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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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Putting It All Together

  • Two political branches: Presidency & Congress
  • Two chambers: House & Senate
  • Two orientations: "right eye" & "left eye"-- all politics is local v. all politics is national
  • Two kinds of party: government & opposition
  • Ideological and material interests overlap
  • Means of influence:
  1. Electoral campaigns
  2. Grassroots lobbying
  3. Inside lobbying
  • Ideas about culture and human nature
  • Ideas about economics
  • Ideas about process: Progressive reforms
  • The thinkers: Madison and Wilson
  • The policy guys
  • The leaders

Monday, May 2, 2011

Levin: "They have a lot of explaining to do."

Bin Laden's "hideout" in Abbottabad, Pakistan -- National Geographic

Since the new of his death broke last night, some members of Congress have wondered aloud about the possibility that Osama bin Laden received protection from the Pakistani military.

Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested to reporters this morning that he thought the Pakistani military was aware that bin Laden was in Abbottabad—a town that serves as a garrison for Pakistani soldiers. Politico reports that Senators Collins and Lieberman, both of the SASC, joined Levin in raising such concerns.

Collins said that it was ‘very difficult’ for her to understand how bin Laden’s compound did not raise suspicions among Pakistani officials, noting that there were no phone or Internet lines attached to the residence, the waste was incinerated and that there was barbed wire surrounding the unit.

Because Congress appropriates foreign aid to Pakistan, including funding for anti-terror operations, these questions are appropriate. According to an article by National Geographic, the town of 120,000 is home to thousands of stationed Pakistani troops.

Senator Levin said this morning: “They have a lot of explaining to do.”

Blackhawk Down 2.0 Averted

Politico published a story online today detailing the elite task force's mission as the President watched from the Capital.

The helicopter carrying Navy SEALs malfunctioned as it approached Osama bin Laden’s compound at about 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, stalling as it hovered. The pilot set it down gently inside the walls, then couldn’t get it going again.

It was a heart-stopping moment for President Barack Obama, who had been monitoring the raid in the White House Situation Room, surrounded by members of his war cabinet.

“Obviously, everyone was thinking about Black Hawk Down and Desert One,” a senior administration official recalled.

The SEALs disembarked.

“The assault team went ahead and raided the compound, even though they didn’t know if they would have a ride home,” an official said.

The special forces put bombs on the crippled chopper and blew it up, then lifted off in a reinforcement craft just before 4:15 p.m., capping an astounding 40 minutes that gave the United States a tectonic victory in the 10-year war on terror touched off by 9/11.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0511/54093.html#ixzz1LELadRxJ

Contemporary Congressional History

Senate Leaders

Housequake 2006

CMCers Celebrate in D.C.

In continuing the mass coverage of Osama bin Laden news, I wrote up a little piece on the Port Side covering some CMC students in the D.C. Program (Tom Boerigter and Congress class alums Kayla Benker and Alyssa Roberts) celebrating outside the White House last night.

They got some good pictures and video of the celebration.

Congress and Bin Laden

The operation that resulted in Osama bin Laden's death is a good example of a way in which the executive can quickly take action to address a national security threat without consulting Congress. As we've discussed in class, this power is a virtue when a threat requires a swift, unified response, but Members of Congress often complain that they wish they had more oversight when the action proves unpopular or commits American troops to a longer engagement.

Members of Congress were not consulted before Obama ordered the operation, and were informed of the operation's success only after.

According to NPR (listen in at about 1:58), the President, Vice President and Director of the National Terrorism Center called the leadership of both chambers as well as members of the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees in the hour before the President's address around 11:30 pm on Sunday evening.

Marco Rubio Claims he will not Run as VP in 2012

In an appearance on Meet the Press, Marco Rubio said that he wound not be on a 2012 ticket as Vice President under any circumstances. He said, "I want to be a senator and I want to be a senator from Florida." Given the lack of exciting candidates from the Republican Party and Obama's recent success in capturing Osama Bin Laden, this may not be a bad move for Marco. Then again, maybe someone will be able to convince him to change his mind.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Hideout

Nicholas Jackson of The Atlantic released information identifying the location of Osama bin Laden's compound, a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 80 miles north of Islamabad.

Bin Laden is Dead

By this point most of you have probably seen the news reports about the President's upcoming address to announce Bin Laden's death. What I find interesting is that the story was largely broken through twitter; actual news sources were a good 10-15 minutes later. It makes me wonder if the appearance of the news first on twitter was intentional or an accident. CNN's website cites "Congressional and administration officials" as sources, which makes me think Congress was briefed at least slightly in advance. We will probably never know, but it would be interesting to find out how much of the way the information was released was deliberate and how much is a result of Congress being unable to keep a secret. It will also be interesting to see what effect the news has on Obama's approval ratings and his political capital when dealing with the Republicans in the House.

Since I first posted, I found this article that offers a little bit more detail about the way the news spread. The BBC also has an interesting piece on the role of twitter in breaking the news.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Boehner's Poll Numbers Drop

An article published today reports that Speaker John Boehner has been dropping in the polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The largest drop came from Independents that demonstrated a 27 percentage point decline. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed similar results.

Sandoval appoints Heller to fill Ensign seat


Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) appointed Congressman Dean Heller (R) to fill Sen. John Ensign's (R) Senate seat.

Hellen is already running in 2012 for a seat in the Senate.

DSCC Matt Canter comments: "As the unelected senator, Dean Heller will now be forced to explain to all Nevadans why he is working in Washington to end Medicare and cut loans for small businesses that create clean-energy jobs in Nevada. Becoming the unelected senator will come with a level of heightened scrutiny that will hurt Heller in a general election."

It was confirmed again...Obama is a U.S. citizen

President Obama releases his detailed birth certificate but first scolds the news outlets. The news outlets, Pres. Obama said, spent too much time on this issue. Obama and Congress have greater issues to solve and the issue of Obama's birth place should not have distracted the nation from more pressing matters.


Heller to replace Ensign

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has announced that Rep. Dean Heller will replace current Senator John Ensign after his imminent resignation. Heller has been the presumed choice for the appointment, although his appointment is complicated by the fact that he will have to be replaced through a special election, as discussed in class.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trump hopes "direct aim at Obama" will take him "all the way to the White House."

In an interview with Bonnie Gosh, Donald Trump "suggests that Barack Obama was a poor student, who didn't deserve to get into the Ivy League schools he attended."
His evidence?
Trump: "I heard he was a terrible student...he went to Occidental. Heard he was a terrible student."
And "Trump admitted he did not have any specific evidence proving Obama to be a bad student."

If Mr. Trump does indeed announce his intentions to run for President, he may want to refine his debate skills.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Maybe the Republicans were Right about Charlie Sheen

According to a recent Politico article Charlie Sheen performed on Tuesday at Washington, D.C.’s DAR Constitution Hall. He discussed not believing in the legitimacy of Obama's Citizenship and the possibility of a run at the presidency.

According to him if he won he would, "disband the Fed, like, now. … And send the IRS to prison."
He would also "inspire people to start making s— again. ... Cars, washing machines, all of it."

Maybe the Republicans in simulation were correct and Charlie Sheen is not the best person to explain policy to Congress or maybe, given his complex understanding of the problems facing America today, he's the perfect person to testify before Congress.

Another One Bites the Dust

Senator Ensign, under ethics inquiry, admits no wrongdoing but says he will resign

Embattled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev) announced Thursday night that he wil resign from office in early May, a move that comes amid an ethics investigation into his conduct.

"While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings," Ensign said in a statement posted on his Web site. "For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great."


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Final Essay Assignment

Choose one of the following:

1. Take any of JFK’s “profiles in courage.” Did JFK/Sorensen get the story right? How does this story illustrate similarities and differences between the Congress of its time and the Congress of 2011? In your essay, take careful account of the analyses by Connelly and Haskell.

2. Propose and defend a specific reform in the structures or procedures of Congress (including legislative-executive relations). Explain what you would accomplish with your reform. That is, drawing on what you have learned in this course, spell out the problem and tell how your reform would fix it. Use concrete information and cite credible sources. Give fair and careful consideration to counterarguments and practical obstacles.

  • Essays should be typed, stapled, double-spaced, and no more than three pages long. I will not read past the third page.
  • Put your name on a cover sheet. Do not identify yourself on the text pages.
  • Cite your sources. You may use either endnotes or parenthetical references to a bibliography. In either case, put your documentation in a standard format (e.g., Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style).
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return essays by the start of class, May 4. Papers will drop a gradepoint for one day’s lateness, a letter grade after that.

The 19th Century

You want polarization? Here's some polarization. Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina beats Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

Video and transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The congressional oath of office dates from this era.

Background on the impeachment process.

There is an entire site on the Johnson impeachment.

Another impeachment

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama Rallies Against Anonymous Money

Considering our discussion about campaign contributions earlier in the semester, this article seemed particularly interesting. Obama signed an executive order that forces companies that are looking for government contracts to disclose their contributions---some that were previously anonymous.

The Politico Article stated:

"The proposed order follows several actions by regulatory agencies that have a similar intent of making corporate and individual donations more transparent.

Last month the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a decree that could result in shareholders having more say in corporate election spending. Democratic appointees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission are pushing measures that could make public currently anonymous contributions to outside groups."

Colbert creates a Super PAC

Last night on Stephen Colbert created a Super PAC with the help of the former chair of the FEC, Trevor Potter.

He parodies the difference between PACs and Super PACs. Apparently, to create a Super PAC, one fills out the same form as they would to create a PAC, and then just sends a short cover letter declaring it a Super PAC.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Congress and Politics in the Founding Era and After

An attack ad:

Webster 1/26/1830:
While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that, in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as, “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterward”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart—Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!
Daniel Webster, 3/7/1850 (during the South Carolina secession crisis):
wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels. It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and our government. The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the North, and the stormy South combine to throw the whole sea into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and disclose its profoundest depths. I do not affect to regard myself, Mr. President, as holding, or as fit to hold, the helm in this combat with the political elements; but I have a duty to perform, and I mean to perform it with fidelity, not without a sense of existing dangers, but not without hope. I have a part to act, not for my own security or safety, for I am looking out for no fragment upon which to float away from the wreck, if wreck there must be, but for the good of the whole, and the preservation of all; and there is that which will keep me to my duty during this struggle, whether the sun and the stars shall appear, or shall not appear for many days. I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. "Hear me for my cause." I speak to-day, out of a solicitous and anxious heart for the restoration to the country of that quiet and harmonious harmony which make the blessings of this Union so rich, and so dear to us all. These are the topics I propose to myself to discuss; these are the motives, and the sole motives, that influence me in the wish to communicate my opinions to the Senate and the country; and if I can do any thing, however little, for the promotion of thse ends, I shall have accomplished all that I expect...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Simulation-Like Moment on the House Floor

Before passing their own version of the budget resolution, House Republican leaders allowed a vote on a version by the Republican Study Committee, which contained much deeper and more unpopular cuts. Chad Pergram explains:

The House Republican braintrust assumed that a host of moderate Republicans would join nearly all Democrats to defeat the RSC’s idea. After all, if Democrats weren’t going to support the Ryan plan, they would certainly oppose the ultra-conservative budget drafted by Scott Garrett.

As the clock ticked down to 00:00 on the House scoreboard, the RSC plan was prevailing, mostly because few Democrats had even bothered to vote. Surely the RSC plan wouldn’t win, would it? Because if it did, the RSC would have short-circuited the Ryan plan and it would never even make it to the floor.

And that’s when Steny Hoyer showed his hand.

At 11:52 am, an email exploded onto BlackBerries all over Capitol Hill from the Democratic Whip Press Shop.

“We are now voting on the RSC budget. Democrats are voting present to highlight Republican divisions. By voting present, Republicans will be in a position of either passing the RSC budget, or voting against Club for Growth who is scoring this vote,” read the missive. “With Democrats voting present, Republicans are solely responsible for passage or failure of the RSC budget.”

By holding their votes until the last minute and then answering “present,” Democrats were driving down the total necessary to approve the resolution. In fact this tactic would drop the total WELL below 217. That’s because present votes don’t count against the final vote tally. In addition, the gambit of Democrats voting present hampered the GOP, which ironically, NEEDED Democrats to vote no against the RSC just to lug the Ryan budget to the floor.

First 12 Democratic present votes rolled in. It ballooned to 40 a minute later. Then the figure exploded all the way up to 152 in a matter of seconds.

Pandemonium erupted on the floor. You could almost hear Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi declare “It’s a trap!”

The number of Democratic present votes continued to swell. Now the scramble was on. Could Republicans persuade some its members to switch their votes from yes to no before Democrats could get those who voted no to alter their votes to present?At least nine Republicans switched their votes, including House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) and the husband-and-wife tandem of Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL) & Mary Bono Mack (R-CA).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Budget Deal Passes with Confusion

Today the Budget agreed upon late Friday night of last week, passed both the House and the Senate and now awaits President Obama's signature. Conservative, freshman House Representatives, as well as other members, defected from party leadership with 59 voting against the bill. Some of these freshman representatives were confused about the CBO's latest report which states only $352 million of cuts will be realized this fiscal year. Speaker Boehner assured the freshmen that the cuts would be made eventually and that there is:

A Distinction between Budget Outlay and Budget Authority

Looks like they should've taken this course.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Humerous Article on Lobbying

Here is a funny article that depicts the common stereotypes of lobbyist in American. Enjoy.

The Big Twinkie Question

Today in class, a few questions were raised about the status of our nation's debt ceiling. Professor Pitney emphatically said that defaulting on our debt would be: "BAD. Really, really bad." Now just how "bad" would it be to default on our nation's debt? Dr. Egon Spengler explains it best, in this classic scene from one of the greatest documentaries on international finance and fluctuating debt ceilings: Ghostbusters.

War Powers

The War Powers Resolution

The Iraq War Resolution

President Obama's Libya letter

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rush to Save Projects Back Home During Budget Battle

Ask a member of Congress what they think of earmarks and most will resoundingly agree that superfluous earmarks and pork barrel projects are bad and should be curbed - except for the ones going towards their district.

An article published in the New York Times near the end of last week's budget battle describes the challenges that House GOP members are faced with as they try to pare down the budget while preserving funds needed for projects back home.
The Republican budget bill also called for cutting a type of popular transportation grant. Since the cut was proposed, there has been an apparent rush to get work going on projects financed by the grants to keep them from being ended by any budget-cutting deal agreed to by the two parties and the White House. Consider the case of the Memorial Bridge, which stretches over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Me. The aging bridge, in ill repair, was set to receive $20 million in transportation grants.

But Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Representative Frank Guinta of New Hampshire — all Republicans who voted for the Republican spending-cut bill that slashed the grant program — worked to ensure that the bridge project would receive the financing, according to staff members from several of their offices.

Obama as a Clinton-Centrist - Bad Idea?

The Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein pointed out President Obama's attempt to paint himself as a Clinton-centrist. Recently, the President hired many former President Clinton staffers and aides. But Klein astutely noted that the economic situation of 1995 is vastly different from 2011.
The late ‘90s were a boom time like few others -- and not just in America. The unemployment rate was less than 6 percent in 1995, and fell to under 5 percent in 1996.
Nevertheless, after agreeing to Speaker John Boehner's budget proposal, in his address to the people of the United States, the President declared (clip below), "This is an agreement to invest in our country's future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history." Obama continually stressed the need to put politics aside and come together for the benefit of the country.

This, Klein argued, is a mistake. By celebrating spending cuts, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Klein stated Reid joined in on the "celebration") opened themselves to additional cuts in the future. How can they celebrate cuts now but publicly denounce them later? Additionally, Clinton economists know that now, during the middle of a recession, is not the time to be cutting spending.
Deficits should be low to nonexistent when the economy is strong, and larger when it is weak. The Obama administration’s economists know that full well.
While it's a long way out, if the economy does not recover by November of next year, will this kill the Democrats' chances in the 2012 election?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Government to Endure

Last night, with two hours to spare, the Federal shutdown was avoided. From the New York Times:

Congressional leaders and President Obama headed off a shutdown of the government with less than two hours to spare Friday night under a tentative budget deal that would cut $38 billion from federal spending this year.

Although compromise has been reached, Congress did not pass this compromise as a budget bill.

Because of the need to put the compromise into legislative form, Congressional leaders said the House and Senate would vote overnight to pass a stopgap measure financing the government through Thursday to prevent any break in the flow of federal dollars. The actual budget compromise would be considered sometime next week.

Looks like the government will endure, albeit still on a continuing revolution until next week.


Friday, April 8, 2011

It Stinks to be in the Minority in the House

Here is more evidence of how lousy it is to be in the minority in the House. The party's leader can be hundreds of miles away during intense budget negotiations -- and very few notice or even care.

Nancy Pelosi took the stage at Cohen Auditorium on the Tufts campus Friday afternoon with the federal budget in gridlock in Washington.

"Minute to minute, hour to hour, we're getting reports," Pelosi said. "As long as we don't have to take something to the floor, I can be with you right now."


Before leaving the stage, Pelosi was presented with some Red Sox apparel for her grandchildren and a stuffed Tufts Jumbos elephant.

As it turns out, every group has some form of government advocacy

Thanks to these people, registered sex offenders do, in fact, have a voice.

"RSOL is not just a lobby group. The primary purpose of RSOL is to influence public opinion about the growing national hysteria concerning sex offenders and deviant sexual behavior. Specific strategies include promoting research, publishing articles and writing letters to the editor to demand that real protection of children from sexual harm be couple with civil liberties for all people concerned, including alleged sex offenders. We also support changing or amending existing laws that violate the rights of offenders and do nothing to protect children, especially those that humiliate and shame offenders, those that criminalize consensual sex among adolescents and young adults, those that restrict the residences and employment of offenders, and those that continue to incarcerate offenders who have completed their sentences under so-called civil commitment. We ure our state groups to propose such amendments, and also to oppose new, draconian legislation."

Here's another one, although they seem to operate at the state level.

Gingrich first out of the gate?

RealClearPolitics article posted by Scott Conroy

"A statement released by Newt Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler...reports that the former House speaker would announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday in Georgia...poised to become the first major Republican candidate to make a formal move into the 2012 race."

So far "potential candidates [have been] traveling to early voting states and eyeing each other cautiously, while not yet officially launching their campaigns. Several other serious contenders for the Republican nomination still appear to be weeks, if not months, away from making their own decisions."

Potential Pros:
-"Being the first candidate to announce...generate[s] a lot of buzz" (Tim Albrecht, the communications director for Republican Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad)
-Causes a domino effect, and other contenders formally enter the race before they may have wanted.
-More time to utilize "grassroots politics" and gather supporters

Potential Cons:
-Make oneself prematurely vulnerable to political attacks from rivals
-Burn through "precious financial resources almost a year before the first votes are cast"

"If Gingrich does indeed take the plunge, his every utterance will be parsed," and with "a reputation for generating controversy through off-the-cuff comments, the former speaker will have to be more careful than ever in avoiding self-inflicted wounds as he transitions from the contemplative stage to an active campaign."

Presidential Campaign Videos

This website has all the presidential campaign videos from the 1952 to 2008 elections. It is interesting to see how the media tactics (i.e. jolly animated cartoons vs. flagrant mud-slinging) and the ideological emphasis (i.e. war and criminal justice in the 1960s vs. local family values in the 2000 election) have changed throughout the decades.

Personally, I think this one is my favorite: Good ol' Ike

Nixon's 1968 campaign video takes on a slightly different tone...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Simulation Photos

Without further ado...

Interest Groups and Congress

Interest groups spend much more on lobbying activities than campaign contributions.

The best explanation of campaign fundraising in the history of film:

Frogs do it:

Lobbying as Portrayed in Hollywood

I recently came across this movie trailer, which promotes the 2010 movie Casino Jack. It is based on the true events surrounding the imprisonment of lobbyist Jack Abramoff who, along with Representative Bob Ney and 20 other associates, have been convicted in a "wide ranging corruption scandal."

The scandal presented to the public focused on the fraudulent purchase of multiple casino cruise ships and the solicitation of $66 million from indian tribes seeking to influence Washington. Abramoff also pleaded guilty to "tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials by showering them with gifts and inducing them to take official action on behalf of his lobbying group. The largesse included the use of luxury suites at Washington-area sports venues, free meals at an upscale restaurant Abramoff owned and an all-expenses-paid golf outing to Scotland." (LA Times)

It is important to note that this story is not indicative of the way lobbying traditionally works. While Hollywood has captured this story in a semi-glamourus manner, the end result of such actions is anything but.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paul Ryan unveils his budget plan

Paul Ryan announced the Republicans 2012 budget today. The proposal would cut $6.2 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years. It does so in large part by overhauling Medicare and Medicaid. The plan would turn Medicaid into block grants for the states. Here is Ryan's description of the Republicans' Path to Prosperity.

Interest Groups and Lobbying

See a report from the Center for Responsive Politics.

See a New York Times report on corporate charity and Congress.

Watch a video from the American League of Lobbyists:

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Timely Debate: Military Detainees, Trials in the News

Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses an Audience
The President Obama of Congressional Simulation 2011 showed a surprise change of position on military detainees for his SOTU address. Given the president's recent movement towards military trials, we were puzzled to hear the president speak out so strongly for civilian trials for all terror suspects. Ultimately, he came around to signing the Military Detainees Procedures Improvement Act of 2011. Today, the real President Obama made a reluctant movement in the same direction on military trials.

Jason Ryan and Huma Khan of ABC News report that five Sept. 11 suspects, including mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-conspirators, will be tried by military commission at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration made it clear that this was not its first choice of action for trying the case.

Attorney General Eric Holder "placed the blame squarely on Congress creating conditions where the Department of Justice cannot try them in a federal court," according to the ABC News reporters. Holder went on to say that their Congress's decision would gravely impact U.S. national security and counterterrorism efforts.

Congress "tied our hands in a away that could have serious ramifications," said Holder. "In reality, I know this case in a way that members of Congress do not. Do I know better than them? Yes."

Our simulation raised some questions about Congress ceding power to the executive, and Holder's comments point to a distinct point about the ways in which Congress can limit the power of the executive. By refusing to appropriate funds to hold Guantanamo inmates on the mainland or cover the expenses of the trial, Congress was able to force the Obama administration's hand on the trials of military detainees.

(Photo credit: RyanJReilly)

2012 Reelection "Tripwires"

Real Clear Politics featured an article by Michael Tomasky outlining the five major obstacles, or "tripwires," Obama will face in his 2012 reelection campaign.

1) The economy is still in bad shape, and unemployment is higher than before he took office
2) Domestic defense (heaven forbid there should be another terrorist attack)
3) Foreign policy (Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan)
4) Swing States - Obama narrowly won Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana in 2008, totaling 73 electoral votes
5) "A person can only be fresh once" - will the Democrats be able to rally behind Obama even though he did not deliver all of the "change" he promised?

Losing Its Sheen

In a recent speech at the Iowa College Republican's Annual Convention potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty made a surprising comparison for the Republican Party. Pawlenty stated, "we may not in this room have 'tiger blood' like he does, but we do have something else in common with him. There's going to be a lot of winning on the Republican side in 2012." While clearly trying to connect with is youthful audience with this cultural reference and a previous one made to Lady Gaga, Sheen might not have been the best choice. Those of us on the Armed Services Committee during simulation found out almost immediately the perils of trading on the fame of Charlie Sheen. After the State of the Union last Monday Senators Reid and Akaka were cornered by group of Republican senators demanding that we eliminate Charlie Sheen from our list of witnesses due to his questionable character. Our Charlie Sheen gave strong if uneven testimony, but he certainly did not #win us any support from the other side. His statement certainly was not as foolhardy as our attempt to get publicity for our committee, but it draws a potentially uncomfortable comparison. As a qualified candidate who has a reputation for being somewhat bland, Pawlenty may benefit from getting any media attention at all regardless of sentiment expressed. Conversely, a comment like this always has the potential to become a bad punch line if Charlie Sheen or Pawlenty's presidential bid should go off the rails (further off the rails in Sheen's case).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When will the budget battle end?

Republicans have refused President Obama's most recent budget compromise. Obama claims the Republicans are playing politics with issues that won't even affect the national debt. Along the same lines, Harry Reid has accused the Republicans in the House of "being afraid of the Tea Party" Will a compromise be reached by the end of the week?

Congress, the News Media, and the Entertainment Media

The cautionary tale of Kurt Bardella:
  • From Bardella himself: [R]eporters e-mail me saying, “Hey, I’m writing this story on this thing. Do you think you guys might want to investigate it? If so, if you get some documents, can you give them to me?” I’m, like, “You guys are going to write that we’re the ones wanting to do all the investigating, but you guys are literally the ones trying to egg us on to do that!”
  • "This is a place that, for better or worse, does recognize self-promotion," Bardella said. "It's about winning the daily news cycle and learning to navigate the new media world. Your priorities do become a little distorted, and you lose sight of who you are rather than what you're trying to portray."
  • “Kurt has had danger signs,” said a House Republican aide who refused to be named to avoid dragging other members into the storm. “If you had said, ‘X press secretary did this,’ Kurt would have been eight out of 10 people’s guess.”

The great political movie of them all -- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) -- had a screenplay by a Communist. No joke.

Advise and Consent (1962) had echoes of the Hiss-Chambers case.

The real-life hearing:

In The Candidate, Robert Redford depicted a senatorial candidate showing fatigue:

In 1998, so did Warren Beatty in Bulworth:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

C-SPAN Version of Simulation Coverage

Sorry for low volume on audio (it was a cameraphone):

For Monday...

1. Congratulations on a successful Simulation! We'll talk about it Monday.
2. On Monday, we shall discuss Congress and the media, encompassing both the news media and entertainment media. A couple of short, fun readings about a recent flap:
Later, I shall post readings about interest groups and ethics, which we shall discuss on Wednesday.

3. Peer evaluation: This Monday, April 4, please bring in a short memo in which you identify three or four members of this class who did a particularly good job. Give a couple of sentences to each person you name, explaining why she or he stood out. Give special attention to those who did their work behind the scenes. Please take some care with these memos. In addition to using them for evaluating the assignment, I save them so that I may quote them in letters of recommendation. Evaluations are anonymous: do not put your own name on the sheet.

4 Writeup: In analyzing your role in the simulation, please cover these points:

  • How well did your positions and goals match those of your real-life counterpart?
  • What methods did you use? In the circumstance that you dealt with, would your counterpart have done the same?
  • What obstacles did you face?
  • What did you achieve?
  • How did the simulation both resemble and differ from the real world?
  • Overall, what did you learn?

You may attach or e-mail me relevant supporting materials, such as: memoranda, bill drafts, or strategy notes. (Better yet, refer to material that is already online at https://sites.google.com/site/congresssimulation2011/home and other sites) Please be selective here: do not include everything, just the key items.

  • Essays should be typed, stapled, double-spaced, and between 5 and 6 pages long. I will not read past the 6th page. (Supporting materials do not count against the page limit.)
  • Cite outside sources in standard format (e.g.,Turabian).
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return essays to class on Wednesday, April 13. Your grade for the simulation will drop one gradepoint for one day's lateness, a full grade after that.

House Rep. Martin Heinrich Enters the Race to Replace Bingaman

The Decision from Martin Heinrich on Vimeo.

Just as I predicted, my House Rep. Martin Heinrich has announced that he will run to replace Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2012. I have long thought that Heinrich was a rising star in New Mexico. Even back when Heinrich was just a member of the Albuquerque City Council running for Congress, I predicted that he would be next in line for the Senate whenever Bingaman chose to retire. He won a close reelection in 2010, going against the national wave that knocked out many of his fellow freshman Democrats in close districts.

We will see what happens in 2012. I think Heinrich is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. The general election will likely be close between him and former Rep. Heather Wilson. This Senate race will be one to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Evaluating the Simulation

1. Peer evaluation: This Monday, April 4, please bring in a short memo in which you identify three or four members of this class who did a particularly good job. Give a couple of sentences to each person you name, explaining why she or he stood out. Give special attention to those who did their work behind the scenes. Please take some care with these memos. In addition to using them for evaluating the assignment, I save them so that I may quote them in letters of recommendation. Evaluations are anonymous: do not put your own name on the sheet.

2 Writeup: In analyzing your role in the simulation, please cover these points:

  • How well did your positions and goals match those of your real-life counterpart?
  • What methods did you use? In the circumstance that you dealt with, would your counterpart have done the same?
  • What obstacles did you face?
  • What did you achieve?
  • How did the simulation both resemble and differ from the real world?
  • Overall, what did you learn?

You may attach or e-mail me relevant supporting materials, such as: memoranda, bill drafts, or strategy notes. (Better yet, refer to material that is already online at https://sites.google.com/site/congresssimulation2011/home and other sites) Please be selective here: do not include everything, just the key items.

  • Essays should be typed, stapled, double-spaced, and between 5 and 6 pages long. I will not read past the 6th page. (Supporting materials do not count against the page limit.)
  • Cite outside sources in standard format (e.g.,Turabian).
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return essays to class on Wednesday, April 13. Your grade for the simulation will drop one gradepoint for one day's lateness, a full grade after that.

Keynes vs. Hayek

If only the economics governing our nation's fiscal policies could always be explained this way...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Black Hawk Down

Chad Pergram writes:

For every minute that Muammar Qaddafi remains in power...

For every hour that ticks by during America's military operations in Libya...

During every sortie...

An horrific set of images haunts official Washington.

They are the pictures of Somali rebels dragging the corpses of U.S. soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.

Certainly the specter of Vietnam agonizes Washington as the benchmark for military conflicts gone horribly wrong. Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August, 1964 in response to attacks on U.S. vessels. But over time, the resolution proved to be the touchstone of mission creep. It constructed a gateway for the U.S. to get bogged down in an unwinnable conflict which cost tens of thousands of lives. That explains why Vietnam torments policymakers today every time U.S. forces are involved overseas.

But it was that harrowing day in downtown Mogadishu nearly 18 years ago that bedevils lawmakers, generals and administration-types even more now than Vietnam.

Which is precisely why everyone is wringing their hands about whether or not the U.S. is at "war" with Libya. It's why House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) fired off a letter to President Obama Wednesday afternoon, not ten minutes after Air Force One returned from a trip to South America and Latin America. The speaker demanded answers as to the "objectives of this mission, what our national security interests are, and how it fits into our overarching policy for the Middle East?"

It's why some lawmakers, ranging from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans, have criticized the president for failing to adequately consult with Congress before committing U.S. forces to this operation in Libya.

"I can only conclude that your order to the United States Armed Forces to attack the nation of Libya on March 19, 2011 is in direct violation of the War Powers Resolution and constitutes a usurpation of Constitutional powers clearly and solely vested in the United States Congress and is accordingly unlawful and unconstitutional," wrote Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) in a unilateral missive to Mr. Obama.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reason on the Budget

Reason tv's interview with Rand Paul is a bit long, but a pretty interesting testament to the Tea Party's continuing attempts to distinguish themselves from establishment Republicans. He talks about the budget negotiations process. Indicative of his views on the subject is his criticism of Senator Henry Clay, "the Great Compromiser" from Paul's own state. According to Paul, who recently authored The Tea Party Goes to Washington, we can't afford compromise on this issue.

McCaskill will sell 'the damn plane'

Sen. Claire McCaskill is selling the personal plane that has caused her turbulence in recent weeks after POLITICO revealed she used taxpayer money to cover the cost of political travel.

The first-term Democrat said she was very happy she was able to convince her husband to "sell the damn plane."

In a conference call Monday afternoon, McCaskill revealed that after her own review of the plane's records, she had not paid personal property taxes on the aircraft over the past four years.

"I have discovered that the personal property taxes on the plane have not been paid. There should have been a reporting to the county of the existence of this plane. There are people I could blame for this, but I know better. I take full responsibility," McCaskill said to reporters, after revealing she had conducted her own audit of all 89 flights she had taken.

"This was a mistake, It should have been reported in Missouri. It will be paid in Missouri today," she said.

McCaskill said she would be sending a check for $287,273 to St. Louis County Monday for the back taxes she owed between 2007 and 2010. She also said she had campaign lawyers looking into the flights to determine if any more in-kind contributions needed to be reported to be in compliance.

Asked if this would hurt her reelection bid, McCaskill replied, "I don't know, I've tried to handle this like I handle anything else," citing her advocacy for transparency and accountability in Congress.

McCaskill expressed remorse and contrition throughout the half hour conference call and said the entire episode has made her "sick to her stomach."

But she stressed that she was not trying to evade taxes and that the failure to register the plane in Missouri was a "mistake."


Congress and the Executive II

Review from Before Break:

"The Human Sacrifice"

Opting Out of Standardized Testing

Nine parents at a Pennsylvania elementary school decided their children should not take the standardized tests this spring, legally required by No Child Left Behind. They argue that the tests create detrimental anxiety for the students and teachers, negatively affecting the learning environment. They also criticize the system for forcing teachers to teach to the test, reducing the quality of instruction. President Obama admits that the tests need updating, but he still affirms that they are necessary to measure progress and compete with other nations. Parents are organizing boycott groups on Facebook to spread the word, and some parents have followed suit in states like Colorado. It will be interesting to see whether or not this trend gains any substantial momentum over the next few years.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celebrity Testimony

The Haskell reading for tomorrow includes a discussion of the role of celebrity witnesses during congressional hearings. I came across this list of a selection of celebrities who have testified before Congress. It gives an idea of the breadth of issues that celebrities have testified on, as well as varying expertise. For example, Clemens devoted a substantial chunk of his life to pushing for copyright reform, while I doubt Colbert has done much with farm workers since his testimony.

Speaker Boehner pressures the White House

This is an interesting article in light of the discussion we've been having regarding the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. Speaker Boehner speaks about what the White House should do in Libya.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Will the health care bill be repealed? Gingrich thinks so

The Washington Post is reporting that Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich predicts that the health care bill will be repealed by 2013. Gingrich believes that a new president in 2013 (most likely a Republican in his scenario) would repeal the bill. Gingrich also believes the House will eventually refuse funding for the bill, saying that “I think that Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor are absolutely committed to refusing [to] fund the implementation of Obamacare.” Gingrich also noted that historically, unpopular reforms are generally repealed. Click here for the full article.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rand Paul Interveiwed on The Daily Show

I'm sure that most of you remember Senator Rand Paul from Sabato and from our test. On March 7th 2011, Senator Rand Paul was a guest on The Daily Show with John Stewart to promote his new book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

Senator Paul's main argument is that we need to go back to a balanced budget. Unlike many politicians Rand argues that we need to cut entitlement spending and military spending as well as discretionary spending if we ever want to balance the budget. Stewart debates the correct level of government with Paul. Stewart argues that larger government arose out of demand by the people for a better living. Stewart said, "Where we've come in two hundred years in terms of racial equality environmental quality, food quality, life expectancy, I really hate to demonize very government by the people for the people that helped get us there."
Paul agrees that Stewart is right about the good the government can do but maintains the government has gone too far now. They also touch on the legitimacy and efficiency of the government bailout. Paul argues that the correct choice was to let the bad firms fail even with the possibility of a recession.

Paul and Stewart both conduct themselves well and argue their points clearly and effectively. Also, both bring out a lot of numbers and statistics to better argue their points. Though the debate is a short and simple one, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of discourse and the knowledge that both Stewart and Paul brought to table.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rand Paul Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Rand Paul Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

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