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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Too Much Power

Gallup reports:
Six in 10 Americans think the government has too much power, marking the third year in a row that at least 59% of the public has voiced this view. The 60% recorded in this survey ties the previous high from 2013 for the question, which Gallup has asked annually since 2002.
A comparison of the combined results of Gallup's polls in Obama's first term and those in his second term reveal that the rise in concerns over the federal government's power is being driven by Democrats, moderates and liberals. Republicans and conservatives have consistently and overwhelmingly believed the government has been too powerful throughout Obama's presidency. But now a majority of moderates (57%), as well as independents (64%), share that view.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Social Networking Usage

Pew reports:
Nearly two-thirds of American adults (65%) use social networking sites, up from 7% when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005. Pew Research reports have documented in great detail how the rise of social media has affected such things as work, politics and political deliberation, communications patterns around the globe, as well as the way people get and share information about health, civic life, news consumption, communities, teenage life, parenting, dating and even people’s level of stress.
A special analysis of 27 national surveys of Americans across the past decade documents this substantial spread of technology throughout the population, although the overall number of users of social networking sites has leveled off since 2013.1 At the same time, there continues to be growth in social media usage among some groups that were not among the earliest adopters, including older Americans.
The figures reported here are for social media usage among all adults, not just among those Americans who are internet users. In many previous Pew Research reports, the share of social media users has been reported as the proportion of internet users who had adopted such sites, rather than the full adult population, which continues to include a relatively small share (currently 15%) who still remain offline. In this report, a broader picture of the American landscape is presented, and so the figures are based on the entire adult population.
Over the past decade, it has consistently been the case that those in higher-income households were more likely to use social media. More than half (56%) of those living in the lowest-income households now use social media, though growth has leveled off in the past few years. Turning to educational attainment, a similar pattern is observed. Those with at least some college experience have been consistently more likely than those with a high school degree or less to use social media over the past decade. 2013 was the first year that more than half of those with a high school diploma or less used social media.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mike Lee for Speaker?

Lee has an insurgent’s résumé: He was elected with the Tea Party wave in 2010, defeating an incumbent Republican, Bob Bennett, along the way. He was Ted Cruz’s partner in crime during the government shutdown debates. His scorecard with Heritage Action, often the scourge of G.O.P. leaders, currently stands at 100 percent. And unlike almost every member of the House and Senate leadership, he’s a genuine foe of comprehensive immigration reform.

At the same time, like Ryan (and unlike Cruz), Lee been a real policy entrepreneur. He authored a pro-family tax plan that breaks with some (if perhaps not enough) of the G.O.P. donor class’s orthodoxies. He has offered serious proposals on transportation, higher education and religious liberty. And just this week he was part of a bipartisan breakthrough on criminal justice reform, one of the rare issues where the late Obama years still offer hope for compromise.

In Lee’s ambitions, you can see what the House insurgents want to be — a force that moves conservative policy making away from donor service and toward genuine reform — rather than the purely nihilistic force they often threaten to become. You can see the outlines of the kind of agenda that might satisfy (some) intransigents and also provide some (very) modest ground for bipartisanship.

And then in his record and persona, you can see a — let’s be frank — tribal identification with insurgency that might make easier for him to persuade the G.O.P.’s right flank to accept the real limits on the House’s power.

Unfortunately the House insurgents do not appear to have a Mike Lee in their ranks.

But there is also no rule preventing the House from electing a senator as its speaker.
Ross Douthat is an elegant, perceptive writer, and I usually agree with him.  But this idea is badly flawed.

First, as a previous post mentioned, it is not entirely clear that the Constitution permits the House to elect a speaker from outside its ranks. Granted, however, it is unlikely that the judiciary would intervene to stop such a move.)

Second, and much more important, it violates a fundamental principle of the Constitution: bicameralism.  In Federalist 51, Madison laid out the rationale for having two different legislative bodies:
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
Different terms of office, different constituencies, different prerogatives and functions -- all of these distinctions separate the two chambers, just as the Framers intended.  Members of one should not get into the internal affairs of the other -- unless of course they leave the first and win election to the second.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Can a Non-Member Become Speaker?

Some commentators have noted that the Constitution does not define the qualifications for speaker of the House and are speculating that the lawmakers could pick someone from outside Congress. Diana Schaub says no:
However, this construction of the passage ignores a number of other textual elements in the Constitution, as well as other relevant texts. There is an inescapable logic to the setting forth of the Constitution’s sections which should guide interpretation. In Article 1, Section 1, we learn that Congress is vested with specified legislative powers and that Congress “shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” In Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1, we learn that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”
These definitions govern the meaning of subsequent clauses. I admit that it would have put the kibosh on the present foolishness if the fifth clause had included the words in italics: “The House of Representatives shall choose from among their number their Speaker.” I think it simply never occurred to them that someone would take it into his head to contend that the Speaker of the House could be an individual who was not a fellow legislator. The possessive pronoun is important. The House chooses “their” Speaker—a Speaker, we might say, who is of the House, by the House, and for the House. According to Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1, the House is composed of members and only members. The existing members of the House cannot summon into being a new member. The drafters thought the chain of connection from Sections 1 and 2 to Section 5 was clear enough; and for over 200 years, it was.

The first Congress clearly thought the Speaker must be drawn from the current membership. When they assembled on April 1, 1789, the first order of business was the drafting of rules. By April 7, they had adopted the “STANDING RULESand ORDERS of this HOUSE,” the first of which laid out “the DUTY of the SPEAKER.” Among the duties:

In all cases of ballot by the house, the speaker shall vote; in other cases he shall not vote, unless the house be equally divided, or unless his vote, if given to the minority, will make the division equal, and in case of such equal division, the question shall be lost.

There were eight signers of the Constitution in this opening session of the House, among them James Madison. By the rules they adopted, they indicated their view that the Speaker of the House must be a member of the House, inasmuch as no non-member could have a vote.
In the unlikely event that the House did turn to a non-member, would the courts intervene?  That scenario seems even more unlikely. Under the political question doctrine, federal courts will not
take on certain controversies because their resolution belongs to the political branches. 

In any case, the question is academic.  The lawmakers need somebody who actually knows how the House works, so as a practical matter, the only non-members in that category would be former members, and specifically former leaders or committee chairs.  For obvious reasons, Denny Hastert is out of the running.  Jonah Goldberg has talked about Newt, but that was a whimsical idea:  nobody who actually remembers his speakership would seriously entertain the idea.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Electing a Speaker

From the Congressional Research Service:
Each new House elects a Speaker by roll call vote when it first convenes. Customarily, the conference of each major party nominates a candidate whose name is placed in nomination. Members normally vote for the candidate of their own party conference, but may vote for any individual, whether nominated or not. To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of all the votes cast for individuals. This number may be less than a majority (now 218) of the full membership of the House, because of vacancies, absentees, or Members voting “present.”

This report provides data on elections of the Speaker in each Congress since 1913, when the House first reached its present size of 435 Members. During that period (63rd through 113th Congresses), a Speaker was elected four times with the votes of less than a majority of the full membership.

If a Speaker dies or resigns during a Congress, the House immediately elects a new one. Four such elections have been necessary since 1913. In the earlier two cases, the House elected the new Speaker by resolution; in the more recent two, the body used the same procedure as at the outset of a Congress.

If no candidate receives the requisite majority, the roll call is repeated until a Speaker is elected. Since 1913, this procedure has been necessary only in 1923, when nine ballots were required before a Speaker was elected.

From 1913 through 1943, it usually happened that some Members voted for candidates other than those of the two major parties. The candidates in question were usually those representing the “progressive” group (reformers originally associated with the Republican party), and in some Congresses, their names were formally placed in nomination on behalf of that group. From 1943 through 1995, only the nominated Republican and Democratic candidates received votes, representing the culmination of the establishment of an exclusively two-party system at the national level.

In six of the nine elections since 1997 (105th, 107th-109th, 112th, and 113th Congresses), however, some Members voted for Members of their own party other than the party nominees. Also, some Members in 1997 and in 2013 voted for candidates who were not then Members of the House. Although the Constitution does not so require, the Speaker has always been a Member. Further, in 2001, a Member affiliated with one major party voted for the nominee of the other. Until then, House practice had long taken for granted that voting for Speaker was demonstrative of party affiliation in the House
At The Washington Post, Jeffrey A. Jenkins and Charles Stewart III tell what happened in 1923:
The 1922 midterm elections had reduced the number of Republicans in the House to 225 out of 435. If we count the number of Progressive Republicans at 24 — the number who voted in the caucus against re-nominating Frederick Gillett (Mass.) — then the Progressives could determine whether Gillett would have a House majority. And, while it was unlikely the Progressives would join with the Democrats to organize the chamber, anyone who could add knew that these 24 Republicans plus the chamber’s 207 Democrats also constituted a majority.
On the eve of convening the 68th Congress, Republicans held a nominating caucus at which the Progressive-Conservative split was revealed, when most of the 24 Progressives voted for Henry Cooper (Wis.). The Progressive bloc refused to abide by the cardinal rule of the binding nominating caucus, which required them to support Gillett as the price of participating in it. Instead, they held out for the passage of rules changes that would share parliamentary power in the House more equally. The Republican leadership initially refused, but soon realized that the Progressives meant business. The Progressives forced eight speakership ballots over two days, before Nicholas Longworth (Ohio), the Republican Majority Leader, capitulated and cut a deal — guaranteeing procedural freedom that would allow for liberalizing rules changes, in exchange for the Progressives standing down. Progressive leaders agreed, and Gillett was elected on the first ballot of the third day, and 9th ballot overall.
The Republican Old Guard had to swallow a lot to make this deal, but they had no choice — the alternatives were an unorganized House or a House organized along Democratic/Progressive lines.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The House and Institutional Memory

Previous posts have noted how few current lawmakers were serving at the time of the last major tax reform (1985-86).  Pew has new data showing that veteran House members are in short supply, especially on the GOP side:

Congressional Experience Among House Republicans Lowest Since 1990s
More Than Half of House GOP Now in First, Second or Third Term in Office

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Recycling: Costs and Benefits

John Tierney writes at The New York Times that many supporters of recycling have little ideas of its environmental costs and benefits.
But how much difference does it make? Here’s some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.
Even those statistics might be misleading. New York and other cities instruct people to rinse the bottles before putting them in the recycling bin, but the E.P.A.’s life-cycle calculation doesn’t take that water into account. That single omission can make a big difference, according to Chris Goodall, the author of “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.” Mr. Goodall calculates that if you wash plastic in water that was heated by coal-derived electricity, then the net effect of your recycling could be more carbon in the atmosphere.
The national rate of recycling rose during the 1990s to 25 percent, meeting the goal set by an E.P.A. official, J. Winston Porter. He advised state officials that no more than about 35 percent of the nation’s trash was worth recycling, but some ignored him and set goals of 50 percent and higher. Most of those goals were never met and the national rate has been stuck around 34 percent in recent years.
“It makes sense to recycle commercial cardboard and some paper, as well as selected metals and plastics,” he says. “But other materials rarely make sense, including food waste and other compostables. The zero-waste goal makes no sense at all — it’s very expensive with almost no real environmental benefit.”
One of the original goals of the recycling movement was to avert a supposed crisis because there was no room left in the nation’s landfills. But that media-inspired fear was never realistic in a country with so much open space. In reporting the 1996 article I found that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing. And that tiny amount of land wouldn’t be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island. The United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill — and one that never had the linings and other environmental safeguards required today.