Congress

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

AP Photo
AP Photo Representative Brian Sims, a Democrat, is blocked from speaking on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a colleague citing "God's law." S ince he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry , which he says would kill “good union jobs,” spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion, and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending. He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on...

All the Pretty Little Districts

Why you need to stop whining about gerrymandering

flickr/Andy Proehl
Of all the good-government obsessions that keep people focused on process instead of substance, one of the very worst—and I know that lots of you reading this share it—is over the “unfairness” of how congressional district lines are drawn. Within that overrated problem, there’s nothing worse than the obsession with pretty and ugly districts. Really: let it go. If you care about politics and public policy, find something else to worry about. This paragraph of polite rage is brought to you by a current feature over at Slate ridiculing funny shaped House districts—such as one in Maryland which, as Chris Kirk tells us, has been called “’a crazy quilt,’ ‘a blood spatter from a crime scene,’ and a ‘broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.’” Kirk brings us through the most successful partisan gerrymanders of the last cycle—Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and a few more. And it’s true: In a handful of states, partisan gerrymanders really did cost Democrats (...

Who Cares What the Framers Thought about the Filibuster?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Even the most indefensible elements of the status quo always have their passionate defenders. The filibuster as currently practiced in the U.S. Senate has become particularly indefensible, and one of its staunchest defenders is Richard A. Arenberg, author of Defending the Filibuster . Arenberg has an op-ed in Politico summarizing his defense, which fails to convince. I do agree with Arenberg on one point— the filibuster is constitutional . The Constitution does give the Senate the authority to set its own rules, and the filibuster violates no provision of the Constitution. Since I'm not a Republican nominee on the current Supreme Court, that settles the question for me however little I like the outcome. The Constitution gives the Senate the authority to permit the filibuster if a majority chooses to do so. Whether the Senate has exercised its authority wisely is another matter, however, and in this case it simply hasn't. The core of Arenberg's argument is the protection that the...

The Road Forward on Immigration Reform

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli More than a dozen marchers on the first day of a 21-day march calling for immigration reform in Sacramento, California. I t was like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes on Christmas . Representative Bob Goodlatte was talking about giving citizenship to "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. "These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," the Virginia Republican said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing shortly before August recess. It was a sharp about-face: Three weeks earlier, Goodlatte and other Republicans on the committee had voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration’s initiative to stop the steady deportation of Dreamers. Now he and his colleagues were talking about making these youngsters, people who had known no country but the United States, citizens. Providing citizenship for...

Mortgage Reform: Watch Your Fannie

AP Images/ Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Images/ Manuel Balce Ceneta Speaking in Phoenix on Tuesday, President Obama associated himself with a bipartisan proposal to slowly get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of the business of backing mortgages. According to the plan, formulated in the Senate, a new federal agency called the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation would backstop banks and other private investors against catastrophic mortgage losses, but only after they had run though their own substantial capital first. Obama said, “For too long these companies were allowed to make huge profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag. It was 'heads we win, tails you lose,' and it was wrong. The good news is right now there's a bipartisan group of senators working to end Fannie and Freddie as we know them. And I support these kinds of reform efforts." It sounds good, but there is reason to worry that this plan would protect the government against losses but at the price...

Majority Power Play

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid T he Senate deal on executive-branch nominations is holding: Not only did the Senate confirm each of the seven nominees for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it agreed to during a showdown over the filibuster in mid-July, last Wednesday it even confirmed a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—the first time the Senate has appointed a director to the agency in seven years. At least for the time being, we have something like simple-majority confirmation for executive-branch nominations: Confirmations still must defeat a filibuster, which requires 60 votes, but the deal appears to be that Republicans will supply at least six of them. So as long as the 54 Democrats in the chamber hold together, a filibuster can be defeated. Democrats were able to force that compromise after a series of unprecedented filibusters, including “...

Charles Krauthammer Is Making Sense! Almost.

If you asked a hundred conservatives which opinion columnist they most admire, I'm pretty sure Charles Krauthammer would come out on top. Unlike, say, George Will, Krauthammer is free of even passing heresies against conservative dogma. Unlike, say, Cal Thomas, Krauthammer doesn't paint conservative culture warring in explicitly religious terms, allowing everyone to join in the smiting of sinners. And, they'll tell you over and over again, he's brilliant! I can't say I've ever seen it that way—Krauthammer may not be a numbskull or anything, but I've never read anything he's written and said, "Wow, that's a really smart argument—I'm not sure how I'd counter it." And if you've seen him on television, you know that he's a particularly grim figure, usually looking like he's vaguely bored with whatever he's talking about and displeased with the fact that he has to be wherever he is. His columns, furthermore, are often driven by a particularly venomous attitude toward Democratic politicians...

The Rise and Fall of a "Scandal"

He never quite got what he wanted. (Flickr/stanfordcis)
Remember the IRS scandal? Haven't heard much about it lately, have you? Yet for a while, it was big, big news, and so often happens, the initial blockbuster allegations were everywhere, penetrating down to even the least attentive citizen, while the full story, which turned out to be rather less dramatic, got kind of buried. News organizations aren't in the habit of shouting, "BREAKING: That Thing We Said Was Huge Last Week? Eh, Not So Much." Brendan Nyhan has looked at how this "scandal attention cycle" played out with the IRS and turned it into some charts : What that means in practice is that while pretty much everybody heard that the IRS was "targeting conservative groups," far fewer people have learned that there is now lots of evidence that the IRS wasn't targeting conservative groups (see Alec MacGillis for a good explanation). In the news organizations' defense, one could argue that the allegations were pretty dramatic, so they reported on it a lot when they emerged. But then...

It's Hard Out There for a Minority Leader

To many people, a poll released today by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling probably came as a surprise. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, is shown trailing his challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, by a point. But he's a Republican in a conservative state, and one of the leaders of his party. How could he be in danger of losing? For starters, Grimes looks to be a serious opponent. Her father is a well-known former state senator, she's already won a statewide campaign, and she's made some terrific videos with her grandmothers, tapping into Kentucky's substantial pro-grandma vote. But that's not the real source of McConnell's problems. While one might think that the more important and influential a senator is in national politics the easier time he'd have winning re-election, the opposite is true, especially at a time like this. Almost 40 years ago, political scientist Richard Fenno identified a curious phenomenon among voters: they hate...

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government. Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-...

Pray the Atheists Away

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Raul R. Rubiera Earlier this week, two Democratic representatives felt the sting of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Earlier this summer, Colorado representative Jared Polis and New Jersey representative Robert Andrews tried to push through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—a large defense budget bill—that would allow the Department of Defense to add nonreligious chaplains to the ranks of the military. Not only did the amendment fail, its opponents were so incensed that they introduced their own amendment, requiring any chaplain appointed to the military to be sponsored by an “endorsing agency,” all of which are religious. The new measure passed resoundingly, 253 to 173. Republicans seemed simultaneously baffled and horrified by the notion that nonreligious chaplains might have something to offer service members. “They don’t believe anything,” explained Representative Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas, during a...

Run, Women, Run!

Rebecca D’Angelo
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S usannah Shakow's first impression of high-school junior Tristana Giunta was that she was awkward. "Like, couldn’t-look-you-in-the-eye kind of awkward," Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first annual Young Women's Political Leadership conference in Washington, D.C.—the flagship program offered by Running Start, which Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office. The Young Women’s Political Leadership conference is a boot-camp where high-school women learn the ingredients that make a great politician. They take Networking 101, Fundraising 101, and Public Speaking 101. They get first-hand knowledge of how Washington works from women who have been playing the game for ages. Girls learn there are dozens of people their age just as ambitious and as hungry to run for office as they are. Despite her shy demeanor, Giunta soaked up an impressive amount of campaign...

Congress Tells NSA to Keep Up the Good Work

National Security Agency headquarters.
What with the important news of a baby being born in England and the further adventures of Anthony Weiner's penis dominating our attention, you probably didn't notice the failure yesterday of an amendment in the House to end the NSA's program collecting phone records on you, your neighbors, and every other American. Keep in mind that, as Sen. Ron Wyden has intimated , there are almost certainly other NSA surveillance programs that we would also be shocked to hear about, but remain secret. That this amendment, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, got a vote at all is somewhat surprising, but from all appearances , Speaker John Boehner saw it as a way to allow the more libertarian members of his caucus to let off some steam and take a stand against government surveillance. It may not have ever had much of a chance of passing both the House and Senate, but the Obama administration pushed for a no vote and General Keith Alexander himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby against it, and...

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File
AP Photo/Mel Evans W hen Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby. Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out. Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family...

Liz and Dick

With the help of her powerful father, Liz Cheney is running for Senate and setting off the next round of an intra-GOP fight over foreign policy. 

AP Images/Cliff Owen
AP Images/Cliff Owen It’s not much of a surprise that Liz Cheney has decided to run for office, as she announced yesterday. With the help of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and access to his considerable network of donors and supporters, she’s been building a national profile herself, mainly on national security issues, for several years. What is surprising is that she would challenge a sitting Republican Senator in Wyoming, rather than the state in which she’s spent most of her time over the last decade. “When I heard Liz Cheney was running for Senate I wondered if she was running in her home state of Virginia,” said Senator Rand Paul in response to the news that Cheney would challenge incumbent Mike Enzi. The problem isn’t that a primary fight could weaken the GOP in Wyoming. As Jonathan Chait noted yesterday, there’s little real danger of a Democratic upset in reliably-red Wyoming. The problem, Chait continued, is that “Cheney is nuts—a spokesman of the deranged wing...

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