Archive for the ‘Congress Views’ Category
Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Vbhotla
Rep. Norm Dicks’ (D –Wash.) retirement announcement today, along with Rules Chairman Rep. David Dreier (R -Calif.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R – ME) shocker earlier this week, is a symptom of a larger problem in Washington, and one of the main reasons that retirements are up this cycle: being in Congress just isn’t as fun as it used to be. By any measuring stick, fewer things are getting done in a timely and regular fashion and people, both inside and outside the Beltway, are getting fed up with it. As a result, smaller problems are piling up on any number of legislative issues and fewer people feel like they have made a difference. Just talk with any staffer or lobbyist who has been in D.C. for more than 20 years and ask if all the technology that we have now have allowed them to accomplish more.
According to many of those staff, one of the reasons for this is that the nature of the fight between the parties has changed. Now the goal isn’t to win and get your legislation passed, but to not allow the other side to win. When Carl Perkins ran the House Education and Labor Committee, his standing order was that unless it would hurt one of the Democrats on the Committee, let the Republicans have the issue. As a result the members were actually civil to each other. One former member often told the story of the first time he met Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. During a committee meeting, he said something that would be considered tame by today’s standards to a member across the aisle, but it got the freshman Dem summoned to the Speaker’s office. As he went to sit, Rayburn told him “I didn’t say you could sit down. I heard what happened in Committee and I’m going to tell you that we don’t speak to other members that way.” I can only imagine what Rayburn would have done if someone heckled President Truman during a State of the Union.
Part of the change in tone is due to a more “in your face” type news system that is constantly being broadcast. The dirty secret of 24/7 news is that really isn’t 24 hours of news being made every day, so anthills have to be turned into mountains for all the prime-time hours to be filled up. The rocketing influence of Twitter only ads to this phenomenon. One Senator a few years ago told me that it is Electronic Cigarettes “a lot easier to turn the other cheek when you are only hearing it once.” The changing format of the shows we get our news from has only exacerbated the problem, as Jon Stewart pointed out years ago. Since the news is constantly running campaign coverage because it draws eyeballs, the members, even if they are “safe” and not engaged in 24/7 fundraising, feel the sword of Damocles at all times. It is a lot harder to cut the guy across from you a break if you are only thinking about what will happen in November… 5 years from now.
Speaking of campaigns, increasingly gerrymandered districts are also having an increased impact. Dems controlled the House for more than 40 years with strangely constructed districts, yet most people would agree the debate was much more civil during much of that time. Additionally, the horrible apathy that voters have for the process gives the most partisan voters an outsized influence. That more people can name Brittany Spear’s ex-husbands than their own representatives is just an example of why both parties have to move further left or right. If only the wings of the parties are going to come out to vote in a primary, why care what the “average” person thinks?
Since the voters aren’t really watching (or rather doing anything about it), the checks and balances of the system have been thrown out of whack. These days neither party, despite the lip service they give, actually follows the rules. Between things like fired parliamentarians and former Majority Leaders saying that the “parliamentarian doesn’t run the [expletive deleted] floor, we do!” there is no longer a true referee for the game. Kind of gives the process an “inmates running the asylum”-type feel.
Sooner or later the pendulum will swing back to a system based on compromise, not extremes. At least no one these days is shooting or fist fighting anyone on the House or Senate floor (even if it has gotten close). Even when compromise was part of the M.O. of the day it still wasn’t as wonderful as the nostalgic, rosy-colored glasses “old timers” would have one believe. However, Members and staff, despite likely being able to make more in the private sector, signed up for the job to make a difference, and looking back on a career of only partisan fighting isn’t that appealing. No one wants to look back on a career and see they were a casualty of a system that won’t let anything happen.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Vbhotla
Every time I watch the State of the Union address, I always wish I was a more optimistic person. I remember being genuinely excited when President Clinton used the line (not very original) “the state of our union is STRONG” in 1998. I have always believed, whether a Democrat or Republican is speaking, that the State of the Union address should be used to inspire and present the ideas that we should aspire to. Basically, I think the perfect State of the Union should make me want to sing out a certain “Team America” song whose name I can’t print here. Last night, while listening to President Obama, I kinda, sorta felt that way.
And I don’t mean that in a partisan way. Like most of the people now on the outside looking in, I’ve always believed that for President Obama to maximize his potential in office, he needs to be more combative. Even when I disagree, I’d rather he or the Republicans in Congress take a bigger chance; it isn’t like either side’s poll numbers are that great now. At the moment, it feels like I am watching a football game where both sides are so scared of turning the ball over they punt every 1st down.
What’s more sickening is the idea that we need a rebuttal response from the opposition. The idea that it is even needed in the first place just rings of two kids going “No, you’re wrong!” Can’t we put aside partisan bickering for one night and let the President, whichever party they are from, have the limelight? Even when President Obama said something that traditionally is “right of center” he couldn’t catch a break. I really don’t know why you’d even want to respond. It seems like the better political strategy is to just let it go, not seem contrarian, and move on to the next thing. Also, because it airs right after the State, there is no way for them to truly prepare online casino poker to “respond” to whatever the President actually says.
Why do I say that? Because the rebuttal is just another chance to make a mistake when you don’t have to. Michelle Bachmann’s ‘tea party’ response last year was a great example of this. Also, despite popular opinion, it isn’t like it really makes a difference in the polls. The historic “bump” that people believe the State of the Union gives the incumbent (especially during an election year) is minimum, if at all. Gallup did a great break down in 2010. (Already two years ago!)The biggest bump since the ‘70s came from that ’98 Address, though granted it was the first time in most people’s lives they were hearing or remembering the President announcing a balanced budget.
One last thought. Legislatively, it seems like the big issue the President pushes for each State of the Union has just around a 50/50 shot of working out well. Just ask President Bush about Social Security. Even when it does work, like Obama’s health care plan, it can seem like a Pyrrhic victory. I think it is just hopeful thinking that in the Halls of Congress we’d all have a “come to the light” moment where everyone goes “Oooooohhhhhh, that’s what we should be doing! OK”.
While President Kennedy didn’t declare we would end up on the moon in his State of the Union Address (I’m cheating here because it was still a joint session when he did it) that is what I believe the Address should be about. It is supposed to be a night where we come together and say “ok, this is where we are as a country.” Now we can’t even agree what our problems are, much less the solutions. As an American, I want to hear the unbridled and hopeful optimism regardless of the “political lean” of the idea. For me, the State of the Union has always been about defining the impossible: and how we will turn it into possible.
Friday, January 14th, 2011 by Vbhotla
There has been a lot of discussion of “changing Washington” in the months leading up to the transition from 111th to 112th Congress. Obviously, some of that was simply rhetoric, and some of it will be pursued with vigor (at least in the first session; enthusiasm may die down once the freshman class realizes some of the proposed changes will get in the way of effectively doing their jobs, just as high school and college freshmen realize by the second semester that things will not go exactly as anticipated).
Earmarks – You should know that the ban on earmarks is not in the House nor Senate rules. It is, however, in the Republican Conference rules (which point to the House rules for guidance on defining earmarks). As the definition of earmarks and what will and won’t be permissible is worked out, it is safe to assume if it was considered an earmark within the last five years, it will be considered an earmark moving forward.
However, experts argue that the current talk of an outright ban doesn’t make policy sense and will eventually reveal itself as allowing too much to the discretion of the Executive Branch. New members of the House, in particular, are expected to tone down the rhetoric once they realize an all-out earmark ban would tie their own hands.
Transparency – Electronic texts have newly been added to the House rules regarding accessibility of legislation to the American people. Though Congress has traditionally been concerned with the security implications of making legislation accessible online, this is expected to be the new standard as electronic media becomes more and more prevalent in society.
“Budget Czar” – Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will have the power to unilaterally set policies regarding certain budgetary decisions, including the spending aggregate. He may also decide to sub-allocate funds to advance the conservative agenda.
Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Vbhotla
Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D-Ohio) press release on her latest anti-lobbyist bill showcased her feelings on lobbyists pretty clearly:
“When Americans on Main Street try to cheat or break the law, there are repercussions; but for years, there was no way to hold lobbyists accountable for games they play with their disclosures,” said Kilroy. “The Lobbying Disclosure Enhancement Act establishes a task force that will go after lobbyists who engage in shoddy reporting practices and hide behind ignorance of the law.”
Source: Press release, “Two Bills Authored by Mary Jo Kilroy Continue to Move Towards Law”
Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 by Vbhotla
Candidate for U.S. Senate Alexi Giannoulias (D-Ill.) is no fan of lobbyists. Mr. Giannoulias, currently the Illinois State Treasurer, is running for the seat currently occupied by appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Giannoulias would work to enact major legislative ethics reforms if elected to the Senate.
“In Washington, D.C., everywhere you go you see a lobbyist,” Giannoulias said. “They run that town. Nine out of 10 people [you see as] you walk down the hall are all lobbyists.”
The Sun-Times reports that “[Giannoulias] wants a total ban on corporations and lobbyists donating to candidates and a lifetime ban on senators or congressmen ever becoming lobbyists.”
Giannoulias’ Senate candidate site is at www.alexiforillinois.com.
Giannoulias’ official state site is at www.treasurer.il.gov.