Congressional capacity, retirements, parties

Matt Glassman, “Why Congress Doesn’t Always Do the Right Thing,” New York Times:

“Will arguments to “do the right thing” persuade lawmakers? Don’t hold your breath. Such exhortations are rarely heeded by politicians because the structural incentives of the institution usually trump policy considerations.”

James Wallner, “When hatred of Trump leads to disdain for debate,” Washington Examiner:

“By trying to delegitimize those with whom they disagree, commentators like Cohen shrink the political sphere to deny their opponents the right to participate in the first place. In the process, they conveniently sidestep the need to engage in a substantive debate over what’s acceptable presidential behavior or what constitutes good public policy.”

David A. Hopkins, “Don’t Expect Much Legislation from Congress in 2018,” Honest Graft:

“Even during normal political times, the internal operation of Congress gets much less than its rightful share of attention from the news media and public. With Donald Trump as president? Forget it. But amidst all the other drama of this eventful week, a few important clues emerged about the road ahead for Congress in 2018. They all seem to point in the same direction: to a relatively unproductive legislative year.”

John T. Bennett, “Nunes Memo Aftermath Could Stifle Legislative Agenda,” Roll Call:

“The memo’s release and the Democrats’ fiery response adds a flammable dispute to an ever-growing pile of political kindling only weeks into a midterm election year with control of both chambers in play.”

Tara Golshan, “The simple explanation for all the Republican retirements: Congress sucks,” Vox:

“But there are some overarching trends worth mentioning: Congressional leadership has increasingly centralized decision-making away from individual lawmakers, and there’s a growing understanding that House Republicans could slip into the minority after this midterm election cycle. Paired together, lawmakers are likely asking themselves the point of being in the Capitol, said Jason Roberts, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who studies Congress.”

Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan, “It will be an intraparty war,” Politico:

“A stealthy discussion is already underway within the Democratic Caucus, particularly among members whose only experience in Congress is in the minority. Assuming Pelosi either leaves on her own or is pressured to step down, her exit would trigger a messy battle between the party’s old guard, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and the party’s younger members, represented by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).”

Alexander Bolton, “Republican agenda clouded by division,” The Hill:

“The looming question, however, is whether McConnell and other GOP leaders are willing to risk a backlash from the conservative base by cutting deals with Democrats — especially with primary elections quickly approaching. Some suggest the answer is to let senators legislate on the floor, something McConnell has vowed to do on immigration.”

Jennifer Shutt, “The Appropriator in Winter: Frelinghuysen’s Last Stand,” Roll Call:

“The House Appropriations chairman is going out amid a blizzard of Republican infighting; lackluster presidential approval dragging down many of his “blue state” GOP colleagues; the increasing polarization of the electorate; and greater influence of Southern and Western conservatives at the expense of Northeastern moderates like himself. And then there is the long, slow decline of the appropriations process, which lost its sheen for many when earmarks were banned, discretionary spending was slashed to the bone and “government by CR” became the rule rather than the exception.”

Sharon LaFraniere and Nicholas Fandos, “How Partisan Has House Intelligence Panel Become? It’s Building a Wall,” New York Times:

“To committee members of both parties, the division of one room into two is emblematic of how far the panel, a longtime oasis of country-first comity in a bitterly divided Congress, has fallen since it began its Russian inquiry last year. Any pretense that committee members will come together to get to the bottom of that matter – or any other – has disappeared.”

Joe Lieberman, “We’re well beyond partisanship, our national government has lost civility,” The Hill:

“However, today we confront a more tempestuous political environment. The basic rhythms of the national legislative process — the norms that prompted Republicans and Democrats to work together in the service of the greater good — are gone. Our democracy is proving unable to meet the challenges of the moment. We face real trouble ahead.”

Sam Rosenfeld, “The Polarizers,” (podcast) New Books Network:

“Rosenfeld tracks the people—the Architects in his subtitle—who initiated changes in party rules and institutions that facilitated the development of the parties. The book is rich in historical details and meaning for our current political moment.”

GAI at Georgetown University, “Congress, Two Beers In,” (podcast)

GAI’s senior fellows discuss congressional politics on a weekly basis.


Ryan Kelly, “‘It’s the Custom of the House to Hear the Leader’s Remarks’Roll Call:

“It appears John Boehner set the precedent for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s remarks on the House floor today. Back on June 26, 2009, then-Minority Leader John Boehner talked for over 20 minutes and received a ruling from the chair, when Democrats tried to interrupt him, that “it’s the custom of the House to hear the leader’s remarks” during morning hour speeches. “

Jordain Carney, “Senate headed for freewheeling debate on immigration bill,” The Hill:

“The Senate will be starting from scratch next week when it begins debating immigration legislation on the floor, a key choice that could impact the outcome. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he will use a nonimmigration bill as the starting point for floor debate, a decision in line with a weeks-long promise that the process will be “fair.””

Dean DeChiaro, “Senate Immigration Debate to Begin With Blank Slate,” Roll Call:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he will kick off next week’s debate over the fate of 690,000 “Dreamers” with a shell bill that does not include immigration-related language. The debate “will have an amendment process that will ensure a level playing field at the outset,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor.”

David Winston, “Opinion: To Filibuster or not to Filibuster,” Roll Call:

“To filibuster or not to filibuster. That is the question and only Senate Democrats can supply an answer. The choice is clear. More uncertainty for the country and putting economic growth at risk — or a willingness to accept compromise neither side may like but both can live with.”

Rachel Bovard, “Government shutdowns are the dysfunction of new Senate norm,” The Hill:

“Shutdowns, once reserved for dramatic standoffs and last resorts, are now becoming a normal way the Senate negotiates. That shutdowns have become so predictable is a reflection of the dysfunction of the Senate itself.”

Theresa Hebert, “Working with Coalitions in Congress,” Quorum:

“In Congress, little can be done alone. Every member in the House and Senate is part of a state delegation and a variety of committees and caucuses. Here is a glimpse at the groups Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37) is a part of in the House of Representatives and tips for how your organization can work with the respective coalitions.”

Budget, debt limit, earmarks

Philip Wallach, “Americans would have a patriotic duty to ignore a debt ceiling crisisWashington Post:

“For either party, consciously choosing to starve the nation of needed funds to make some point (even a broadly popular one such as the undesirability of enormous government debt) would incur huge political costs, much greater than any government shutdown. Members of Congress would have to be politically suicidal to keep up a standoff in which President Trump and his administration insist on the urgency (indeed, the national security imperative) of raising the debt ceiling quickly and without strings attached, so there would be every reason to expect a quick defusing of the crisis.”

James C. Capretta, “Scrap the U.S. Debt Limit Before It’s Too Late,” Real Clear Policy:

“The federal government has a major debt problem, but the solution is not the current statutory limitation on government borrowing, which is counterproductive and could inadvertently cause permanent damage to the U.S. economy. The limitation should be scrapped immediately and replaced with a less risky modification to the budget process, one that encourages political leaders to focus on long-term deficit reduction.”

No Labels, “Stop Continuing Continuing Resolutions,” Real Clear Policy:

“Lawmakers will likely pass another short-term spending bill — the fifth since September 30 — to keep the government functioning. But there is a renewed sense of urgency that a final budget, and not just another continuing resolution, is needed. While many lawmakers have been involved in budget negotiations, a few have had an outsize influence.”

Jennifer Shutt, “Five Continuing Resolutions? Par for the Course on Capitol Hill,” Roll Call:

“Should it be signed into law, the fifth stopgap measure — introduced late Monday — would expire on March 23. At that point, lawmakers would be 174 days into fiscal 2018, with none of the 12 appropriations bills enacted on time. But the fact is veteran lawmakers like Lowey, who first entered the House in 1989, and even newer members such as those elected in the tea party wave of 2010 that ushered in GOP control, have learned to live with “governing by CR.””

Casey Burgat, “Examining the Case for Biennial Budgeting,” R Street Institute:

“Biennial budgeting has been suggested for decades as a potential reform that would help alleviate many of the ills within the broken congressional budgeting process. This policy paper takes stock of the proposed advantages and criticisms of transitioning the federal government to a biennial, rather than annual cycle. Ultimately, I argue that a biennial budgeting model may provide some marginal benefits to a clearly dysfunctional budget process, but will do little to solve the more pressing problems, such as true spending priority differences between political parties.”

Tom Schatz, “How Congress Can Restrain the Executive Branch Without Reviving Earmarks,” The Federalist:

“The answer to members’ complaints about their supposed lack of control over executive branch spending is greater oversight and renewed efforts to authorize programs, not earmarks. There is no comprehensive list of oversight hearings or their outcome, or any comparison from one Congress to the next. Oversight hearings tend to repeat the same subject matter. Joint hearings within the House are rare, and joint hearings between the House and Senate are extremely rare.”

Congress and sexual harassment

Cristina Marcos, “House passes landmark bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy on Capitol Hill,” The Hill:

“The House passed landmark legislation on Tuesday to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies following a string of recent revelations that multiple lawmakers engaged in misconduct. Passage of the bill by a voice vote means it now heads to the Senate, where its future is uncertain but could be helped by momentum from the “Me Too” movement highlighting sexual harassment.”

Michael Stern, “Sexual Harassment and the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Point of Order:

“My purpose here is not to analyze CARA’s proposed reforms or take a position on the bill. I merely observe that, on its face, CARA seems to be a textbook example of how “regular order” is supposed to work. Congress identifies a problem, holds hearings, and proposes a legislative solution, preferably reflecting a broad consensus within the committee of jurisdiction. CARA in fact is cosponsored by every member of the Committee on House Administration. It also very bipartisan, with 14 Republicans and 20 Democrats listed as sponsors or co-sponsors.”

Congress and big data

Michael J. Gaynor, “Can big data predict which bills will pass Congress?Washington Post Magazine:

“In 2013, Tim Hwang and his childhood buddies Jonathan Chen and Gerald Yao came up with what they believed was a better way. The result was a company called FiscalNote, which aims to use data to shed light on the hidden components that help a bill become a law. FiscalNote’s software crawls government websites to pull data from over 1.5 million active bills across Congress, 50 state legislatures and 9,000 city councils — and seeks to predict the likelihood of each of those bills passing.”

Jennifer Victor, “Use big data to explain politics rather than predict it,” Vox:

“When social scientists use big data to engage in analyses of this type, the primary goal is to explain rather than predict. Prediction is fun but may not allow us to understand the underlying causes of a phenomenon or outcome. This is where the dissatisfaction comes in. Using the data to focus on developing a clearer understanding of how the world works, how humans interact in it, and how these interactions produce outcomes, can provide enlightenment. Ultimately, this enlightenment can arm us with higher quality information than prediction alone.”

Beth Simone Noveck, “Congress is Broken. CrowdLaw Could Help Fix It,” Forbes:

“Around the world, there are already over two dozen examples of local legislatures and national parliaments turning to the internet to improve the legitimacy and effectiveness of the laws they make; we need to do the same here if we are to begin to fix congressional dysfunction.”


Featured Publications