfare
Tags: ,

The first bill up for consideration in the 112th House of Representatives is… the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act“. From this I draw the conclusion that the House is being run by people with the emotional maturity of middle schoolers, as the gratuitous refusal to use the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s actual short title just provides more evidence that the Congressional Republican Party is not interested in sincere policymaking but just wants to increase members’ jollies.

The bill itself provides a simple repeal of PPACA and the health-care provisions of the subsequent Reconciliation Act. It’s really not worth further analysis because it will go absolutely nowhere in the Senate, and even if it did President Obama would veto. But since House Republicans seem determined to waste time instead of proposing serious legislation, the bill is scheduled for a good 7 hours of debate next Wednesday, broken down as follows:

  • 30 minutes managed by party leadership
  • 90 minutes managed by the Committee on Education and the Workforce
  • 90 minutes managed by the Committee on Energy and Commerce
  • 90 minutes managed by the Committee on Ways and Means
  • 40 minutes managed by the Committee on the Budget
  • 40 minutes managed by the Committee on the Judiciary
  • 40 minutes managed by the Committee on Small Business

No amendments (except for the obligatory motion to recommit) are in order.

To fulfil the second part of their “repeal and replace” promise, the House Republicans will also bring a resolution to instruct various committees to report a replacement health care bill. It’s vague enough to also not really be worth discussing. This one gets an hour of debate and one amendment (adding an instruction regarding the “doc fix”). I will be interested to see the health care bill that comes out of the committees, as this might have substantive policy worth actually discussing. But until that happens, it’s really not worth discussing Republican views on health care—because there really aren’t any.

UPDATE [00:15 CST by Goobergunch]: I intended to quickly update the text of the bill to the version that will be debated on the House floor next week (there needed to be a minor tweak for statutory PAYGO compliance), but apparently the House Rules Committee has failed at actually posting the committee report that contains the applicable amendment. I guess the new era of transparency in the House isn’t starting out so well….

UPDATE [13:21 CST by Goobergunch]: Bill text is updated.

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