Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 2, 2015

Posts in "Numbers Games"

July 8, 2015

Hill’s Spending on Itself Set on Cautious Course

The Capitol Dome's restoration is one of the things lawmakers must fund in the legislative branch appropriations that handle congressional spending.

The Capitol Dome’s restoration is funded in the legislative branch appropriations bill dealing with congressional spending. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The end of the fiscal year is still a dozen weeks in the future, but already a shutdown showdown looks inevitable. For circumstantial evidence, look no further than the floor schedules for this month. None of the 12 annual spending bills will get a shot at passing the Senate, while the House will give up on the appropriations calendar with four measures in limbo.

But those who work on Capitol Hill can breathe much more easily than many. They, at least, already have a strong measure of certainty about the coming year. Bills setting the budgets for running Congress and its satellite agencies in the coming year have already been endorsed, in remarkably similar form, by the entire House and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Full story

April 20, 2015

Vote Studies Track Presidential Hopefuls in Real Time

Paul has the best congressional attendance record for the presidential candidates, CQ vote studies show. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Paul has the best congressional attendance record for the GOP presidential candidates, according to new real-time CQ vote studies. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Eight years ago, the last time sitting senators launched competing quests for a presidential nomination, each touted their congressional records as evidence they were more the true agent of change than the other one.

In the end, of course, Democratic voters decided Barack Obama was the preferred choice for disrupting the capital’s status quo. But the empirical evidence available during their campaign revealed only the slightest difference between Obama’s and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s voting habits. During their previous three years together in the Senate, both toed the party line more than 96 percent of the time while opposing President George W. Bush’s wishes on about 3 out of every 5 votes.

That reminiscence is appropriate now, for two connected reasons. At least three Republican senators are hoping their Senate records help set themselves apart in the 2016 presidential field. And CQ Roll Call has a new online tool available for assessing the similarities and differences among them. Full story

March 18, 2015

Republican Budget Is Governance Test

The budget release gives parties a chance to showcase their priorities — will Republicans be on the same page? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The release of the GOP budget blueprint gives both parties a chance to showcase their priorities — will Republicans be on the same page? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The annual budget resolution has several purposes. In theory, it’s a mission statement on the proper role of government and a mirror on priorities for the coming decade. At a more practical level, it decides the limit on lawmaker-driven spending for the coming year and smoothes the path toward ambitious changes in federal policy.

And at times when one side controls all of Congress, the fiscal blueprint provides something particularly important: It’s the year’s clearest test of the governing competence of the party in power.

Full story

November 19, 2014

Election Trivia for Political Wonks, Part 2

Two of these senators make our election trivia fodder by being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two of these senators make our election trivia for being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins, despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe the lovers of congressional curiosities still haven’t mined the 2014 election results for all the political and institutional trivia pushed toward the surface.

An initial potpourri was offered Tuesday in this space — fun and sometimes consequential facts that go beyond the historic statistics that put context behind Republicans’ midterm sweep. That, of course, is the GOP’s current net gain of 11 House seats assures them their largest majority since the Truman administration, and their potential pickup of nine Senate seats would be the biggest boost for either party since 1980.

A special election held on Nov. 4 means Congress now has its 100th voting female member for the first time, in North Carolina Democrat Alma Adams, and the midterms assured more diversity in the coming year. Debbie Dingell of Michigan has become the first person elected to the House as successor to a living spouse, for example, and the arrival of Baptist pastors Jody Hice of Georgia and Mark Walker of North Carolina (both Republicans) will expand to six the roster of Protestant ministers in the House.

(You can learn more about the members-elect in our Guide to the New Congress.)

Here is another collection of trivia questions and answers designed to provide insight into the meaning, consequences and oddities of the 2014 cycle. See Part I here.

Full story

September 24, 2014

Latest Partisan Divide: Religion and Politics Should Mix

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Catholicism is the plurality religion of the 113th Congress. A new Pew poll shows that 3 out of 5 people surveyed want lawmakers to have strong religious beliefs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” is one of those rules to live by that family elders have been passing on for generations.

Now comes word that half the country has reached a different conclusion: Politics should play a bigger role in our religious discourse.

At the same time, there’s plenty of evidence to support the grandparental view that talking openly about religion and politics will only lead to discord. As with so much, Republicans and Democrats sharply disagree about how and when the two should mix.

Those are the central takeaways from the latest Pew Research Center survey of attitudes and trends shaping public life, released Tuesday. The new numbers add yet another layer to the rich portrait of an electorate that’s divided and conflicted about more or less everything.

Perhaps the most dramatic finding is how the public has rapidly become evenly split when asked if churches and other houses of worship should regularly express their views on social and political issues: 49 percent now say yes, 48 percent say no. It’s a marked reversal from the steady decline in support for church intervention in such matters during the previous decade. Just one campaign season ago, those who wanted churches to stay out of public policy debates outnumbered those who advocated such participation by 14 percentage points.

In addition, 32 percent now say religious leaders should make candidate endorsements — an 8-point jump since the last midterms, in 2010, when the conservative tea party wave delivered the House to the GOP.

Preachers, rabbis, imams and the like have a First Amendment right to explain their views of economic, social or foreign policy to their congregations, and they may engage more directly in campaigns by participating in outside organizations or political action committees. But the IRS has told religious leaders they endanger their faith community’s tax-exempt status whenever they urge a vote for or against a particular candidate from the pulpit. A growing number of preachers, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, have talked about testing the constitutionality of those restrictions.

The survey revealed a deepening partisan split about the role of religion in politics. Two in five Democrats currently think churches should be more vocal about their views, the same as in 2010. But among Republicans the number has surged from half in 2010 to three-fifths today — and to fully two-thirds among white evangelical Protestants. And while 28 percent in the Democratic Party favor churches making candidate endorsements, the same is true for 38 percent in the GOP. Full story

June 18, 2014

A Polarized Society as GOP Selects House Leaders

During the government shutdown debate last fall, Scott Osberg of the District protested. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

During the government shutdown debate last fall, Scott Osberg of the District protested. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If midterm elections are all about mobilizing the base, then both parties can take heart in new research showing their bands of hard-core supporters have grown bigger and more hard-core than ever before.

And if members are looking for a new answer for all the criticism that Congress is more polarized and partisan than ever, the same study’s findings support a response that sounds something like this: We’re simply reflecting the intensifying attitudes of our own constituents, which is what we’re supposed to do in a representative democracy.

The study by the venerable Pew Research Center got less attention than it merited upon its release last week, even though the results helped explain the news story that pushed if off the front pages: Rep. Eric Cantor’s GOP primary upset in Virginia. Among the conclusions are that the electorate is more likely than ever to demand ideological consistency from a candidate, and the most ideological voters are also the most energized and likeliest to participate in primaries.

Plenty of other polls have pointed to the nation’s widening ideological divide, but Pew’s newest work is unusual in showing that split in lifestyle preferences as well as political choices. And the study is remarkable because it was based on a survey this winter of 10,000 Americans, or about 10 times the sample size of a typical poll.

Pew makes clear that partisanship is becoming ever more pervasive and entrenched among Democratic and Republican voters alike. But it’s the numbers describing the GOP electorate that have gained the closest scrutiny at the Capitol in the past week, by House Republicans pondering a refashioning of their leadership to better reflect their current positioning with supporters.

If California’s Kevin McCarthy is elected the new majority leader Thursday, as widely expected, then the Republican Conference will choose his successor as majority whip from three members representing different veins of congressional conservatism. It would be the first time the most confrontational rightward-thinking members, mostly elected in 2010 and 2012, have had a chance to install one of their favorites in the leadership triumvirate.

As evidence that it’s past time for them to have a seat at the senior table, this group can point to several Pew findings about two crucial and overlapping segments of the party base. That would be the 33 percent of Republicans who are the most engaged politically (because they almost always vote) and the 9 percent with views revealing themselves as the most consistently conservative. Full story

April 6, 2014

A Landmark Election Ruling, Made by Justices With Minimal Campaign Involvement

The scene at the court as justices heard oral arguments in McCutcheon vs. FEC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The scene at the Supreme Court as justices heard oral arguments in McCutcheon vs. FEC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One way of looking at the latest Supreme Court decision speeding the flow of big money into elections — a ruling destined to have a bigger impact on the culture of Congress than anything that happens at the Capitol this year — is that one side’s definition of political reality narrowly prevailed over the other.

Scenarios about the corrupting potential of so many more millions going to candidates, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asserted in the controlling opinion, “are either illegal under current campaign finance laws or divorced from reality.”

“In reality,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer countered on behalf of the four dissenters, “the anti-corruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest” than the five-person majority recognizes.

It’s hardly unusual that, after considering the same collection of facts and arguments, the court’s conservative majority declares the glass at least half full, while the liberal minority insists the same vessel is more than half empty. What’s remarkable in this disagreement is how distant the justices are from experiencing the reality of the modern political money system.

On the current court, only Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan have donated to federal candidates or political action committees in the past 16 years, according to the Federal Election Commission database of itemized contributions.

The most obvious reason is that the other seven justices have been sitting somewhere on the federal bench since before 1997, when the FEC began digitizing donation records. And, because of the obvious potential for a conflict of interest, the official code of conduct for United States judges prohibits them from making political contributions.

But that explanation leads directly to one of the longstanding criticism of the modern Supreme Court: It has become so dominated by professional jurists that people who have worked in the political arena have been almost entirely boxed out. Full story

April 1, 2014

Ryan Budget Is High-Risk, Modest-Reward Strategy in an Election Year

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An ocean of figures fill the final fiscal blueprint Paul D. Ryan will unveil as chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the number that matters most never appears: 16.

That’s the maximum number of Republicans who can turn their back on the budget resolution when it comes before the full House next week without dooming the caucus and its most nationally prominent figure to an embarrassing election year failure.

Full story

March 23, 2014

Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

Jim Oberweis

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They don’t call him the Milk Dud for nothing, but right now, he is on a little roll.

Jim Oberweis made most of his fortune in the family business, a high-end dairy delivery service and chain of ice cream parlors in Illinois. And in the space of six years in the previous decade, he poured many gallons of his riches into five failed campaigns for high-profile positions — earning not only that enduring nickname, but also the enmity of Republican operatives and officeholders from Capitol Hill to Springfield, Ill.

Now Oberweis has launched his second act in American politics by winning two straight elections. He took an open state Senate seat in the GOP outer suburbs of Chicago in 2012, and last week he claimed the nomination to try and stop Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin from winning a fourth term.

But virtually no one expects Oberweis to extend his winning streak come November. At best, his allies concede, his caustic rhetorical approach and willingness to tap his own bank account could combine to make the fall campaign more expensive and uncomfortable for Durbin. (The Democrat, who counts President Barack Obama as his proudest mentoring achievement, remains favored in a year when the president’s sagging approval is the defining dynamic nationwide.)

And at worst, losing a sixth high-profile election could doom the 67-year-old Oberweis to live with the ridicule that comes with the label “perennial candidate,” no matter what he ends up accomplishing after returning to the state legislature.

Full story

March 10, 2014

Florida Tossup Tests Patterns for Special Elections

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., joined the many women who came to the House via a special election. Will the same hold true for Alex Sink? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Clark is among the many women who came to the House via a special election. Will the same hold true for Sink in a Florida special election Tuesday? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s tight congressional contest in Tampa Bay, this footnote is assured: The winner will become the 64th person in the current House first sent to the Capitol by a special election. That’s an astonishing 15 percent of the membership.

Florida’s contest between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly is the year’s first valid test of midterm voter sentiment, but at the historical edges it’s something more: an opportunity to see whether women and Democrats continue their run of good fortune when the voters go to the polls in between the even-numbered Novembers.

The campaign in suburban St. Petersburg, a swing district held for four decades by the late GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young, has encapsulated themes that look to remain prominent across the country for the next eight months. Jolly, a lobbyist and former top aide to Young, would portray his win as a repudiation of the 2010 health care law and the Obama administration agenda. Sink, a former chief financial officer for Florida, would portray her victory as a rejection of conservative efforts to curb Social Security and otherwise rend the social safety net.

And the losing party is sure to downplay the result and insist the election is not a national harbinger, while clamoring to improve its positioning for the contest for the very same seat in November.

Recent history suggests that task would be an uphill climb: 85 percent of special-election winners so far in the 21st century have won at least two subsequent general elections. (Only six have been turned away after such short careers, most recently a pair of Democrats in 2012 whose districts were significantly redrawn after their initial arrivals: Kathy Hochul, who represented upstate New York for 19 months, and Mark Critz, who held his southwestern Pennsylvania seat for one term and seven months.) Full story

March 4, 2014

The Real Story of Texas GOP Primaries: Democratic Turnout

Rep. Joaquin Castro signs a Texas Monthly magazine. Castro, right, appeared on the cover with his brother Julian Castro and State Sen. Wendy Davis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Joaquin Castro signs the cover of an issue of Texas Monthly which shows him, his brother San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Davis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Parsing the Republican results from this year’s first-in-the-nation Texas primaries will surely dominate Wednesday’s political talk. The media will ask how nettlesome Rep. Steve Stockman’s challenge to Sen. John Cornyn proved to be and which of the 23 House members seeking re-election got the biggest scare? How easy was it for state Attorney General Greg Abbott to secure the gubernatorial nomination?

The answers are important because they are 2014’s initial number-based assessment about the current state of the fight between the solidly conservative Republicans and the extraordinarily conservative Republicans — a battle that’s still clearly shaping the party’s national fortunes in the short term.

But in terms of predicting the GOP’s long-term prospects, the more important data may be generated by the Democrats. How many turn out for their generally low-impact contests Tuesday will offer a big clue about the speed at which Texas will be shifting from solid red to bright purple.

Big political change in the state is coming as inevitably as so many of the winter storms that have hobbled the capital this year — but the precise timing of its arrival is similarly difficult to forecast. Full story

October 16, 2013

29 Reasons a Budget Deal Is in Reach, and 1 Reason It Isn’t

They couldn’t have scripted it any more obviously: The can is getting kicked to Friday the 13th.

Washington is committing itself to a return to regular order, but only for the next eight weeks.

The most important date for deciding whether this round of fiscal brinkmanship was worth all the melodrama will not be Feb. 7, the next moment when the Treasury might lack authority to borrow to pay the nation’s bills. Nor will it be Jan. 15, the next potential suspension of routine federal operations.

It will be Dec. 13, when negotiators are supposed to complete their conference report on a budget resolution for fiscal 2014. The question is, is two months enough time for cooler heads to take “yes” for an answer?  Full story

October 7, 2013

One-Story Town Gives a Furlough to Nonessential Legislation

And on the seventh day, Congress did not rest. Instead, lawmakers decided for the first time since the shutdown began to take votes on something wholly unrelated to their own budgetary wheel-spinning.

Those envisioning a policy-making dam about to burst will be disappointed soon enough. For as long as the conflating debates over reviving federal spending and raising the debt ceiling remain unresolved, the legislative machinery at the Capitol will remain as closed for business as so many programs and agencies are.

There is no legal or even procedural reason for this — no reason the House or Senate may not attempt the feat of walking a variety of bills forward while chewing gum at the same time in the budget impasse. But legislative multitasking, which had already become a distant memory after the dysfunctional congressional dynamics of recent years, has now disappeared almost altogether. Full story

July 7, 2013

There’s Less to This Congress Than Meets the Blind Eye

Lawmakers and aides pouring back into the Capitol this week may be tempted to glance at their desk calendars, smack their foreheads and exclaim, “Where did the time go?”

And then, with even more bewilderment, they might wonder, “What have we been doing all year?”

The July Fourth recess is traditionally considered halftime in the legislative year. In fact, it’s a bit later than that. The Senate’s had roll call votes during 17 weeks so far in 2013 and plans only 16 more weeks in session before the second Friday in December. The House has had votes in 18 weeks but expects just 14 more workweeks before that same Dec. 13 target adjournment.

The message for the laborers in the First Session of the 113th Congress is unmistakable: The time is slipping away without much to show for it. Full story

June 9, 2013

Immigration Bill Vote Counting Is a Three-Dimensional Chess Game

The Senate’s initial test votes on immigration, coming up on Tuesday, hold no real hope for suspense. It’s what comes next that will keep this city and the nation riveted for the rest of the month.

The first roll call votes squashing a filibuster on a motion to proceed look to be overwhelmingly bipartisan now that both top Republicans have committed to voting “yes.” Their assent insulates the GOP from charges of obstructionism on the biggest domestic policy initiative of the year.

The next dozen or so workdays promise plenty of drama. That’s because of the promise for a revived senatorial tradition of genuine debate on amendments, some of which could upend or intensify the soft foundation of bipartisan support for the underlying bill.

A climactic roll call is on course for just before the Capitol goes dark for the July Fourth recess. The vote breakdown will be the strongest possible signal of whether President Barack Obama will be signing history-book-worthy legislation in his second term.

Full story

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