Showing posts with label Congress. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Congress. 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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Thursday, September 17, 2009

What if Obama Won the Electoral College 1265-599?*


There is a great article in the New York Times today that discusses a case being brought forth in a federal court in Mississippi that calls foul on the representative disparities in Congress. On the one hand, the entire state of Wyoming is one district with 523,000 people, but a district like Nevada's 3rd contains nearly a million people. Does that disparity mean that one district is more represented than the other? Those bringing the case think so. They propose that the House be expanded to at least 932 seats, but that 1761 seats would better fulfill the one person, one vote principle.

1761 seats!?!

FHQ is plenty satisfied with 435 House elections plus an additional 33 or 34 Senate elections every two years, but why not add 1300 more? More elections would be great for business. In all seriousness, this has been an ongoing issue since the number of seats was held at 435. Will this case go anywhere? It's doubtful but it does raise an interesting question:

We strive to adhere to the one person, one vote ideal within states but not across states. Why? It is ironic that this case is coming through Mississippi. When I was in a Southern politics class with University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock a few years back, we were discussing both how much leeway states get in drawing districts and how much easier that process has become with geographic information systems. And the example he used was Mississippi. Typically, the courts allow states wiggle room of about 5% in terms of the populations in their allotted congressional districts. In a hypothetical state with one million people and two congressional districts you could "get away" with having one district with 512,500 people and the other having 487,500 people for example. [Well, given GIS, that probably isn't realistic as long as the districts are compact and relatively competitive. But you get the point.] So, there's some leeway. As I recall, though, Mississippi didn't just get their four districts down to within 5%. In at least two cases they got them to within 5 people. And none of the four districts had anymore than 14 or 15 people more than any of the other three.

Given that matters can be so precise within the states, then, why is it that we don't insist upon this equality of representation across states? It is curious. Mainly, I'd say that the root of this issue finds its origin at the outset of the republic itself when these matters of representation and the alignment of Congress were bitterly debated. The result was the compromise that gave the US a Senate with an equal number of members from each state and a House with its membership determined by population. In the same way, 435 is a compromise of sorts. It isn't perfect.

...but it does give us enough electoral votes to track.

Hat tip to Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog for the link.

*Where did those numbers come from? Well, there's no way of accurately knowing how these new districts would be allocated. I could probably figure it out, but used a shorthand calculation instead. Obama won about 68% of the electoral votes last November. After adding in the 100 senatorial electoral votes plus Washington DC's three to the 1761, FHQ found that 68% of 1864 is 1265. Now, that would be fun to track in 2012.

Oh and in the interest of continued fun, I should add that under the 932 seat scenario, there would have been 1035 electoral votes. Using similar math to the above, Obama would have won 702-333.

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