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Posts in "Numbers Games"
June 18, 2014
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
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
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.
March 23, 2014
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.
March 10, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
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.
June 4, 2013
The House is moving ahead with its plan to pass the year’s first two spending bills before going home for the weekend Thursday afternoon. There’s bipartisan agreement, albeit for different reasons, to ignore President Barack Obama’s warning that lawmakers are wasting valuable legislative time.
The White House made its first symbolically important move in the 2014 appropriations game Monday, declaring the president would veto any measure that would carry out the stated aspirations of the majority Republicans in the House.
The GOP’s opening gambit, in turn, is to write a dozen bills that would essentially cancel next year’s sequester cuts for national security enterprises and come up with the necessary money by imposing deeper-than-sequester cuts on social and domestic programs.
The administration says the whole annual appropriations process should be put on hold until the GOP House and Democratic Senate settle on an overarching budget blueprint that would turn off the sequester altogether, presumably with some combination of entitlement curbs and revenue enhancements. But, daily posturing on both sides notwithstanding, that’s nowhere close to happening.
And so House leaders on both sides agreed without hardly a word of discussion to press ahead and to encourage their rank-and-file to vote however they choose on the initial appropriations bills. Both measures support programs with near-universal political appeal: The one debated Tuesday would boost spending on veterans programs by 3 percent while cutting the military construction budget. The one coming up Wednesday would provide a 2 percent increase to the Homeland Security Department. Full story
May 8, 2013
Ted Cruz remains combustibly in the news again this week — a high-profile speech to Republican faithful in early-primary South Carolina followed up with another tart public spat in the Senate, with Majority Harry Reid likening him to a schoolyard bully.
Four months into his time as the junior Republican senator from Texas, Cruz appears to operating on the principle that no amount of publicity is too much — especially for someone who’s suddenly tilting toward a run for president. His affect will get plenty more media attention starting Thursday, when the Judiciary Committee on which he sits opens debate on the immigration overhaul, probably lasting until Memorial Day. Cruz is going to work to slow or derail the bill at every turn.
All the while, the 42-year-old has been working diligently to cultivate his conservative base on social media, with what looks to be decent success. If he runs for the GOP nomination in 2016, he’ll potentially be doing so with the help of more Twitter followers than anyone else in the field.
Some enlightening detail about this has been assembled in recent days by the Houston Chronicle, the senator’s hometown paper. Its Texas on the Potomac blog made Cruz a test case of an effort to gauge the social media usage of all 38 members of the state’s congressional delegation.
Cruz is averaging 353 new followers every day and he sends out an average of 3.5 tweets daily — Wednesdays being his most prolific days. The favored conservative hashtags #defundobamacare or #2ndamendment are in more than half the posts @SenTedCruz has sent so far. He’s only tweeted 405 times from his Senate account, but those missives have collectively been retweeted almost 105,000 times. (The most recent, about the Benghazi embassy contretemps, went out at breakfast time and had been retweeted almost 4,000 times before noon.)
And get this: 86 percent of Twitter sentiment about the senator has been positive, by the Chronicle’s calculation.
May 3, 2013
For shaping politics, the rosy jobs reports out today are undeniably a kick start for President Barack Obama and a kick in the teeth for his Republican critics. As for shaping fiscal policy, the numbers look to fuel the currently ambivalent muddle.
The headline figures are that a net 165,000 jobs were created in April, well above the consensus forecast and enough to help push the unemployment rate down to 7.5 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. The short-term message countermands some much more ambivalent recent economic data, which had signaled a “spring swoon” for the third year in a row.
But reasons for optimism over the longer term are found just below the surface in the job creation report. The Labor Department now says it underestimated the number of payroll positions added in the previous two months by a combined 114,000. Most notably, instead of the 88,000 new jobs initially estimated for March — a far worse-than-expected number that gave rise to considerable anxiety — the number is actually 138,000 thanks to some additional data.
And those upward revisions mean that, during the previous half year, the economy created an average of 208,000 jobs a month. The conventional view is that a characteristics of an economy that’s healthy enough to shrink unemployment in a sustained way is monthly job creation above 200,000.
The reports will provide evidence for both sides in the arguments over how to shrink the deficit and whether the sequester should be fully turned off before a bigger budget deal is reached.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated those deep and across-the-board cuts will trim the gross domestic product by 0.6 percent this year. Private economists have warned that leaving the sequester in place through the end of the year would hold down private sector job creation by hundreds of thousands, mainly because of its effect on government contracting,
Today’s report will be hailed by some fiscally conservative Republicans as evidence those warnings are overblown, and that the economy is proving itself strong enough to stabilize and start expanding despite the reductions in the size of the federal government they so emphatically espouse. They also point to numbers in the report showing many full-time positions being supplanted by temporary workers as a way for companies to avoid having to provide medical insurance under Obamacare.
In contrast, Democrats will argue that job creation and other economic indicators would be able to do even better if the indiscriminate spending cuts were replaced with a more proactive budget deal that includes trims to health-care entitlements and more tax revenue from the wealthy. They also note that the full effects of the sequester, which has only been in place two months, will not be felt on business hiring until summer.
“While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” said the president’s top economic adviser, Alan Krueger. “Now is not the time for Washington to impose self-inflicted wounds on the economy.”
Governments at all levels shed an additional 9,000 jobs in April, while private sector firms added 176,000 positions. While 11.7 million people remained unemployed but are still looking for jobs in April, that number is 5.4 percent smaller than it was in January.
The financial markets took quick and enthusiastic note of the news, pushing the Dow Jones industrial average past 15,000 and the S&P 500 index above 1,600 for the first time by mid-morning.
But Republican congressional leaders, who for more than a year have had their “not nearly good enough” news releases queued up to send minutes after Labor releases its monthly numbers, stayed silent for more than an hour before issuing more tepid than usual statements.
The reports “showed some signs of hope for the thousands of people who found a job in April,”House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, but “this growth is way behind our nation’s potential. We must focus on job creation more than one day a month.”
April 30, 2013
Do-overs resurrecting legislation that failed the first time are a pretty rare phenomenon in Congress. But Joe Manchin III is predicting that he and Patrick J. Toomey will be able to find the five votes they need to advance their background check expansion proposal a second time around.
A wave of polling in the two weeks since the Senate gun control measure first foundered is offering a decent road map for where to start their search.
Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said on Fox News over the weekend that “some confusion” about the measure contributed to its initial defeat. President Barack Obama has gone further, alleging the National Rifle Association and others “willfully lied” in arguing the measure would lead inexorably to a national registry of gun owners.
But if Manchin and his Pennsylvania Republican partner devote some time to educating close-call colleagues about the reach of their proposal, he says, they will prevail. “The only thing that we’ve asked for is that people would just read the bill,” he said. “It’s a criminal and mental background check strictly at gun shows and online sales.”
Whatever their persuasive skills, the pair will also be aided by polling in states represented by some of the last senators who got off the fence and voted against the background check vote.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, released results Monday of recent surveys showing declines in the favorability numbers for a handful of senators who signaled they were at least considering a “yes” vote but in the end voted “no.”
In Arizona, background checks were favored by 70 percent but the approval rating for Jeff Flake, who won his seat last fall with just above 50 percent, was pegged at only 32 percent. And, by a 21-point margin, those polled said they trusted John McCain, one of the four GOP senators who voted for the background check measure, more than Flake on gun issues.
In Alaska, both senators’ approval ratings have declined sharply since the last PPP survey in February. Both Democrat Mark Begich, who was one of four red-state Democrats who voted against the legislation and faces a tough battle for a second term next year, and Republican Lisa Murkowski saw their approval ratings slip by 8 points — his to 41 percent and hers to 46 percent.
In Nevada, 46 percent of of voters said they would be less likely to back Republican Dean Heller, who just won a full term, because of his “no” vote.
The new PPP numbers come a week after the firm released a poll showing 75 percent support for background checks in New Hampshire but a 15-point plunge in the approval rating for Republican Kelly Ayotte from October to when she voted against the background check language.
April 26, 2013
Congress moved quickly today toward putting a stop to the air-traffic-controller furloughs. It won’t be the last such backstop effort to skirt the dreaded sequester knife, though it may be the fastest.
Today’s action means that lawmakers will be subjected to only one more sequester-delayed trip home, and perhaps they won’t be buffeted by town-meeting turbulence during the coming recess. But members are sure to be chastised for making an exception to their tough budget rules that only makes life more convenient for themselves and their business constituents.
The House arranged this morning for expedited enactment of legislation the Senate passed Thursday night, albeit on a rushed voice vote after several budgetary hard-liners at each end of the political spectrum had left town.
Now that one relatively small rifle shot has found its mark. And with no reason to believe there will be progress before summer on a sequester-replacing budget deal, there is every reason to believe that May will be filled with well-lobbied lawmaker appeals to relax the across-the-board strictures at other agencies, from the National Institutes of Health to the National Park Service.
Had the hardliners been around, the ad hoc approach to relaxing the across-the-board cuts would have prompted outraged rhetoric from conservative Republicans, who view acceptance of all the indiscriminate but meaningful spending curbs as a decent price to pay for shrinking government; and liberal Democrats, who want the sequester turned off altogether as a way to help a range of people who are feeling the pinch.
The White House echoed that sentiment in a statement announcing that President Barack Obama would sign the bill. “We hope Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families who have had children kicked out of Head Start, the seniors who have lost access to Meals On Wheels, the hard-working employees who have been laid off due to defense cuts, and the 750,000 Americans who have lost a job or won’t find one because of the sequester.”
Republican leaders crowed that the angry reaction — from the passengers on about a thousand delayed flights every day this week — had forced an unusually quick and complete capitulation by Obama and the Democrats, who had been emphatically opposed to taking this sort of piecemeal approach.
“Consider that the Democrats opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a message to his caucus this morning; then they “proposed replacing the whole sequester with phony war savings. And by last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted ‘cut this, not that’ approach.”
The bill doesn’t ease the $637 million in savings the Federal Aviation Administration has to come up with by September as its share of the sequester’s $85 billion grand total. Instead, it allows the agency to cover the cost of fully staffing all the air traffic control towers by trimming as much as $237 million from other accounts for less pressing projects.
That sort of flexibility is generally prohibited under the terms of the law, which was designed to be so mindlessly draconian that lawmakers would come up with some alternative budget solution in time. They may yet, one pet program at a time.