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Archive for the ‘Politicians’ Category

An End to Carpetbagginggiving

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

H. J. Res. 65 would propose an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit candidates for Congress from accepting contributions from individuals who do not reside in their state or congressional district.

New Petition: Put Politicians on Probation

Monday, March 21st, 2011

probationWhy not put politicians on probation when they first get to Washington?

A WashingtonWatch.com user has put this interesting idea up as a petition. Newly elected officials seem to go native from the moment they arrive. So how about putting them on probation to let them know they’ll get an early exit if they don’t represent constituents well?

The petition is called “Help Us Save Our Hides!”

We wrote about some similar ideas in our review of the book, “A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results.”

Probation for politicians. That’s the kind of original thinking that we created petitions for! If you like the idea, sign on, and then follow the instructions, using our handy tools to tell your friends!

Honoring Lives Lost in Tucson, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Other Injured, and the Heroes—How We Treat Symbolic Legislation

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Gabrielle-GiffordsThe latest news has Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) making progress in her fight to survive and overcome the injuries she sustained when a gunman attacked a community meeting she convened last weekend. (The New York Daily News story at the link above also has a chilling string of 9-11 calls—it’s a little too much for this site, but you can go there to hear it.)

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H. Res. 32, to express its sense with respect to the shooting. It honors all the victims, but especially Rep. Giffords, and the heroes who did the right thing under extreme duress. To read the text, click on the link to the bill, scroll down to the “Learn More” box, and click on “Read the Bill.”

WashingtonWatch.com joins the House—and so many across the nation—in expressing our sympathy for the injured and condolences to the families of the dead. Such a terrible event.

H. Res. 32 is what we would consider “symbolic” legislation. It doesn’t affect anyone’s rights, government spending, or international affairs. And until the beginning of this Congress, we generally didn’t display such bills on this site. All those bills to rename post offices… We’re all about the rules that affect your life.

But, of course, events like the shooting affect your life, too. And seeing the symbolic actions Congress takes opens another window onto our national legislature, for good or bad. So at the beginning of this Congress we made a new policy to display all bills: substantive, symbolic, and organizational.

To illustrate, here are some of the other such bills introduced yesterday:

  • H. Res. 33, Electing Members to certain standing committees of the House of Representatives;
  • H. Res. 34, Expressing condolences to and solidarity with the people of the Commonwealth of Australia as they struggle against deadly floods that began on December 24, 2010;
  • H. Res. 35, Recognizing the anniversary of the tragic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, honoring those who lost their lives, and expressing continued solidarity with the Haitian people; and
  • H. Res. 36, Recognizing the significance of Black History Month

These don’t affect you in a direct way, but they affect the way the House runs, and they send messages from the national legislature to our friends in foreign countries and to important communities in the United States.

The signal Congress sent yesterday, and which we join today, is to wish the best to Representative Giffords and all the victims of this tragedy. We’ll hope to see her back in Washington, D.C., before too long, voting on all the bills that reach the House floor, substantive and symbolic.

The current vote on H. Res. 32 is below. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

112th Congress Begins: Health Care Law Repeal & Congressional Pay Control

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

billsThe new Congress started last week. Most of its work was ceremonial and organizational. We wrote about the transparency plans of the new Congress, which we’re pretty big on around here.

Speaking of big, Congress saw a big number of bills introduced—311 of ‘em, in fact.

The first bills of the year tell you a little bit about what issues are hot—or at least when issues folks in Congress want to lead with.

Take a look at the new bills by clicking on our “Newest Bills” link. They touch on everything under the sun. But you’ll find a couple of things that stand out. Specifically: bills to repeal the recent health care law, and bills to reduce congressional pay.

In addition to the leadership-backed plan for repeal of the health care law, there are a whole mess of bills that attack Public Law 111-148, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Take a look:

There’s one bill that’s not like the others. It would establish the “public option” that was dropped out of health care legislation last year. It’s H.R. 191, To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to establish a public health insurance option

Are members of Congress overpaid? A lot of members of Congress seem to think so!

More than a few bills would cut congressional pay in various ways. Here they are:

Will Congress actually lower its own pay? That, like most things Congress does or doesn’t do, is up to you.

Happy 112th Congress! Much more to come…

Following the Election Returns

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Real-Clear-Politics SenateWe’ve gone looking for the best assessment of the congressional election as it stands here in the morning on Tuesday, November 2nd. And RealClearPolitics has some maps and charts that illustrate what’s going on really well.

Each of several maps, for the House, the Senate, and the state governors races show the state of play under the most current public opinion polls.

On the left, in blue, you can see the number of Democrats likely to be elected or reelected (or not up for reelection). On the right, the number of Republicans. In the middle, in gray, are the toss-ups.

The bar below those numbers illustrates things in a little more detail. It shows the number of “safe” seats, the ones “leaning” toward either party, and in the middle the “toss-ups.” The specific election races are listed below that.

The House will almost certainly turn over to Republican control. The only question there is how much of a margin Republicans will have.

The outcome of the election for the Senate, pictured at right, is the least clear.  It is likely for the Democrats to retain control, but it will be close. Indeed, RealClearPolitics’ “no toss-ups” map currently has the Democrats holding 51 seats and the Republicans holding 49. (A 50-50 tie would mean Democratic control because the vice president breaks Senate ties.)

If you’re in California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington state, or West Virginia, your Senate races are the linchpins of Senate control. Be sure to vote!

So there’s a reason to sit down in front of the TV tonight with the beverage of your choice and watch how the races are shaping up. Watching election returns is a little bit like watching golf. You have to be kind of into it already, and you have to have a lot patience because not a lot actually happens. The good thing about national elections is that they only happen every other year!

Good luck to your candidates! We’ll return to watching what they do in office all too soon…

Get Your Voting Info Here!

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

There’s a difference between politics and policy. Policy is about what bills are in Congress and what they mean. Politics is the about which people you think should represent your policy views. We mostly stick to policy here. We try to help you know more about policy, so perhaps you can do a little bit more about it. But that doesn’t excuse you from engaging just a little bit with politics. You should vote.

When you vote, you affect in a small way what direction policy is going to go—what direction your life and country are going to go. Even when you vote in an election that has already been “called” for one candidate or another, that makes a difference, because political professionals pay attention to margins of victory, not just the simple outcomes.

So vote! There’s an election on Tuesday. Make sure you get there.

The Google gadget below will make that easier. Just enter your address and click “Search” to get voting information for your area. Once you’ve got what you need, send this page to your friends and neighbors. And be sure, on Tuesday, to VOTE!

Where the “Representational” Money Goes

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

capitol dome windowLimiting the pay of members of Congress seems to be a big interest of visitors to WashingtonWatch.com lately. You can see a list of blog posts dealing with congressional pay here. Below we’ve listed a bunch of bills that would hem in congressional pay various ways.

But what about the money members of Congress get to run their offices? That’s no small matter. They get somewhere between $1.3 and $1.9 million each to spend however they want.

Well, not actually. There are pretty clear rules about what they can and can’t spend it on. Take a look at the Committee on House Administration’s “Member’s Congressional Handbook.” The specific things they are allowed to expense using government funds are listed in Section 4.

Earlier this year, a study of what members of Congress spent this money on came out. One story on it is called “What Congress Bought Itself With Your $1 Billion,” and it covers a nine-month period from July, 2009 through March, 2010.

Trolling for partisan excess, we see that the House Democratic caucus spent nearly $115,000 on a retreat for its members. Sketchy. Meanwhile, former Republican Speaker Denny Hastert got over $350,000 to run an office that handles matters left over from his tenure in office—which ended in 2007. A bipartisan $604,000 was spend on bottled water. Take a look at all the study information.

There is at least one bill in Congress to limit the growth of “Members Representational Allowances.” That’s H.R. 3189, The Reduction of Irresponsible MRA Growth Act. The Legislative Branch appropriations act for FY 2010 (the bill that funded Congress’ operations from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010) required amounts left in MRAs at the end of the fiscal year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit or debt reduction. H.R. 2656 would make that requirement permanent.

A billion dollars is small change compared to the size of many federal expenditures, but there’s a particularly powerful symbolism to the spending that Congress does on itself. And to the pay that Members of Congress take in. So here, as promised, is that list of bills that aim to restrict the pay of our federal representatives.

Cut Their Pay?

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

H.R. 6134 is works toward balancing the budget—by reducing federal workers’ pay. The bill would cut the pay of Members of Congress by 10 percent, put federal employees on periods of mandatory unpaid leave, and reduce salaries and office expenses in the legislative branch.

Good way to control government spending? Or symbolic recrimination against public servants?

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 6134. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

Congress to Cut and Run?

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Politico.com reports that the House may adjourn by the end of this week so members can go home and campaign for reelection.

There’s been no decision made yet, and insiders caution that the scenario is dependent upon the Senate and House completing action on a stopgap spending bill to keep government agencies running through the election. But a House leadership aide said they are working with the Senate to pass the spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, ‘as soon as possible . . .’”

That “continuing resolution” is what Congress will use instead of making any spending decisions for FY2011. We recently reported on Congress’ failure to do its budgeting and spending chores. It’s really remarkable that Congress should leave town with so much work unfinished, but they’re betting that you won’t notice.

Well, you’ll notice because you’re reading about it right now, but most of your friends and neighbors don’t follow what’s going on. The remedy for that? Maybe you send them a link to this blog post. Or this one. Or this one.

Bringing Home the Bacon—Asset or Liabilty?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Two conflicting news factoids are out on the rolespending money of earmarks and spending perks in candidates’ electability.

On the one hand, the Pew Research Center says “Earmarks Could Help Candidates in Midterms.” A majority of Americans (53%) say they are more likely to vote for a candidate with a record of delivering earmarks. Only 12% say they would vote against such a candidate, with a third (33%) saying it would make no difference.

The New York Times has other hand, saying, “Spending Posts Now a Liability for Lawmakers.” It used to be that being an “appropriator”—a member of the House or Senate spending committees—was electoral gold. But “the power of the purse has already weighed down some lawmakers. Of six Congressional incumbents defeated in preliminary contests so far this year, four were veteran members of the appropriations panel who found themselves on the defensive.”

Where do you stand? Be honest! Does bringing home the bacon make you admire your local representative’s prestige and power? Or does it offend your sense of fiscal right and wrong?

We’ll be continuing to work on earmark transparency, which will allow you to make better decisions about the politicians you elect, no matter which way you stand on bringing home the bacon.