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“Ted Cruz Is So Done With The Senate”: Legislating Never Really Was His First Priority To Begin With

Ted Cruz was the only senator to miss the vote on Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general, despite his vociferous objections to her nomination, because he was on his way to a fundraiser—a circumstance that generated some predictable mockery. Yet as Philip Bump tells us, Cruz has actually missed lots of votes—70 percent of them this month, more than any other senator. Bet let me defend the gentleman from Texas.

Obviously, we want our senators to vote on bills and nominations. That’s a big part of what we send them to Washington to do. At the same time, there are very few votes where one senator’s vote makes the difference, and the outcome of this particular conflict was clear to all. Cruz’s opposition to Lynch would have been made no more emphatic had he actually been there to offer his official thumbs-down.

The fact that Cruz has missed more votes than anyone else isn’t too shocking either, not only because he’s running for president—an enterprise that takes up a lot of one’s time—but also because legislating never really was his first priority to begin with. He’s a show horse, not a work horse, and he sees his job not as passing legislation but as using his position as a platform to advocate the things he believes in. He’s certainly not alone in that.

And at a time when Congress accomplishes very little, there aren’t that many votes of consequence to begin with. Lynch’s confirmation may have been one of them, but as a general matter, not much depends on whether Ted Cruz is there to vote or not.

So go ahead, Senator—skip it. We don’t need to pretend that you’re really trying to legislate. That’s not your thing, and that’s OK. Of course, your constituents might not feel exactly the same way I do.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 24, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Lawmakers, Senate, Ted Cruz | , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Conflicts Here”: How Lawmakers Skirt The Law To Keep Their Next Jobs Secret

When then-Sen. Jim DeMint said he would leave Congress to head the Heritage Foundation 13 months ago, he waited until just 24 hours before the announcement to file an official notice with the Senate that he was negotiating for the new job.

But at least DeMint gave some public notice before accepting the post.

On the day Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s midterm resignation took effect in 2012, Washington law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips announced it had already hired him—and the job negotiations were never made public. Nor were any official disclosures regarding job negotiations released prior to the announcement that Rep. Health Shuler accepted a job at Duke Energy when his term expired, or when Rep. Mike Ross was hired by the Southwest Power Pool.

That is not how it was supposed to work. A law designed to prevent conflicts of interest and shed light on lawmakers who negotiate for post-Capitol Hill work while still in office has failed, worn thin by a series of administrative rulings and narrow interpretations.

The result is that lawmakers themselves now determine when a potential conflict exists and when disclosures should be released publicly. Moreover, because the law has yielded almost none of the public information it was designed to provide, it remains largely unknown whom lawmakers negotiate with—and whether their official duties present any conflicts with those employers.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act required lawmakers to file public disclosures when they negotiate for work and when conflicts arise. Yet only seven disclosures have been made public in the House since the law was passed in 2007—even though more than 200 lawmakers during that time have resigned, were defeated in a primary, or announced their retirement. Only six disclosures have been made public in the Senate, despite 39 lawmakers leaving between 2008 and 2012.

In this midterm-election year, many more lawmakers will be making decisions about jobs and disclosure in coming months. It is still early, but no public filings have been made by any of the 16 sitting House members who have announced they are leaving Congress at the end of 2014.

In addition to those 16, three other House members have already resigned this session, and all three had outside jobs waiting. But only one of them filed a notice of job negotiations before leaving. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Missouri Republican, officially resigned on Jan. 22 of last year to become CEO and president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Her disclosure of her job talks is dated Nov. 23, 2012, and reports that negotiations for that job commenced four days earlier.

The two other lawmakers were not required to make their employment negotiations public because of yet another wrinkle in the law that exempts those seeking new jobs in the public sector. Former Rep. Jo Bonner left Congress to take a job in the University of Alabama system, and former Rep. Rodney Alexander left to accept an appointment as secretary of the Louisiana Veterans Affairs Department.

Ethics Issues

There is nothing illegal or unethical about departing lawmakers looking for work while they serve out their terms. But the law was put in place as a transparency measure after former Rep. Billy Tauzin caused a stir by leaving the House in 2003 to take a $2-million-a-year job in the pharmaceutical industry, just months after playing a lead role in drafting legislation to introduce a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

But the law’s rules apply differently today than they did when was it was passed. For example, in the House, the government panel in charge of the filings was changed from the Clerk’s Office to the Ethics Committee, which is extremely selective about what it makes public. In the Senate, the secretary of the Senate, rather than the Ethics Committee, handles most of these filings, with far different results. A higher percentage of lawmakers there have filed disclosures, and those forms were swiftly made public.

Staffers and lawmakers with direct knowledge of how the House Ethics Committee oversees the law say it is being interpreted so narrowly by officials and lawmakers as to render it ineffective.

They say lawmakers are essentially told they must file notices only when they have an actual job offer and compensation is discussed. And those notices do not have to be made public—they can be kept private by the Ethics Committee—unless lawmakers themselves determine there is a specific conflict and decide they must file a follow-up disclosure or notice recusing themselves.

The upshot is that when lawmakers do file disclosures, those filings often do not go beyond the Ethics Committee. Such apparently was the case for Cardoza, Shuler, and Ross, whose disclosures have never been released. Even the committee itself is sometimes taken by surprise by word that a lawmaker has landed a job.

“I saw a newspaper account that a lawmaker had taken a job—and my jaw dropped, and I wondered, ‘How is it that even I did not know that?’ ” said one former House Ethics official, speaking on the condition of not being identified by name.

Former Rep. John Shadegg took a job as a partner with Steptoe & Johnson in March 2011 but says he had some preliminary contact with the firm before he officially left office. Shadegg said he never filed a notice of negotiations, because the guidance he received from the Ethics Committee did not indicate he had to do so until he was on the verge of being hired, talking details about salary.

Another former lawmaker, who asked not to be identified by name, explained the Ethics Committee guidance he received this way: “I was told that, for instance, if IBM wants to hire you for $1 million, you are not required to report that legally. But the minute I say, ‘I want $1 million and one dollar,’ the law kicks in.”

Asked if he thought it odd that so few disclosures of subsequent potential conflicts have been made public, Cardoza said, “The rules are in place. I am sure there are people who have violated them; and I am sure there are people who have complied with them, and I am one.”

But he also said that there are good reasons that talks that do not result in a job should be kept private. “If you do not take an offer, it hurts your political career—it telegraphs to people you are leaving,” Cardoza said.

Questions of Conflict

Still, the current system can leave lingering questions. Take, for instance, Ross, the Arkansas Democrat who announced in July 2011 that he would not seek reelection in 2012. Ross later announced he would take a job after Congress as Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Relations for the Southwest Power Pool, a non-profit which represented several coal-driven power companies.

That announcement prompted at least one publication, the nonprofit Republic Report, to raise questions about Ross’s earlier cosponsorship of an amendment to delay the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the Cross State Air Pollution rule, a rule the Power Pool had pushed to have relaxed.

Republic Report wrote that the situation “raises the possibility that Ross’s legislative activity had been unduly influenced by the prospect of a high-paying job.”

In response, a Ross spokesman told the publication that the lawmaker had begun job negotiations months after his EPA rule-delaying legislation passed the House, and that he would be recusing himself on any issues that provide targeted benefits to his future employer.

The spokesman went on to tell Republic Report, “He properly filed all forms required by the House Ethics Committee. And while the Ethics Committee does not make the form available to the public, in an effort to be transparent, Congressman Ross went above and beyond in announcing who he would be working for when his term in Congress ends.”

Today, Ross is running for governor of Arkansas—and his disclosures still remain unavailable for public viewing.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the ethics law is being interpreted so narrowly that “it is simply not meaningful.”

“Swiss cheese,” is how McGehee described the current system, while Craig Holman, a legislative representative for the government watchdog group Public Citizen, said the intent of the law was to “let the public know.”

“That was the entire intent,” Holman said.


By: Billy House, The National Journal, January 21, 2014

January 24, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Lawmakers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Someone Has To Do It”: Congressional Gridlock Leaves Lawmaking To The Supreme Court

One is the loneliest number and only one in 10 Americans trusts the United States Congress. And who can blame people?

The most visible congressional failure was the Senate vote that killed background checks on people who want to buy guns. It was a perfectly reasonable proposal. No one’s guns would have been taken away and national polls showed that nine in 10 Americans supported the proposal.

But that didn’t matter because the Senate was more responsive to pressure from the National Rifle Association than it was to public opinion. Gridley, damm public opinion, full speed backward!

The same tragedy is about to unfold with immigration reform. The Senate passed a compromise immigration proposal under which undocumented immigrants would have to get over a series of hurdles higher than the border fence to become citizens. To get the measure passed, Democrats agreed to GOP demands to hire 20,000 more border control agents. That’s enough of a force to conquer Mexico and more than enough to guard the border we share with our neighbor to the south.

Despite these concessions, House Republicans are doing everything they can to stop reform, and they will probably succeed even though national polls show strong support for citizenship for undocumented people if they meet a long list of requirements.

I could go on and on and on. What happens to a democracy when democratic institutions aren’t democratic anymore? Nothing good.

What if they gave an election and no one came. Well, we almost found out in two recent elections. Turnout was abysmal in the race for mayor in Los Angles and in the special Senate election in Massachusetts to select a replacement for John Kerry. Voters don’t see the point in going out to vote to elect people who can’t or won’t do anything to tackle the challenges facing the nation.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the Supreme Court.

When democratic institutions fail, undemocratic institutions step in. When the legislature stops legislating, the unelected Supreme Court rushes in to fill the vacuum. Someone has to make laws, and if Congress doesn’t legislate the federal court system will step in to fix problems. Like it or not, unelected or not, the Supreme Court has filled the vacuum that Congress created.

Historically, the Supreme Court has always been reluctant to void laws passed by the peoples’ elected representatives. But the court did just that on successive days last month. On day one, the high court nullified part of the Voting Rights Act. The next day, the court consigned the Defense of Marriage Act to the dustbin of history where it belonged.

The high court’s message to Congress was do something, just don’t stand there. Standard operating procedure in Congress these days is don’t do anything, just stand there. The world does not come to a grinding halt to accommodate Congress when it can’t get its act together.

When he ran for president in 1996, Ross Perot proposed the idea of having national referendums to make decisions on issues. Americans like the idea. A recent Gallup survey showed that two in three Americans supported it. Somebody has to make decisions. It’s a dirty job,  but someone has to do it.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, July 11, 2013

July 12, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Lawmakers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Only Takes One Simpleton”: Our Laws Are Made By Idiots

Back in 2009, Michele Bachmann told an interviewer that she was refusing to answer any questions on the census form other than how many people lived in her household. It seems this passionate advocate of the Constitution as sacred text found Article 1, Section 2 incompatible with her small-government ideology. But that’s the problem with seeing things through such narrow blinkers: when you are convinced that every question in public debate has but a single answer (“Government is bad!”), then your answers to some ordinary questions can become absurd.

So it was when the House of Representatives, a body now seemingly devoted to seeking out new ways to make itself look stupid when it isn’t pushing the country toward economic calamity, recently voted to undermine the American Community Survey, a supplement to the decennial census. The ACS gathers information on many different measures of Americans’ lives, providing valuable data that demographers, historians, and all manner of social scientists use to understand our nation and its people. Because the ACS is far larger than ordinary public opinion polls, it provides highly reliable data that are also used by government itself and by private industry. So how could something like that become politicized? How could any congressional Republican, no matter how stupid, possibly come to see it as some kind of liberal plot or wasteful boondoggle? Catherine Rampell of The New York Times explains (forgive the long excerpt; it’s a good explanation):

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes. “This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.

Each year the Census Bureau polls a representative, randomized sample of about three million American households about demographics, habits, languages spoken, occupation, housing and various other categories. The resulting numbers are released without identifying individuals, and offer current demographic portraits of even the country’s tiniest communities.

It is the largest (and only) data set of its kind and is used across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities get for things like education and public health.

I don’t for a minute think that John Boehner has been gunning for the ACS for years, or that the entire Republican caucus feels passionately about it one way or the other. But in the House today, all it takes is one simpleton of a first-term Tea Party congressman to bring this up, and the rest of them say, “Gee, I don’t want to vote for government! Because government is bad!” So they go along. All but ten House Republicans voted for Webster’s amendment, and Rand Paul has a companion bill in the Senate. What a fine display of leadership and responsible governing.

And about Webster saying the ACS “is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey,” a bit of explanation is in order. When you say a survey is “random,” it means the respondents are selected randomly, meaning everyone in the population has an equal chance of being in the sample. That’s what makes a sample unbiased, as opposed to, say, interviewing only men or only people in California, which would be non-random surveys. Surveys have to be random, except under some very carefully defined circumstances, in order to allow you to extrapolate to a larger population. But what obviously happened is that Webster saw something about the sample being “random,” and said, “What?!? It’s just some random survey? What the hell? Let’s kill this thing!” And here’s where it’s really disheartening. From that point forward–as he wrote his bill, convinced his colleagues, and saw it passed through the House–nobody clued him in to the first thing about how surveys work in general or how this survey works in particular. Nor, obviously, did he try to find out for himself. Because who cares?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 20, 2012

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Lawmakers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If Only GOP Lawmakers Were More Like GOP Voters

I imagine everyone has seen the bumper sticker that says, “Lord, protect us from your followers.” I have an idea for a related sticker that reads, “Republicans, protect us from your elected officials.”

In the existing political landscape, the real problem is not with GOP voters; it’s with GOP policymakers. This isn’t to let the party’s supporters off the hook entirely — they’re the ones who supported and elected the officeholders — but it’s hard to overstate how much more constructive the political process would be if Republican lawmakers in any way reflected the priorities of their own supporters.

Last week, a national poll found that Republican voters broadly support the Democratic jobs agenda — a payroll tax cut, jobs for teachers/first responders, infrastructure investments, and increased taxes on millionaires and billionaires — in some cases by wide margins. This week, Tim Noah noticed this observation can be applied even further.

I’m liking rank-and-file Republicans better and better. Earlier this month we learned that they favor Obama’s plan to tax the rich. Now we learn that a 55 percent majority of them think Wall Street bankers and brokers are “dishonest,” 69 percent think they’re “overpaid,” and 72 percent think they’re “greedy.” Fewer than half (47 percent) have an unfavorable view of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Thirty-three percent either favor them or have no opinion, and 20 percent haven’t heard of them. Also, a majority favor getting rid of the Electoral College and replacing it with a popular vote. After the 2000 election only 41 percent did. Now 53 percent do. How cool is that?

Every one of these positions puts the GOP rank-and-file at odds with their congressional leadership and field of presidential candidates.

I don’t want to exaggerate this too much. The fact remains that the Republican Party is dominated by conservative voters, especially those who participate in primaries and caucuses. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the party’s rank-and-file members are moving to the left.

But the recent poll results are also hard to miss — many if not most GOP voters are perfectly comfortable with plenty of progressive ideas, including tax increases on millionaires and billionaires. It’s starting to look like the party’s rank and file is made up of mainstream conservatives who want their party to help move the country forward.

And yet, when we look to Republican officials in Washington, how many GOP members of Congress are willing to endorse any of these popular measures? Zero. Literally, not even one Republican lawmaker has offered even tacit support for ideas that most GOP voters actually like. In the Senate, a united Republican caucus won’t even allow a vote — won’t even allow a debate — on popular job-creation ideas during a jobs crisis.

If the actions of GOP lawmakers in any way resembled the wishes of GOP voters, our political system wouldn’t be nearly as dysfunctional as it is now.

Congratulations, congressional Republicans. You’re far more extreme than your own supporters.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Congress, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Financial Institutions, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Right Wing, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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