Goobergunch Political Report

22 April 2011

Redrawing the Lines: Iowa

This is Part 9 of a 50-part series examining the Congressional districts in place for the 2012-2020 election cycles.

The third state to pass its Congressional redistricting law this cycle is Iowa. Iowa is one of a few states that uses an independent redistricting commission to draw both Congressional and legislative lines, which then have to be approved by the legislature and Governor. This year, the legislature was satisfied with the first report from the commission.

Iowa’s process is notable for completely ignoring existing district lines and happily throwing incumbents into the same district. Iowa lost a district this year, and most speculation involved the old Third and Fourth Districts being merged. While Reps. Boswell (D) and Latham (R) will indeed be running against each other, the two new districts in western Iowa really don’t resemble the three old districts in that part of the state.

IA-01 (Waterloo and Cedar Rapids)IA-01 map

Population: 761,569

Ethnicity: 91% white

Incumbent: Bruce Braley (D)

2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 58%, McCain 40%

2012 Outlook: DEM Hold Favored

The most Democratic seat in the state, the First District essentially traded the Quad Cities for Cedar Rapids in redistricting. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo resident, narrowly held this seat against the 2010 Republican wave, and Iowans are historically hesitant to vote out incumbents. With the district shifting very slightly to the left, I’d expect the seat to stay in Democratic hands.

IA-02 (Davenport and Iowa City)IA-02 map

Population: 761,624

Ethnicity: 88% white

Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)

2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 57%, McCain 41%

2012 Outlook: DEM Hold Favored

The Second District spread a bit further west in redistricting, losing Cedar Rapids and gaining the Quad Cities as well as several low-population western counties. As a result, it becomes about three points more Republican. Technically, no incumbent currently resides in the new district, but Rep. Dave Loebsack, a college professor who now lives just north of the district line, has announced his plans to run here. While possibly vulnerable in a strong Republican wave like 2010, the district hasn’t been weakened nearly enough to put Loebsack seriously at risk.

IA-03 (Des Moines and Council Bluffs)IA-03 map

Population: 761,612

Ethnicity: 86% white

Incumbents: Leonard Boswell (D), Tom Latham (R)

2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 52%, McCain 46%

2012 Outlook: No Clear Favorite

When the Iowa maps were unveiled, many were surprised to see Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell, a Des Moines resident, sitting as the only incumbent living in this district, while Republican Rep. Tom Latham, of Ames, thrown into the same district as conservative Steve King. But Latham has chosen not to face King in a primary, instead going against Boswell. Boswell has represented more of this district than Latham has, and he’s got experience winning tough races. But the district is actually more Republican at the national level than either Boswell’s or Latham’s old districts. Ultimately, this will probably be one of the more exciting House races of the 2012 cycle.

IA-04 (Sioux City and Fort Dodge)IA-04 map

Population: 761,550

Ethnicity: 90% white

Incumbent: Steve King (R)

2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 50%, Obama 48%

2012 Outlook: GOP Hold Slightly Favored

Rep. Steve King has a reputation for being one of the more… vocal members of the House Republican caucus. In his old Fifth District, this wasn’t a problem for him electorally, and indeed, it’s still unlikely to be a problem for his Republican primary prospects, given the conservatism of the Iowa Republican electorate. However, his new district is four points more Democratic than the old one, which has led Democrats to wonder if King may be vulnerable to a challenge. Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary (and former Iowa Governor) Tom Vilsack, has announced that she will be challenging King in the 2012 general election. As this is still a Republican district and Iowa tends to favor incumbents, it will be an uphill challenge, but this race definitely bears watching, as King hasn’t had to run a serious campaign since he won the Republican primary for this seat in 2002.

 

With 9 states considered, the notional partisan breakdown of the House prior to the 2012 election is: GOP 9, DEM 6. (GOP -1.)

21 April 2011

Redrawing the Lines: Arkansas

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

This is Part 8 of a 50-part series examining the Congressional districts in place for the 2012-2020 election cycles.

The first state to actually pass a Congressional redistricting plan is Arkansas, beating Louisiana by a few hours. (Until the Justice Department signs off on the Louisiana lines, I’m holding out on that “Redrawing the Lines” post.) Arkansas is one of the few states in which Democrats have complete control over the redistricting process, and some initial maps featured a “Fayetteville Finger” which would have drawn the Democratic stronghold of Fayetteville into the 4th District and make three of the four districts more favorable to Democrats. Ultimately, the plan that passed, although not exactly featuring the cleanest lines, ended up barely altering the partisan balance.

The maps for these districts have been generated using Dave’s Redistricting App. I hope to provide similarly detailed maps for as many states as possible. (Official maps often just show counties and not details like population centers.)

AR-01 (Arkansas Delta)AR-01 map

Population: 728,765

Ethnicity: 77% white, 18% black

Incumbent: Rick Crawford (R)

2008 Presidential Vote (est.): McCain 58%, Obama 39%

2012 Outlook: GOP Hold Favored

While this is a historically Democratic seat, the recent Republican surge in Appalachia will make it difficult for Democrats reclaim this rural district. In 2010, Marion Berry’s retirement led to a Republican representing this district for the first time since Reconstruction. Democrats have a fairly strong bench in this district and should be able to make a serious effort to retake it, but ultimately it will be hard for Democrats to continue to fight against the Republican trend. The district was made one point more Democratic in redistricting, which is unlikely to be overly helpful. However, this may still be the Democrats’ best chance to pick up a seat in Arkansas.

AR-02 (Little Rock)AR-02 map

Population: 729,192

Ethnicity: 70% white, 21% black

Incumbent: Tim Griffin (R)

2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 54%, Obama 44%

2012 Outlook: GOP Hold Favored

The least Republican (at least from a Federal perspective) and most urban district in the state, this seat includes Little Rock and its suburbs. It’s not as ancestrally Democratic as its eastern neighbor, and so the Democrats will need to work a bit harder to find a good candidate to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. Of course, the Appalachian trend against the Democrats makes this an uphill struggle at best. In terms of partisan balance, this district barely changed at all in redistricting.

AR-03 (Northwest Arkansas)AR-03 map

Population: 728,959

Ethnicity: 78% white, 13% Hispanic

Incumbent: Steve Womack (R)

2008 Presidential Vote (est.): McCain 64%, Obama 34%

2012 Outlook: Safe GOP Hold

By far the most Republican district in the state, this seat has been in Republican hands since 1967 despite Arkansas’s historic preference for Democrats. This seat has not been seriously contested by Democrats recently, and since there was essentially no partisan change in redistricting I don’t foresee Rep. Steve Womack facing a real challenge any time soon.

AR-04 (Pine Bluff and Ouachita Mountains)AR-04 map

Population: 729,002

Ethnicity: 73% white, 19% black

Incumbent: Mike Ross (D)

2008 Presidential Vote (est.): McCain 60%, Obama 37%

2012 Outlook: Safe DEM Hold

Formerly consisting of southern Arkansas, the reconfigured Fourth District has moved east, losing its part of the ancestrally Democratic Arkansas Delta to stretch farther north. The district was in fact made two points more Republican, despite having the only Democratic incumbent in the state. Rep. Mike Ross, due to personal popularity and the fact that he couldn’t be defeated even in the 2010 Republican wave, is likely to be able to hold this seat as long as he wants it. But while this seat is a safe Democratic hold this year, Ross has indicated interest in the 2014 governor’s race, which would leave this seat open and highly vulnerable to Republican takeover.

 

With 8 states considered, the notional partisan breakdown of the House prior to the 2012 election is: GOP 8, DEM 3. (No net change.)

A New Challenger Approaches: Gary Johnson, the New Mexico Governor

Goobergunch @ 19:00 PT
Posted in: Election 2012
Tags: ,

Who’s the latest entrant into the 2012 Republican field?

Calling for a “reassessment of American government,” former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) launched his 2012 bid for president Thursday on the steps of the New Hampshire state capitol.

And from the same article, why is Johnson not going to win?

The greatest impediment to a Johnson bid gaining some traction among the GOP’s libertarian faction could be Rep. Ron Paul (Texas). The two share a similar base of support, and if Paul officially gets in the 2012 race, the Texas Republican would likely overshadow Johnson.

It’s difficult enough to imagine Paul actually getting the nomination. The libertarian vote isn’t really that huge among the Republican primary electorate, and the far less well known Johnson is even more unlikely to gain nearly enough delegates to be a serious competitor. I just don’t see a supporter of marijuana legalization becoming the 2012 Republican presidential candidate.

But the early stage of the Presidential nominating process is all about the joy of watching candidates that will never actually become the nominee have their moment in the spotlight. The winnowing will come soon enough.

15 April 2011

Budget Resolution Voting

Goobergunch @ 13:49 PT
Posted in: Ways and Means
Congressional Black Caucus budget Failed, 103-303
Congressional Progressive Caucus budget      Failed, 77-347
Republican Study Committee budget Failed, 119-136 (172 present)
House Democratic Caucus budget Failed, 166-259
House Republican Caucus budget Passed, 235-193

Democrats forced Republicans to defeat the Republican Study Committee budget, which is even more conservative than the Paul Ryan budget that eventually passed, by themselves through mostly voting “Present”. A bare majority of Republicans voted against that budget.

The final vote on the Republican budget plan went down almost purely on party lines. Only four Republicans voted against it: Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Ron Paul (TX), and Denny Rehbert (MT).

14 April 2011

FY 2011: SECURED

Goobergunch @ 16:59 PT
Posted in: Appropriations

House vote: 260-167

Senate vote: 81-19

And so, the FY 2011 omnibus spending bill is cleared for President Obama’s signature. And I get to stop making posts about the need for FY 2011 appropriations.

Which is good, because it’s just in time for the House to take up the FY 2012 budget resolution. Tomorrow, we’ll be seeing votes on the following measures:

  • Congressional Black Caucus budget
  • Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) [a prominent Blue Dog] budget
  • Congressional Progressive Caucus budget
  • Republican Study Committee budget
  • House Democratic Caucus budget
  • House Republican budget

12 April 2011

FY 2011 Appropriations, Part C: The Red Riders

Goobergunch @ 21:00 PT
Posted in: Appropriations, Education, Providing for the General Welfare

As we flip to page 425 of the omnibus appropriations bill, we are suddenly confronted with something completely different:

This division may be cited as the “Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act” or the “SOAR Act”.’

Dreadful acronym aside, what is this and why is it in my spending bill? Why, it’s Speaker Boehner’s pet program, a bill that

Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award five-year grants on a competitive basis to nonprofit organizations to carry out a program to provide expanded school choice opportunities to students who are District of Columbia (DC) residents and who come from households: (1) receiving assistance under the supplemental nutrition assistanprogram under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008; or (2) with incomes not exceeding 185% of the poverty line, except in certain grandfathered circumstances.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like an official summary rather than me trying to be descriptive, you’re right. (I would describe it more tersely as a private school voucher program for D.C. residents.) I’m quoting the CRS Summary for H.R. 471 (if you want even more details, there’s a committee report), which passed the House by a 225-195 vote on 30 March. With the almost complete lack of Democratic support in that vote, I was expecting the bill to die a quiet death in the Senate. Instead, it lives as a nice juicy rider on the omnibus, and can be expected to become law.

I think one of the major lessons to take away from this appropriations process is just how powerless the District of Columbia is to prevent itself from being used for federal experimentation. Between this provision and the abortion funding ban buried earlier under General Government, it’s the District that finds itself subject to the whims of legislators from all over the country. While in some ways this is constitutionally mandated, that doesn’t mean that legislators shouldn’t give the same deference to District officials that they would to those of any other state and local governments if they had direct control over them.

And that’s all 459 pages of H.R. 1473 accounted for. But wait! There’s more!

After the final passage vote on the main bill, the House will consider H. Con. Res. 35 and 36. These resolutions would amend H.R. 1473 to disallow all funding for PPACA and for Planned Parenthood, respectively. They won’t pass the Senate (although due to a bit of procedural magic, they will get votes there or the House will refuse to sign off on sending the main bill to the President), but this allows the Tea Partiers to have even more “KILL IT WITH FIRE” votes. Because clearly the original votes on PPACA repeal and defunding Planned Parenthood weren’t good enough.

H.R. 1473 gets one hour of debate; H. Con. Res. 35 and H. Con. Res. 36 each gets twenty minutes of debate. Except for the usual motion to recommit, no amendments are in order.

UPDATE [22:10 CDT by Goobergunch]: Tomorrow’s floor schedule is out and H.R. 1473 isn’t on it. As the Senate calendar says “We expect to receive it from the House on Thursday”, I’m guessing that that’s when the House vote will be.

FY 2011 Appropriations, Part B: Consolidated Appropriations

So here we go. Full-year continuing appropriations. We start with some general provisions:

  • Congressional directed spending “earmarks” are discontinued. Any earmark appropriations reductions won’t be included in the tables that follow, but I doubt they really sum to much anyway.
  • No funds may be used for transferring non-citizen detainees currently in Guantanamo to the United States or its territories.
  • The big one. There is a 0.2% general cut to all non-defense programs.That’s calculated over and above any specific program reductions.
  • This one actually appears at the end of the bill, but four White House “czars” are denied funding. Since those positions aren’t being filled by anybody, this doesn’t matter.

So that’s the playing field. All in all, there’s almost $40 billion in spending cuts. Kind of.

For example, the final cuts in the deal are advertised as $38.5 billion less than was appropriated in 2010, but after removing rescissions, cuts to reserve funds, and reductions in mandatory spending programs, discretionary spending will be reduced only by $14.7 billion.

Now, it’s time to examine each department in turn. I was going to break everything down myself, but I had only gotten through page 184 when I realized that I wasn’t sure what all of the accounts actually did. So here’s the broader version, relying somewhat on the House Appropriations Committee summaries.

Agriculture

The CR funds Agriculture programs at $20 billion, which is $3 billion below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level and $3.2 billion below the President’s 2011 budget request.

These reductions are pretty straightforward. I didn’t see any particularly obvious policy riders, although agriculture really isn’t my area of expertise.

Commerce, Justice, and Science

The Commerce, Justice, Science section of the CR contains a total of $53.4 billion, a $10.9 billion, or 17%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $7.1 billion, or 12%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Policy riders include:

  • No NASA collaboration with China unless specifically authorized by a future law
  • No NASA Climate Service
  • No new limited access privilege program for any fisheries

Energy and Water Development

The Energy and Water section is funded at $31.8 billion in the CR. This is a 10% reduction—or $3.6 billion—from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request, and a 5% reduction—or $1.7 billion—from fiscal year 2010 leavels.

This part of the bill was written even more opaquely than unusual, but nothing jumped out at me as particularly exciting.

Financial Services and General Government

The Financial Services and General Government section of the CR contains a total of $22 billion, a $2.4 billion, or 10%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $3.4 billion, or 14%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

The policy returns with a vengeance:

  • The District of Columbia cannot use its own money to pay for abortions. District of Columbia officials are less than happy with this, and Mayor Vincent Gray (D) was arrested on Capitol Hill last night protesting.
  • There will be an annual audit of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that last year’s Dodd-Frank Act created.
  • The Comptroller General will conduct an annual study analyzing financial regulations, which feels intended to discourage further regulation. It’s always refreshing to be reminded how much of Congress is owned by the banking industry.
  • The GAO will study the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s information database to determine whether the information is based on adequate information.

Homeland Security

A total of $41.8 billion in discretionary funding is provided for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2011. This is $784 million, or 2%, below FY 2010, and $1.9 billion, or 4%, below the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Another straightforward section. Not much policy here, but section after section of rescinding unused funds.

Interior and Environment

The CR includes $29.6 billion in discretionary funding in the Interior and Environment section of the bill, which is 8.1%, or $2.62 billion, below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level and 8.5%, or $2.8 billion, below the President’s request.

I’ll just quote the Washington Post for the details.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency, long a target of conservatives, will see a $1.6 billion cut, representing a 16 percent decrease from 2010 levels. At the Department of the Interior, affected agencies include the Fish and Wildlife Services ($141 million cut from last year), the National Park Service ($127 million cut from last year) and “clean and drinking water state revolving funds” ($997 million cut from last year).

On the policy front, there’s a provision removing federal protection from wolves in certain Western states.

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education

The Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies section of the CR contains a total of $157.7 billion, roughly a $5.5 billion, or 3.36%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels. The bill is also nearly $13 billion, or 7.6 percent, below the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

There have been some modifications to Pell Grants, and some tweaks to PPACA:

  • Multiple studies and audits regarding PPACA provisions.
  • The Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan program gets a 37% cut, and the Free Choice Voucher program gets flat-out repealed.

Legislative Branch

Legislative Branch is reduced by $103 million from last year’s levels. Of this amount, funding for the U.S. House is reduced by $55 million from last year – or 53% of the total cut – and reflects a 5% cut in Member, Committee, and Leadership office expenses except for the Appropriations Committee, which offered a larger cut of 9%.

It’s Congress’s own budget. Not much to say here.

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs

Military Construction/Veterans Affairs programs will receive $76.6 billion in discretionary funding – an increase of $3.4 billion over the President’s fiscal year 2011 request and an increase of $600 million over last year’s level.

Yup, an increase. Nobody’s going to campaign on cutting veterans’ benefits. This division is also mercifully short and devoid of obvious riders.

State and Foreign Operations

The funding level for the State Department and Foreign Operations in the CR is a total of $48.3 billion – a $504 million reduction from last year’s level and an $8.4 billion reduction from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

There are some provisions here opposing child soldiers and demanding that UN peacekeepers don’t violate human rights. Economic support for Afghanistan gets tied to a certification of reduced corruption and increased democratic participation for women. There’s also an appropriation to aid Egypt’s democratic transition, as well as a prohibition on foreign service officer pay raises

Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development

The Transportation, Housing, Urban Development and Related Agencies section of the CR contains a total of $55.5 billion, a $12.3 billion, or 18%, reduction from fiscal year 2010 levels, and a reduction of $13.2 billion, or 20%, from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request.

Among other things, new high-speed rail funds disappear, and public housing funds lose several hundred million of funds. These cuts will disproportionately impact poor people, so it’s not hard to see why our public officials are willing to make them.

And that’s everything through page 424.

FY 2011 Appropriations, Part A: Defense

Goobergunch @ 12:00 PT
Posted in: Appropriations, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines

As you may recall, the House Republicans pledged that upon taking over the House, they’d make all legislation available 72 hours before such legislation received a vote. Well, H.R. 1473 [459-page PDF], the FY 2011 consolidated appropriations bill, got posted at 1:50 AM EDT last night, and the bill’s scheduled for tomorrow. Clearly, that pledge only holds for legislation that won’t be reasonably expected to become law. But with that griping aside, let’s see what’s actually in there.

Like the original House spending bill, the bill’s divided into three parts. First, Defense Department spending is set forth as effectively its own bill. Second, spending for everything else is set forth as effectively amendments to the FY2010 spending levels. There’s no real reason for this separation other than for politicians to say how much they love the troops. Finally, there’s a part that has nothing at all to do with spending—it’s Speaker Boehner’s D.C. vouchers bill.

So taking the bill in order:

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense is funded at $513 billion in the CR – approximately $5 billion above last year – providing the necessary resources for the safety of our troops and the success of our nation’s military actions. The bill also includes an additional $157.8 billion for overseas contingency operations (emergency funding) to advance our missions abroad.

That’s from the House Appropriations Committee [pdf]. My arithmetic was slightly different, counting $504.4 billion (with an additional $179.2 billion for contingency funds), which breaks down as follows:

Budget Category FY 2010 funds FY 2011 funds Change
Military Personnel $124,170,847,000 $126,739,756,000 +$2,568,909,000
Operation and Maintenance $153,853,711,000 $164,147,124,000 +$10,293,413,000
Procurement $104,397,262,000 $102,121,873,000 -$2,275,389,000
Research and Development $80,537,479,000 $74,957,028,000 -$5,580,451,000
Revolving and Management Funds $3,127,762,000 $2,909,402,000 -$218,360,000
Other Dept. of Defense Programs $32,372,064,000 $34,313,156,000 +$1,941,092,000
Related Agencies $998,812,000 $941,732,000 -$57,080,000
$507,543,071,000

I didn’t notice any new and exciting policy provisions, although I’ll admit to skimming that part of the bill.

And that brings us through page 160 of the bill. It’s time for the exciting part—the domestic spending cuts.

11 April 2011

A New Challenger Approaches: Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Governor

Goobergunch @ 16:00 PT
Posted in: Election 2012
Tags: ,

It’s time for a new Presidential candidacy announcement, this time coming from 2008 candidate and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. Romney isn’t going to make any of the more conservative Republican primary voters (and if 2010 is any indication, that’s most of them) particularly overjoyed, mainly because of a little bill he signed five years ago that bears striking similarities to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for which no Republican will admit any emotion short of loathing. Unadulterated loathing. But if the more conservative candidates sufficiently dilute the vote, Romney could definitely slip through.

Early polling in New Hampshire, which traditionally focuses more on fiscal rather than social conservatism, shows Romney as the frontrunner there. But it’s still really early, and things can change. Additionally, the actual New Hampshire result will be influenced by whatever happens in Iowa, whose Republican caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. (And I have no idea what to make of Donald Trump’s performance in that poll, or indeed anything Trump’s done recently.)

10 April 2011

Happy House Budget Week

Goobergunch @ 14:00 PT
Posted in: Appropriations, Providing for the General Welfare, Ways and Means
Tags:

It’s going to be a busy week in the House. On deck for Wednesday:

  • H.R. 1217, which would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund established by Section 4002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (The committee report is due late Monday night.) Such fund “provide[s] for expanded and sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in private and public sector health care costs”. $750 million is authorized for this fund in FY 2011, and that number increases to $1 billion in FY 2012.
  • The big consolidated appropriations bill that implements the Friday night deal. Full details on that when it gets unveiled.

Thursday and Friday have been set aside for the Budget Resolution. Much of the current text involves Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) making up numbers that will never actually happen (if he thinks that his plan to abolish Medicare will actually reduce the long-term debt, I have a couple bridges in San Francisco to sell him), but since the FY 2012 numbers will be binding on Congress once both houses agree on something, those are worth looking at in detail.

Over in the Senate, there are a couple judicial nominations set for Tuesday. Forecasting the Senate much in advance is a fool’s game, but if the aforementioned big consolidated appropriations bill doesn’t appear this week, I’ll be very surprised. And so will lots of federal workers who would be suddenly furloughed.

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