The Deadlock Blame Game

Perhaps I’m just stating the obvious here, but we have deadlock, my friends. Democrats may want to pass some more active policies to deal with the economic situation, but Republicans in Congress have shown that they are unwilling to sign on to any legislation that even smells like government spending (and now they may even be rejecting tax cuts on the grounds that they are not permanent). Washington has pretty much given up on finding any significant laws that can pass through the House and Senate, and make it to the President’s desk for his signature.

All that remains is to make symbolic gestures, and, perhaps, occasionally pass some relatively noncontroversial, small policy measures. I’ll leave aside the reason why that is for a moment, and talk about what is left for Congress and the President to do besides twiddle their thumbs for the next year and a half.

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The Impending Government Shutdown (No, Not That One)

I’m going to get a little ahead of myself here, and talk about the impending government shutdown.  No, not the one that was going to happen yesterday if the debt ceiling were not raised.  Actually, what would happen if we hit the debt ceiling would not technically be a government shutdown.  It’s very possible that Treasury would have chosen to pay the bills required to keep most government operations running.  (That is not to downplay the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, which would have been serious.  It just would not necessarily have resulted in a government shutdown.)

A “government shutdown,” as the phrase is most often used, occurs when the Congress has not passed a budget to fund continuing government operations.  Most often, this happens if budget negotiations surpass the end of the fiscal year, or the end of a continuing resolution.  The fiscal year ends on September 30, now less than two months away.  At that point, if Congress has not passed a budget for the next fiscal year, or at least a continuing resolution, there will be a government shutdown.

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UPDATE: The New Key Players in Congress

A few days after last November’s election, I posted some predictions about the partisan makeup of the new Congress.  In the process, I discussed which representatives and Senators would be pivotal players over the next two years.  These predictions were based on DW-NOMINATE scores, which describe the partisanship of members of Congress based on their voting records.  These scores range roughly from -1 to 1, and generally, the more positive a member’s voting score, the more conservative his or her voting record is.  The newest batch of DW-NOMINATE scores, including votes from 2010, was released a couple weeks ago, so I’ve updated the info I posted last November.

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And…We’re Back!

Apologies for the long hiatus.  I hope to dedicate more time to writing posts, recruiting more contributors, and expanding the readership of this blog going forward.  Here are a few of the topics you can expect to see, among others, in the coming weeks on

  • Civility. There were at least a few weeks since I last posted where civility was a hot topic, and I feel compelled, given the nature of this blog, to comment.  I’ll explain why I expect to see more civility over the next two years in Washington, but it’s not for the reasons you might think.
  • Health Care Reform. Now that the Republicans’ effort at repealing health care reform was voted down in the Senate, how will Congress move forward?  I’ll explain how I think some parts of the health care reform law lay the foundation for some conservative policy goals in health care, and how some bipartisan reforms might be built on this foundation.
  • Tax Reform. There might be a way for the federal government to lower overall income tax rates and still increase revenues, all while keeping the distribution of the tax burden roughly the same.  I’ll crunch some numbers to find out how.

I’ve also tapped some bright contributors to post on on topics including education policy and law.  Hopefully, I can coax them into getting some finalized posts up soon.  Stay tuned!

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The Will of the Voters

In the wake of an election, pundits like to ask, What was the message from voters?  What do voters want?  After all, this is a crucial question for politicians.  It is important for a politician to know what his or her constituents want, if that politician is to properly represent their interests.  Even a politician who just wants to get re-elected, regardless of what he or she intends to accomplish legislatively, wants to know what his or her district is thinking.

In addition, the idea that the government and its policies should reflect the will of the people is paramount to democracy.  The whole point of voting is that those who get elected will basically do what people want, right?

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Issues in the Lame Duck Congress

This Monday, the 111th Congress will convene for the first day of its last session.  This session, called the lame duck session, occurs after the election but before the new members of Congress take their seats, on January 3.  Historically, there has been a lot of variation in what gets done during these periods.  Sometimes, they are relatively inactive or characterized by gridlock.  In some years, though, some important legislation is forged and passed during the lame duck session.

This year, Congress left a lot of things to be done during the lame duck session.  Some of the issues they have yet to address are virtual necessities – the failure to address them would be a real problem practically and politically.  Other issues are leftovers that have yet to be fully resolved after a long, contentious 2 years.  On top of that, the Democratic majority has a long wish list of other issues it would like to address.

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The New Key Players in Congress

Elections have consequences.  When the members of Congress change significantly, we expect to see different kinds of policies make it to the President’s desk.  We also expect to see different members of Congress making headlines.  In this post, I predict who the new key players will be in the House and the Senate, based on the election results from last week.  I won’t look at the party leadership, though they are influential.  Rather, I will look at those Congressmen whose position in the political spectrum will potentially make them decisive figures in policy debates over the next two years.

My tool of choice is the DW-NOMINATE score.  Two innovative political scientists, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, came up with this method to rank Congressmen from left to right based on who they’ve voted with over their Congressional careers.  Though no assumptions about political parties have been made in generating these scores, generally the more negative your score, the more liberal your voting record is, and the more positive your score, the more conservative your voting record.

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Campaign Finance, Part II: Motivations

In the last post, I looked at the money going to each political party in elections over the past decade, and whether unregulated, non-transparent spending is a greater problem now than in the past.  In this post, I delve more into the politics of the debate over campaign finance, looking at the incentives for both sides.  What motivates the groups that are spending through unregulated avenues, and why did the administration choose to focus on this as a campaign issue over the weeks leading up to the election?

The Outside Spenders

Why did special interest groups give more money to Republicans this year, and why did they give more in the form of outside spending, in particular?  Let’s think about this from the point of view of these groups, and assume that these special interests (corporations, unions, trade organizations, and political organizations) view contributing to campaigns as investments that will hopefully pay off with a reasonable return for their members or donors in the future.  (This return doesn’t have to be money; there are some organizations that hope for a return in the form of the furthering of some cause.)

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I’ve realized that I misunderstood the data I presented this morning.  The 2010 numbers that I quoted were totals for all candidates that had run for office as Democrats and Republicans.  Since there were many more Republican than Democratic candidates this year, the amount of money that I attributed to the Republican party was much higher.  The numbers for hard money donations shown in the graph were not total amounts raised by the candidates, but the amount of money raised by each party and its respective committees.

My apologies for the mistake.  To make it up to you, I made the following graph.  It includes hard money raised by the parties, soft money raised by the parties, and money spent by other organizations for the years 1992-2010:

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Campaign Finance, Part I: Is This Year Different?

Note: Some numbers in this post are incorrect.  The correction is posted here.

I was initially going to touch on three questions in this post: Is the amount of money in elections this year unusual?  Why do people give during elections, and what effect do campaign donations have on politics?  And what is the administration’s motivation in taking a hard line on campaign finance in the weeks leading up to the election?

It turns out that answering all those questions makes for a very long post, so I’ve broken it up.  In this post, I will look at the amounts of money that have gone into campaign finance over the past few election cycles to see if this year is, in fact, any different.  I will save the other two questions for a post later this week.

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