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, March 27, 2013

The Senate Social Network

Visual.ly put together this representation of "friends" in the U.S. Senate based on their similar votes, which ran in Yahoo! News. As you drag the slider to the left and right you can see the effects of partisanship and where clusters break up and come together. Clicking on any of the dots will show you the number of votes they have in common with each party.

Not sure you can make huge claims from it, but it's an interesting visual nonetheless.

Media Politics on the Hill

A few points of style:

The new environment (Malecha, 26):
Words uttered on talk radio and cable TV, once considered almost entirely disposable, are now etched onto servers around the world. They can end up on sites such as YouTube where they are viewed time and again by people well beyond the target audience. They can be redirected to potential critics via e-mail, as happened in this case. In other words, they live on and can come back to haunt the people responsible for them.
Newt talks about the new Washington of the 1980s.

Mail, E-mail, and Congress

Congress and Social Media

"Branding" and parties in Congress

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Team Mitch Harlem Shake

h/t to Erin:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Funny Vote-A-Rama Highlights

Harry Potter metaphors...NCAA Basketball...Patty Murray using her skills as a former preschool teacher to control the Senate...Sen Wyden on an IPad. Check out this article which details some of the behind-the-scenes and more entertaining moments of the vote-a-rama. Also check out this article detailing Sen. Cruz and Sen. Landrieu arguing over China's abortion policies (not as interesting as the first article, but dramatic considering the argument occurred at 4am).

Congress and the Media

Caitlin Halligan: Judicial Nominations Meet Senate Procedures

On Friday, the White House withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama's judicial nominee for the DC Court of Appeals. This was actually Halligan's second nomination. Her recent retraction marks the second time her nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans were disgruntled over Halligan's previous work with then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that aimed to hold gun manufacturers legally responsible to some degree over gun-related violence in New York, which angered the NRA.

Halligan's failed nomination(s) joins the pile of blocked or stalled nominations that come at a very problematic time, where judicial vacancies have become an increasing problem throughout the country. It also gives us a great example of different Senate procedures that come into play that we've been discussing in class. In a slightly more dated article in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin highlights some Senate mechanisms that are pivotal in cases of delayed or blocked judicial nominations, most often done by the minority party:
  • The Filibuster and Cloture: Unlike the old-fashioned filibuster Senator Rand Paul used during John Brennan's confirmation vote, the filibuster that killed Halligan, along with many other judicial nominations, was the threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans. Despite obtaining a majority of votes for consideration, Halligan failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to enact cloture, with 41 Senate Republicans voting against.
  • Unanimous Consent: Toobin notes how because the Senate calendar operates on unanimous consent, Senate Republicans must agree to addressing judicial nominations, in which they can take their time in doing or refuse to do, stalling or preventing the nomination from coming to a vote.
  • The Nuclear Option: Toobin notes how Senate Democrats were also guilty of halting and blocking President George W. Bush's judicial nominees through the same use of the filibuster. When Senate Republicans grew frustrated with the obstruction of the Democrats, they threatened to force a rules change that would limit the filibuster through sheer number of party-line votes, otherwise known as the nuclear option. In 2005, the bipartisan "Gang of 14" reached a truce that prevented the option.
The Washington Post also provided Halligan's letter that requested Obama to withdraw her nomination, which can be read here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hey everyone,

Please follow me, Debbie Stabenow, on Twitter. My twitter handle is "DtotheStabs" (you would really be surprised at how many different names involving Debbie Stabenow were already taken). Please do not get me confused with the twitter accounts of Sen. Debbie Stabenow or Debbie Stabenow because that would be very problematic. See you Monday.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gang of 8 close to immigration deal

Politico reports that the Gang of 8 is close to a deal on immigration saying that Senator Schumer, "expects the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the bill in April before floor debate in the late spring or early summer".  Senator Rubio also said that he was optimistic that a bill would be produced soon after the Easter recess.   

Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy expressed frustration at hearing on Wednesday that a bill hadn't been introduced yet, and he wouldn't be able to hold a markup until May at the earliest. He noted that the senators in the Gang of Eight had given themselves an original deadline of early March, and he’s urged President Barack Obama “for months” to introduce a bill.  

We will see in the next couple of week if the Gang of 8 will be able to introduce a bill before the summer.  


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rare vote-a-rama slated for Senate

Politico reports:

Senate Republicans will be on the floor offering an unlimited number of amendments to the Democratic budget resolution. No, lawmakers have not come down with a very unusual case of bipartisanship.

Instead, the Senate will be conducting a rare and chaotic “vote-a-rama,” in which senators of either party can offer an unlimited amount of amendments to the budget resolution. Such a freewheeling process is peculiar to the budget resolution, which the Senate hasn’t considered for four years since one was last introduced in 2009. A third of the senators haven’t even been in the chamber long enough to experience a vote-a-rama, so this will be their first time participating in one.

It remains unclear when exactly the Senate will hold the marathon voting session. The timing is driven by remaining uncertainty about how long it will take to finish voting on the continuing resolution intended to avert a government shutdown after March 27.

Friday, March 15, 2013

2013 Economic Report of the President

The White House released the 2013 Economic Report of the President today. The ERP is the President's sort of "state of the union" regarding the economy. It provides background on past policies and outlines how the Obama administration hopes to move forward on those issues. Lucky for us, immigration and fiscal policy are both important administration priorities right now. The"Jobs, Workers, and Skills" chapter addresses immigration, and the chapter on fiscal policy is obviously useful for the Finance Committee. I am not sure if there is anything on foreign aid, but administration goals, like a global effort for climate change (chapter 6), could become arguments in favor of providing some sort of aid to developing countries.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Executive and Congress

This Politico article relates to our class conversation about the relationship between Congress and the Executive Branch. It postulates that Obama’s strategy from here on out will be to let Congress take the lead on the deficit talks, in order to bring Republicans (who don’t want to seem to be allied with the president) to the table. The author of the article predicts that this move will return power to committee leaders who will, from now on, move the bills though Congress with minimal help from the White House. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Increasing Interest Group Influence and its Ramifications on Congressional Decisionmaking

Lorelei Kelly had a very interesting article on The Atlantic that talked about interest group influence on congressional dynamics and decision-making, pertinent to our week's discussion.

Kelly makes the point that, although the current atmosphere in Congress is characterized with polarization, gridlock, near-constant campaigning, and a flood of special interest money, it's not necessarily true that Congress is the dysfunctional, corrupt mess that it is easy to dismiss as. "Lawmakers aren't corrupt, they just never hear from ordinary citizens...Congress is less corrupt and venal than it is incapacitated..." says Kelly.

Some very interesting statistics and observations Kelly brought up in her article:

  • Current Congresses are working with 60-80% of the policy staff Congresses had in the 1970s and 1980s. That's 20-40% less staff than before.
  • Congressional offices are receiving 800% more correspondences and communications traffic since 2000. This is, of course, largely due to the Internet.
  • A rules change dating back to the 1990s that attempted to consolidate information between members led to disseminated "talking points" by party leadership and decreased member-to-member contact. While this had good intentions, it damaged the long-term institutional ability for Congress to develop research and information on its own.

All in all, this presents a very interesting development in which members, lacking the staff to conduct policy research and inundated with information, increasingly rely on interest group support, which provides for clear, well-presented, easy to understand talking points amid the noise. These points then end up dominating in circulation and, consequently, in the debate and discourse about the particular issue, even shutting out alternative points of view.

This development is facilitated by the growing "grassrootization" (I coined this for the lack of a better term) of interest groups such as the NRA (which Kelly uses as a case example). For example, the NRA dispatches representatives to live in target states and districts, allowing them to operate locally. In turn, they become part of the voice of constituencies, except unlike the ordinary citizen or local organization, they have much more resources to be especially vocal. Of course, the members will then respond to the most vocal in their constituencies, at the expense of ordinary concerns.

Kelly tackles a lot more issues in her article, but I thought this was particularly interesting. We all know that interest groups, both left and right in their orientations, are well-funded and well-organized. However, it was surprising to me that Congress simultaneously weakened itself in the face of stronger interest group influence, exacerbating the situation.

Decision Making in Congress

Party: CQ Party Unity scores

Ideology: National Journal vote ratings

Interest group ratings:  VoteSmart list

Polarization:  DW-NOMINATE scores

Sunday, March 10, 2013

News Items That Bear on the Simulation

The prospect of a tax overhaul has already kicked the capital’s influence industry into high gear. From corporate chiefs and hedge fund lobbyists to Montana ranchers and Broadway producers, the players have already begun their campaigns, pressing for everything from lowering the corporate tax rate to preserving cherished deductions and, in some instances, inserting new tax loopholes into law.
Much of that energy is being directed at a hectic suite of cramped, nondescript offices in the 80-year-old Longworth House Office Building, where eight staffers on the Ways and Means Committee are sifting through possible changes to the nation’s tax code of nearly 4 million words.
Eager to help is a steady stream of lobbyists, like Duane Musser of the National Roofing Contractors Association, who stopped by the offices on a recent Wednesday afternoon to argue his case that commercial roofs should be granted faster depreciation for tax purposes. “Everything is on the table,” he said.
Lobbying over the tax code has more than tripled since Obama took office, disclosure records show. And the pace of activity accelerated toward the end of last year amid the fight over the “fiscal cliff,” as lawmakers from both parties sought to turn the struggle over tax rates into a discussion about overhauling the tax code.
Meanwhile, the Beer Institute, which represents brewers, is pushing to prevent a hike in the excise tax on beer. Although officials at the trade group are not aware of any such proposal, “excise taxes could be put on the table to raise revenue in any comprehensive tax reform deal,” spokesman Chris Thorne said.
“Just the possibility is enough to ensure that we are out there talking to members of Congress and their staffs,” said Thorne, whose institute paid a lobbying firm $50,000 to advocate on tax reform and several other issues in the fourth quarter of last year. “It’s important to prevent that beer drinkers, middle-class Americans, could be seen as an ATM.” 
Also see:

AP reports:
The eight senators meet in private several times a week, alternating between Sen. John McCain's and Sen. Charles Schumer's offices. They sit in arm chairs arranged in a circle and sip water or soft drinks as they debate temporary workers and border security. In a capital riven by partisanship and gridlock, they are determined to be the exception and actually get something done.
This is immigration reform's "Gang of Eight." With them lies the best hope in years for overhauling the nation's byzantine immigration laws -- and they know it. That's partly why they are, by all accounts, working amazingly well together as a self-imposed deadline approaches for their sweeping legislation to be released. The progress is happening even though the group includes some of the Senate's most outsized personalities, failed and prospective presidential candidates, one lawmaker dogged by scandal and another facing a potential re-election challenge that could be complicated by his stance on immigration.
"I tell you what, this is one of the best experiences I've had. Everybody's serious, everybody's knowledgeable, they've been around the issue," said Sen. Lindsey Graham-R-S.C., who's up for re-election next year and facing a potential GOP primary challenge from the right. He said it's "sort of what I came up here to do -- sit down with serious people to solve serious and hard problems."
In addition to McCain, R-Ariz., Schumer, D-N.Y., and Graham, the gang includes Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 presidential candidate; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who's battling allegations related to prostitution and his ties to one of his donors.
Also see:

As President Barack Obama and lawmakers spar over huge federal deficits, they're confronted by a classic contradiction: Most Americans want government austerity, a survey shows, but they also want increased spending on a host of popular programs: education, crime fighting, health care, Social Security, the environment and more. Less for defense, space and foreign aid.
The newly released General Social Survey asked people whether they believe spending in specific categories is "too much," ''too little" or "about right." It covers the public's shifting priorities from 1973, when Richard Nixon was president, through 2012 with Obama in the White House.

"Despite a dislike of taxes, more people have always favored increases in spending than cuts," wrote the survey's director, Tom W. Smith, of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

While people's priorities shift over the years, they've not changed on one category. Foreign aid has been stuck firmly in last place since the survey began. Last year, 65 percent of those surveyed thought there was "too much," 25 percent checked "about right" and a slim 11 percent said "too little." The numbers are not much changed from 1973 — when 73 percent said too much on foreign aid, 22 percent just right and 5 percent too little.
Various polls have consistently shown the public believes foreign aid is a far bigger slice of the spending pie than it actually is.
The full General Social Survey report is here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

West Wing employees to face furloughs, pay cuts

In class on Wednesday we talked about possible consequences of the sequester.  This Politico article talks about how the employees in the West Wing will most likely be affected.  In the clip attached with the article deputy White House press secretary John Earnest says that the people, "who work here at the White House that will be facing pay cuts, that will be facing furloughs and again, this is the result of a policy that Democrats and Republicans agree is really bad.” 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why the Rand Paul filibuster might not be such good news for the GOP

Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza wrote an article,titled "Why the Rand Paul filibuster might not be such good news for the GOP," on Rand Paul's thirteen hour fillibuster over the nomination of John Brennan. In the article, Cillizza explains that the filibuster may not have been a political win for the Republican Party due to the topics he addressed during his time on the floor. Paul chose to critisize the Obama Administration's position on drones which Cillizza explained did not help the Republican Party as the "the takeaway for most people will be that Paul-and lots of his Republican colleagues-were standing in opposition to drone strikes, which are remarkable popular with the American public." In addition Cillizza argues that Paul's filibuster, to the general public, was an example of "Washington Being Washington." The author, however, acknowledges that several Republican strategiests good for both Rand Paul and for the Republican Party and suggests that it will be a while before anyone can determine whether or not the filibuster was beneficial.  

Link to Article

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Capital Eye Opener, March 6: Allen West Gets Into Shadow Money, and Single-Candidate

Since we are reading about Allen West in the Draper book, I thought I would share short this OpenSecrets article about his new 501(c)(3). Gives us a little look into where campaign funds go once a candidate leaves his office.

Former tea party Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) told The Hill he won't be running for office in the next election. But don't count out his new nonprofit, the Allen West Foundation.

He told The Hill he "sees his foundation engaging in races," and taking up issue advocacy on the behalf of minority and military conservatives.

On Dec. 28, West's campaign committee, Allen West for Congress, transferred $250,000 in leftover funds to the foundation, and another $250,000 to American Legacy Guardians, according to the committee's year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Issue for Our Finance Committee?

From The New York Times:
The last time the nation’s tax code was overhauled, in 1986, Congress tried to end a big corporate giveaway.
But this valuable perk — the ability to finance a variety of business projects cheaply with bonds that are exempt from federal taxes — has not only endured, it has grown, in what amounts to a stealth subsidy for private enterprise.
A winery in North Carolina, a golf resort in Puerto Rico and a Corvette museum in Kentucky, as well as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the offices of the Goldman Sachs Group and the Bank of America Tower in New York — all of these projects, and many more, have been built using the tax-exempt bonds that are more conventionally used by cities and states to pay for roads, bridges and schools.
In all, more than $65 billion of these bonds have been issued by state and local governments on behalf of corporations since 2003, according to an analysis of Bloomberg bond data by The New York Times. During that period, the single biggest beneficiary of such securities was the Chevron Corporation, which issued bonds with a total face value of $2.6 billion, the analysis showed. Last year it reported a profit of $26 billion.

Another Funny Ad Attacking Ashley Judd, Among Others...

If you are looking for a study break from those papers, check out the McConnell campaign's first 2014 campaign ad (see below). A worthy follow-up to the anti-Ashley Judd Crossroads ad that we watched a few weeks ago.

McConnell's first 2014 campaign ad.

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