I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.

There are only two major limitations: no coarse language, and no derogatory comments about people at the Claremont Colleges.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Simulation, Fall 2016

Armed Services


John McCain (AZ), chair
Kelly Ayotte (NH)
Tom Cotton (AR)
Joni Ernst (IA)
Mike Lee (UT)


Jack Reed (RI), ranking
Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Claire McCaskill (MO)



Chuck Grassley (IA), chair
Lindsey Graham (SC)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
Ted Cruz (TX)
Mitch McConnell (KY) majority leader, added for simulation purposes


Patrick Leahy (VT), ranking
Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Chuck Schumer (NY), Democratic leader
Amy Klobuchar (MN)

For witnesses and administration officials, you might get in touch with last spring's class: click here.

Process II

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Second Paper, Fall 2016

Choose one:

1.   Pick any bill from the 113th (2013-15) or 114th Congresses (2015-present).  Explain its fate. Instead of giving a mere chronology, tell why the measure moved or stalled. What happened to previous versions? Which groups or blocs backed and fought it? Which strategies and tactics did its friends and foes use? Even if it failed or stalled, did it prompt the passage of a similar measure in a different form? Look at parliamentary strategies, major amendments, and roll calls.  Again, you should explain the outcome, not just describe the process.

2.  Analyze a proposed reform of congressional procedure (e.g., Rand Paul's Read the Bills Act).  Carefully explain arguments for and against the reform.  Would it achieve its goal?  Would it improve the operation of Congress? (The two questions are not necessarily the same.)

3.  Pick pending legislation that has not yet passed either house.  Write a memo to its prime sponsor detailing a plausible strategy for securing its passage at least in one chamber.  In your answer, consider all phases of the legislative process and take account of the influence of interest groups and the administration.

Get background from a source such as Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, where you may find the partisan breakdown of roll-call votes. (Use the hardcopy or the online version at http://library.cqpress.com).   You may also find a key-votes database at The Washington Post.

Other possible sources include:

  • Essays should be typed, double-spaced, and no more than five pages long. I will not read past the fifth page. 
  • Cite your sources with endnotes in standard Turabian format. 
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you. Return essays (as Word documents, not pdfs) to the Sakai dropbox by 11:59 PM, Friday, October 7. Papers will drop one gradepoint for one day’s lateness, a full letter grade after that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dark Horses

In keeping up with polls, I've noticed a few races that deserve a little more love from the pundits.

-North Carolina Senate (Incumbent Sen. Burr vs challenger State Assemblywoman Ross)
While polling has shown a single digit advantage for Burr since January, Elon's poll released on Thursday shows Ross up by one point. Burr is riding the coattails of McCrory, who is not popular. Burr got an easy election year in 2010 when the Democratic party was more interested in mitigating their losses than picking up Rep seats, but 2016 is almost definitely going to be a better year for Democrats than 2010 was, and North Carolina's demographics are quickly shifting toward big cities and non-white voters - two advantages for Democrats. Incumbency and fundraising may yet save Burr, but I don't imagine he's sleeping well at night.

-New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District (Incumbent Frank Guinta vs challenger Carol Shea-Porter)
Round 4 of Guinta v. Shea-Porter (Fun fact, these two went head-to-head in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and each time the challenger won) is looking dim for Guinta. While Guinta's prospects have undoubtedly improved from the bleak 19-point-deficit he faced in late August (the peak of Clinton's polling against Trump), the swing alone probably isn't big enough for him to hold on to his seat. Nevertheless, New Hampshire is both 33% rural (well ahead of the national average) and 93% white (FAR ahead of the national average), the district is also very anti-incumbent (ousting incumbents is routine for NH-1) and has no clear advantage for either party in voter registration.

-Maine and Nebraska Presidential Election (Trump vs Clinton)
Maine and Nebraska are the only two states to award two of their electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote and the rest by congressional district. Both Maine and Nebraska have a Congressional district that have strong possibility of breaking from the state's popular vote.
-Maine 2nd is nearly 3/4 rural, and all of the most recent polling shows Trump ahead - in the two latest polls, Trump leads by double digits. While the 1st congressional district is quite solidly in Clinton's camp, a wide enough margin in the 2nd could put Maine's two statewide votes in play.
-Nebraska 2nd, unlike the rest of the state, is concentrated in urban Omaha. While Pres. Obama won the 2nd in 2008, 2010 redistricting moved Bellevue, a more liberal South Omaha suburb, into the highly conservative 1st Congressional district in exchange for highly conservative North Omaha suburbs. Despite the redistricting, NE-2 is represented by a Democrat first elected in 2014, a strongly Republican year. Fivethirtyeight gives the edge to Trump, but also notes that neither candidate is likely to obtain 50% of the vote at this point.

Legislative Process I


  Bill Drafting (Straus ch. 2)
The Name Game

A recent example: The HANGUP Act

Do They Read The Bills? No.  

A recent example

John Conyers:

The fiscal cliff -- search for "algae"
The committee system

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lobotomy on the Hill

Frank Baumgartner and Lee Drutman write at Vox that Congress is working fine ... for some.
So who are these select few? They are indeed a small group, but not an inconsequential one. They include party leaders who benefit from centralized control of policy and personnel resources, lobbying groups withpolicy capacity to lend, and anybody who doesn't want Congress to be able to produce new legislation or know much about it if it does. That's about it.
Congress has given itself a lobotomy over the past three decades. It has eliminated thousands of staff positionseviscerated its ability to carry out policy analysis, and generally has such low pay and difficult work environments that it relies on inexperienced and overstretched 20-somethings for the vast bulk of its work.

Before puzzling why any institution would do something so self-destructive and attributing the cause to irrationality or worse, we should consider perhaps that the system is now working just as many people would prefer.
Congress would significantly improve its problem-solving capacity under a reempowered committee system, with more and more professional staff to conduct policy analysis. Under such a system, committees have both the resources and the breathing space to tackle public problems. Congress would get more discovery on a range of problems, more information about potential policy solutions, and more capacity to solve problems.
By contrast, centralization of resources in party leadership means that information sourcesare tightly controlled, limited, and drawn into the zero-sum nature of partisan conflict. It's no wonder Congress is frequently incapacitated.

But change is hard.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Leadership and LBJ

Committees and the Simulation

Hill leadership
Edmund Burke:
 In all bodies, those who will lead, must also, in a considerable degree, follow. They must conform their propositions to the taste, talent, and disposition, of those whom they wish to conduct: therefore, if an assembly is viciously or feebly composed in a very great part of it, nothing but such a supreme degree of virtue as very rarely appears in the world, and for that reason cannot enter into calculation, will prevent the men of talent disseminated through it from becoming only the expert instruments of absurd projects!
Speakership Elections (see Straus p. 45)

Factions and Member Organizations

Note:  even majorities of the president's party may split with the administration agenda.  See Democrats on trade in 1993 and 2014.

LBJ in Frank Underwood's office

The moment that made Newt

Gingrich on the difference between majority and minority:
In short, overnight I found myself in a job far bigger than most people, even Washingtonians, understand to this day. The Speaker is the third-ranking constitutional officer. That in itself might seem weighty enough. In addition, the day-to-day job requires him not only to preside over, but to attempt to lead, 435 strong-willed, competitive, and independent-minded people. (Some wag has likened this to an attempt to herd cats.) After all, if these people had not in the first place been heavily endowed with all three of these characteristics—will, competitiveness, and independence of mind—they would never have been able to get through the process of winning a primary, followed by a general election, followed by the requirement that they represent 600,000 of their fellow Americans in the nation's capital. So if they sometimes made difficulties for one another, and for me, that was one of the great strengths of the system.
All of this added up to the fact that, politically experienced as I was, everything seemed a little unfamiliar to me. I hadn't shifted from my old job to my new job fast enough. I hadn't shaken off some of the habits I had acquired being the minority whip. I'll give you an example. As the minority party, we were in the position of having to fight every day just to get some media attention. We tended to say and do things that were far more strident and dramatic than are prudent to do and say as the leaders of the majority who find themselves in front of the microphone every day. If you are seldom covered by the press, which was the case with House Republicans for forty years, you have a lot of leeway to make mistakes. But when you are in people's living rooms every evening, your mistakes are magnified.

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