Currently viewing the tag: "US Congress"

Why is the US House of Representatives controlled by Republicans in 2013 when Democrats won the Presidency and picked up seats in the US Senate?  The answer is not that Republicans outvoted the Democrats when it came to voting for Congress. In fact its the opposite.  Sam Wang in a New York Times opinion piece entitled “The Great Gerrymander of 2012“, points out that:

  ” Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.”

The fact of the matter is that Republicans had an organized strategy and carried it out to gain control of the redistricting process in a number of key state in the 2010 elections. Controlling redistricting controlled the process of setting new boundaries for Congressional races after the 2010 Census was completed.  As Sam Wang notes:

“Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued a progress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful. …

Gerrymandering is not hard. The core technique is to jam voters likely to favor your opponents into a few throwaway districts where the other side will win lopsided victories, a strategy known as “packing.” Arrange other boundaries to win close victories, “cracking” opposition groups into many districts. Professionals use proprietary software to draw districts, but free software like Dave’s Redistricting App lets you do it from your couch. “

The states with the largest imbalance of voting for Republicans and Democrats for Congress and Republican versus Democratic votes cast statewide were  – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and  Florida which had a severe imbalance in favor of Republicans. Arizona had a severe imbalance in favor of Democrats.   Texas and  Illinois had a moderate imbalance toward Democrats while Indiana had a moderate imbalance toward Republicans.

The net result of these imbalances heavily favored Republicans because of the gerrymandering that occurred. Republicans in these states had a 7% greater vote than the Democrats.  But in terms of electing members to the House of Representatives this 7% advantage  was dwarfed by their electing 76% more Republicans than Democrats. These 10 states elected 109 Republican Congressman to the House but only 62 Democrats.

As Wang notes:

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

The National Conference of State Legislatures lists states with Redistricting Commissions as of 2009. The composition of a Redistricting Commission is important.  While Ohio has a Redistricting Commission, it was comprised of a Board consisting  “of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and two people selected by the legislative leaders of each major political party”.  Republicans had 4 of the 5 seats, having elected a Republican Governor, Auditor and Secretary of State in 2010.  With this Republican partisan redistricting, Ohio’s  Republican Congressional Dominance continued.  In 2010 Republicans had 13 seats to the Democrats having 5.  In 2012, having lost 2 seats due to population changes nationwide, the Republicans however continued their dominance  with 12 seats to the Democrats having 4. This was despite Obama winning Ohio by 2,827,621 votes to Romney’s 2,661,407 votes and electing  a Democratic US Senator,  Sherrod Brown, by a vote of 2,762,690 to 2,435,712 over his Republican opponent.

Sam Wang suggests that such voting disparities between total statewide Democratic to Republican votes and the differing outcome of Congressional races should be addressed by setting up nonpartisan Redistricting Commissions not subject to  blatant partisan makeup like in Ohio or subject to which party controls the process in the Legislature because they are the majority party.  This would certainly more accurately reflect the national and state political makeup and not give disproportionate representation to one party over the other based on election results in other races that can be gamed.    He also said there needs to be stronger judicial review of gerrymandering to ensure a fairer voting outcome.

Washington State voters in 1983 approved Amendment 74 to set up an independent Redistricting Commission. It set up a Commission of 5 members, 1 each selected by the  Washington State House and Senate majority and minority leaders  in the Legislature  and the 5th member selected by the 4 appointed members.The measure was put on the ballot by the Washington State Legislature as a proposed amendment to the Washington State Constitution and passed  with a 61% yes vote. The Washington State League of Women Voters was one of the primary forces behind the measure. Washington State was the third state in the country to enact an independent Redistricting Commission.

Washington state in 2012 picked up an additional Congressional seat and elected 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans to the US House of Representatives.  President Obama received 56.16% of the vote in Washington State. Senator Maria Cantwell (D) won with 60.45% of the vote.  The 10 Democratic candidates for the US House of Representatives received 54.43% of the vote. (1,636,726 votes out of 3,007,096 votes). So Washington State having elected 6 Democrats to the US House out of 10 seats is pretty close to the statewide Democratic voting average. (Voting numbers are from results posted on the Washington State Secretary of state’s website).

The US Supreme Court opened the floodgates with its Citizens United decision and money poured into this year’s election from special interests, corporations, insurance companies and Wall Street. Most of it was secret because Congress has not passed the Disclose Act requiring that contributors names be made public for those engaging in trying to influence the outcome of our elections. The bill has passed the House but is stuck in the US Senate.

Such secret money of course comes with strings attached and the public has the right to know who has bankrolled political campaigns and how our elected officials voted on legislation affecting those donors.
Money spent opposing the Health Care bill passed by Congress points out the problems in detail. As a recent New York Times Editoriall points out:

According to tax records unearthed by Bloomberg News, the health insurance lobby secretly gave $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 to try to prevent the health care bill from becoming law. The huge contribution — 40 percent of the chamber’s spending for that year — allowed the group to run ads against the bill without tainting the insurance industry, which was negotiating with Democrats on the bill at the same time.

This year, the chamber raised nearly $33 million in secret donations for political ads in the midterm elections, almost all of which was used to elect Republicans who have vowed to repeal the health care law. Did some of that money come, once again, from health insurance companies that were unwilling to attach their names to their contributions? It’s a logical assumption, but only the donors and the chamber know for sure.

And that’s the problem with secret political donations, which played such a large role in the elections earlier this month. They cast a shadow of doubt and distrust over a huge field, raising questions about who is covertly pushing which bill and supporting which candidate, and for which self-serving purposes. Lobbying and political contributions can be perfectly legitimate practices, but only when the public can see who is pulling the strings.

Secret donors spent at least $138 million on the midterm elections, according to the latest figures, and 80 percent of that secret money supported Republican candidates. What will those donors get for their money, and who will they get it from?

Write your Senators today and urge they pass the Disclose Act. It’s bad enough having all that corporate and special interest money swamp the public discourse without also know who is funding the campaign.

OpenCongress.org describes the bill:

This is the Democrats’ response to the Supreme Courts’ recent Citizens United v. FEC ruling. It seeks to increase transparency of corporate and special-interest money in national political campaigns. It would require organizations involved in political campaigning to disclose the identity of the large donors, and to reveal their identities in any political ads they fund. It would also bar foreign corporations, government contractors and TARP recipients from making political expenditures. Notably, the bill would exempt all long-standing, non-profit organizations with more than 500,000 members from having to disclose their donor lists.

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress (with the help of a few Republicans) passed another piece of major legislation. Give credit where credit is due. Despite the never ending negativity of the Republican leadership, Democrats prevailed in passing a major bill to reform financial practices in America. The legislation is a significant reversal from past  policy decisions pushed by free market Republicans to deregulate the financial industry. These policies failed as demonstrated by our current depressed economy and loss of jobs.
 By a Senate vote of 60 to 39, Democrats overcame a continuing filibuster threat by the Republican leadership intent on trying to stop Congress from passing any reform legislation and then blaming Obama for not getting anything done. Voters this November need to keep in mind that it is the Democrats who are working to clear up the messes left by the last Republican Administration and that Republicans continue to obstruct needed change.

As the New York Times notes:

The vote was the culmination of nearly two years of fierce lobbying and intense debate over the appropriate response to the financial excesses that dragged the nation into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The result is a catalog of repairs and additions to the rusted infrastructure of a regulatory system that has failed to keep up with the expanding scope and complexity of modern finance.

The bill subjects more financial companies to federal oversight, regulates many derivatives contracts, and creates a panel to detect risks to the financial system along with a consumer protection regulator.

A more detailed analysis of some of the provisions of the legislation and comments by some NW Senators can be found on the NPI Advocate.

There’s a great column in today’s Seattle Times by Froma Harrop entitled “Don’t forget who created this mess”. I highly recommend people read it. (Unfortunately the column is not on the Seattle Times website yet).
Too much attention has been given to vocal strident anti-government protesters on the right. They are aligned with and being promoted by conservative Republicans who want back in power. As Harrop says:

But when they ask whether I want Republicans to take back Washington, I’ll respond: “Are you out of your mind? We’re still recovering from their last round of debauchery – their fiscal irresponsibility, servility toward wall Street, disrespect for science, contempt for the environment”. …
Dear readers, I’m a reasonable woman. I don’t care much about ideology.  My bottom line is what’s good for the country.  While the country is on a bad path, Republican voodoo is what put us on it.  Surely, many voters agree with me.

It seems Democrats in Congress are on the verge of passing another major bill. As reported in the New York Times today, its “a question of when – not if – according to Senate  Democrats.” With most Republicans still plugging their ears and covering their eyes and ignoring the pressing problems facing this country, every Democratic vote is critical as 60 votes are necessary to prevent a filibuster in the Senate.

Senator Maria Cantwell had previously voiced her opposition to the bill because she was concerned that not enough was being done to address the financial risk of loosely or unregulated financial instruments like derivatives which had helped to contribute to the recent financial crisis.

Now the New York Times reports that:

Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, who originally opposed the regulatory overhaul, announced that she would support the final version. The move came after she received a letter from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission about provisions relating to new regulation of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were at the heart of the 2008 crisis. Ms. Cantwell had been concerned about potential loopholes but said she was reassured that the bill would impose a tight regulatory framework

Final passage will still depend on several Republican votes appearing and probably a temporary replacement Senator being appointed to fill West Virginia’s Senate seat held by Senator Robert Byrd who recently died.
The seat will be filled with a temporary appointment until a special election is held in November to fill the remaining two years of Byrd’s term.

One glaring omission from the bill is the lack of oversight for car dealers by the proposed Consumer Protection Agency in the bill. It is unfortunate because after buying a house, cars are one of the major expenses of US households. This would have been a popular item with consumers. .

Republicans face a bleak prospect in next year’s US Senate elections. Senator Larry Craig’s resignation added to what was already shaping up to be a daunting task. Craig’s situation just contributed a little more to an already tarnished Republican image that just got a little tougher to try to turn around. And it puts into play another state, that while Republican leaning, has elected strong Democrats in the past like Cecil Andrus and Frank Church.

The Republican’s problem starts with the reality that they have to defend 22 seats in 2008 while the Democrats are only defending 12 seats. And with the Iraq War and Bush’s ineptitude in running the government at a low ebb, they need to win 23 of the 34 seats up in the Senate to regain control.

Republicans are running in 4 states that went for Kerry over Bush in 2004 – Oregon, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire

Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia who is 80 decided this last week to not run for re-election. This brings the state of Virginia into play for the Democrats, where ex-Governor Mark Warner, a Democrat who left office with an 80% approval rating, is considering running for the seat.
In Colorado another open seat exists with Republican Senator Wayne Allard retiring. As the Rocky Mountain News reported, the Republicans actually set his retirement up with the

promise he made in 1996 to serve no more than two U.S. Senate terms.
The term limits pledge was a relic of the so-called “Republican Revolution” of the 1994 election, when the GOP swept to power promising to change the ways of Washington.”

In a close election in 2002 Allard renewed his pledge. “I’m term-limited,” Allard said in reaction. “That has always been my position. I’ve always said I believe in limiting my term. I’ve stipulated in past campaigns that I believe in term limits, and I’ve never wavered on it.”

As the Washington Post reported

Beyond Idaho and Virginia, the field looks barren for Republicans, GOP campaign aides conceded. NRSC fundraising has been weak, and Republicans appear to have only two real Democratic targets next year, Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Johnson’s slow recovery from a brain hemorrhage has impeded Republicans from going on the attack.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Wednesday rated the Colorado seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Wayne Allard as a tossup, but the state has been trending Democratic. Anti-war sentiments are turning some voters away from the GOP, imperiling the re-election prospects of Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, John Sununu, R-N.H., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

The Craig scandal is only the latest issue to demoralize the Republican Party, and new wild cards keep springing up, such as an FBI raid on a vacation home of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and questions about the role that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., may have played in the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in Albuquerque. Democratic surrogates in labor-backed groups have even been attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The Cook Report considers those three seats and the Idaho seat “likely Republican,” but if the GOP is forced to spend money defending them, it would siphon funds from races where the money would be badly needed. As of June 30, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had $20.4 million on hand, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee had $5.8 million in its bank account.”

Another state that could come into play for democrats is Nebraska. Republican Chuck Hagel has been rumored to be considering retiring. If he does, former Democratic Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey is thought to be very interested in running.

Lots can change in 14 months but it’s all going in the wrong direction for the Republicans right now. It’s probably there bad karma coming back to get them. It was laughable to listen to listen to Senator John Ensign on the George Stephanopoulos show on Sunday. He is heading up the Republican Senators’ election effort.

Ensign said the public wants to elect Senators that “put country before party”. Well there’s one strike against the Republicans. Then he said it was “time to end partisan bickering” That’s two strikes. The third strike was when he said “we need health care we can afford.” That’s not the Republicans. They were the guys that didn’t do it when they controlled both houses and the Presidency. People aren’t dumb. The Republicans are the ones who gave a bonanza to the drug companies at the expense of the public with their corporate welfare drug package that was Medicare Part D. What a joke.

The Republicans are in for more tough times ahead. They are trying to spin it that the country’s problems are the Democrat’s fault. Congress is working under the Democrats now . But our problems are the legacy of a Republican President and a Republican controlled Congress. And the American public knows that. There’s nothing more disingenuous than listening to Republicans talk about partisan bickering and inaction. That’s their legacy, not the Democrats.

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House Speaker Dennis Hastert appointed Washington State Rep Doc Hastings to Chair the House Ethics Committee. Hastert sacked the previous Chair and 3 other Republican members after they too aggressively investigated Tom DeLay. Hastert is Hasting’s boss and with the sacking he clearly sent a message to Hastings as to what he wanted him to do. Since then the committee has been pretty much inactive.

Today at 10 A.M. Hasting’s Democratic opponent, Richard Wright, is holding a press conference calling for Doc Hastings to step down as Chair of the House Ethics Committee.

You can read the press release over at McCranium.It’s good to see Wright getting more aggressive in this race.

Wright questions the unbiasedness of anyone called to impartially investigate someone, then saying. “I think the Speaker has done a great job” Um, great job at what. You can see a video clip of Hastings remarks here.

The problem is that anyone who chairs the Ethics Committee would be appointed with the approval of the Speaker. Hastings was appointed by Hastert. That’s a conflict of interest because the Speaker is part of the investigation.

The House Speaker controls the legislative future of whoever sits on that committee and everyone knows it. What is needed is the
appointment of an independent counsel. Otherwise all you are going to get is a whitewash.

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