Showing posts with label congressional elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label congressional elections. Show all posts

Monday, November 9, 2009

40 Passes, 39 Used: What's Wrong with This Again?

Why exactly is it wrong from the perspective of the majority party in Congress to have members of Congress defect on a high salience vote? Does this make any sense? From the current Republican perspective, yeah, it does make sense. The party of Lincoln is in the minority and needs every one of its members to stand their ground against anything the Democrats want to pass through the chamber and hope that at least 41 Democrats see it their way. To the credit of the Republican leadership in both chambers of Congress, they have been able to do this very well in 2009.

What I don't understand, though, is why some Democrats are complaining about the 39 strays on the health care vote (HR 3962) on Saturday night. So what? Very plainly, the majority party in the House controls the agenda. The leadership from that party is never going to bring anything to the floor that would lose; not on purpose anyway. Let's assume that's a given in the case of the health care bill that came to the floor over the weekend. The other given here is that the Democratic coalition (or cartel if we want to put this in the agenda-setting terms of Cox and McCubbins, 2005) has forty votes to spare. As the majority, you have a choice between 1) watering the bill down even further to get all your members on board or 2) strategically distributing those 40 votes (FHQ will call them passes from now own.) to electorally vulnerable members.

Knowing that it had the votes, the Democratic leadership allocated its passes to freshmen, those in Republican leaning districts or a combination of the two. Could the leadership have run up the score?* Sure, but it likely would have cost them. They'd either have to water the bill down now or likely watch as Democrats in close or Republican-leaning districts lose in 2010. As I see it, that's not a winning strategy. If you've got -- as a majority party -- some votes to spare, you have some wiggle room and an opportunity to provide some cover for at most 40 of your more electorally vulnerable members. On a high salience issue like health care reform, why not use those passes?

Well, Pelosi, Hoyer and the others among the Democratic leadership did. But they didn't use them all (by design, some have speculated -- FHQ agrees). They only used 39 (and actually ended up having two to spare because of Joseph Cao's late defection from the right side of the aisle). So sure, Democrats can be upset that they lost 39 votes, or they could be happy that the leadership didn't have to use their full allotment of passes and gave cover to some of their members at the same time.

What's wrong with that?

*Winning 218-217 is the same as winning 258-177: the bill passes. A wider margin would not have affected anything in the Senate. It would have been/will be close in the upper chamber regardless.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whither Campaign Finance? The Fair Elections Now Act

It's funny that campaign finance came up here yesterday; the same day that a bipartisan group of senators and representatives announced a new piece of legislation to provide public financing of congressional elections.

For starters the system being proposed by Senators Durbin (IL-D) and Specter (PA-R) and Representatives Jones (NC-R), Larson (CT-D) and Pingree (ME-D) does not address presidential campaign finance at all. Yes, after Obama became the first presidential candidate to opt out of the federal matching funds system in the general election, that leaves a pretty big elephant (er, uh donkey?) in the room. Still this legislation is notable because it severely cuts back the cap on individual contributions for congressional candidates wanting to qualify for federal funding.

How does one qualify, you might ask?
In the House, for a candidate to receive access to $900,000, he or she must raise at least $50,000 dollars from 1500 contributors ($33/contributor) in amounts no greater than $100. 40% of that $900,000 can be spent in the primary campaign while the remainder is left for the general election.

In the Senate, things are slightly different because of the greater disparity in terms of numbers of constituents per senator. Senators can collect $1.25 million plus $250,000 for each of his or her state's congressional disticts by raising money (Again, in amounts no greater than $100.) from 2000 contributors and an additional 500 others from each congressional district. In this case, one-third of the federal money could be used in the primary campaign with the remainder left for the general election campaign.

Additional money can be raised in amounts up to $100 from home state residents and matched at a 4:1 rate by the government.

This is a novel idea (one that has been tried at the state level), but there are obviously some questions that would arise should this be attempted at the national level.

1. If the balance constitutionally is between free speech and potential undue influence of money, does a $100 limit contributions not overprotect against the latter at the expense of the former? This would be a major issue in any challenge to this legislation if it were to become law. But to even get to that point it will likely have to survive the journey through two chambers packed with incumbents that would be lukewarm to the idea on average.

2. The constitutional questions are answered to some extent by the voluntary nature of the system. If it were a requirement that all candidates for congress adhere to these rules, the shouts of opposition would be much louder. But honestly, who is opting into this system if it isn't required?

3. What happens to the money in the event that a candidate runs unopposed in either (or both) the primary or general election? Is that money automatically forfeited or can primary money be carried over to the general election? (This one comes with an assist from occasional commenter, Greg.)

4. Timing. The timing of this announcement isn't the best. But you can't wait on the economy to turn around when reform is at stake necessarily. Still, more taxpayer money to politicians isn't something very many people/voters want to hear about at the moment. There's a reason fewer and fewer people check that $3 box on their tax forms every year.

This will be an interesting test case to follow because the other shoe is really going to drop when and if this process or something similar is extended in some way, shape or form to the financing of presidential campaigns.

UPDATE: Politico has more on the newly dubbed Fair Elections Now Act.

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