Saturday, January 31, 2009

Partisan Stimulus, Goodbye Blago, More Obama Cabinet Woes and Why We Need a Larger House

The Stimulus Package
The $819 billion stimulus package has cleared the house. This is a dramatic bill that at least in the short-term, represents the largest expansion of the reach of the US Government in history. The bill passed with 0 Republican votes, despite efforts by the Obama administration to reach across the aisle. 11 Democrats, mostly Blue Dogs, also voted against the bill.

I don't blame the Republicans for being against this. Obama did all he could to reach out to them, but this just comes down to a fundamental difference in governing philosophy. Paul Begala on CNN made the point that I made several weeks ago in my posting that Republicans are generally supply-siders, believing that investment capital drives economic growth, whereas Democrats tend to be demand-siders, believing that consumer spending drives economic growth. If you are a supply-sider, you aren't going to believe in this bill.

I have my own reservations about this huge spending package, financed on debt. But, on balance, I support the bill. Conditions are too dire to "let the markets work". In the 4th quarter, the GDP shrank by 3.8% after shrinking 0.5% in the 3rd quarter. This makes the recession the worst since the early 80s -- in 1982, the GDP shrank a total over just over 6%. And unemployment generally lags GDP contraction, so even if the decline were stemmed now (and there is no indication we have reached the bottom yet), unemployment is likely to shoot up to at least 9 or 10%. In such extreme circumstances, the government must act to jumpstart the economy. The bill is not perfect and is too mis-mashed with short-term stimulus initiatives and long-term policy goals -- this is the product of a politically-motivated congress. But, imperfect as it is, it is necessary.

It will be interesting to see how this moves in the Senate, where Republicans still have the fillibuster option and deliberations tend to take longer.

Bye-Bye Blago, I For One Will Miss You
Blago is gone, removed from office by a 59-0 vote in the Illinois State Senate, convicting him of the impeachment charges passed by the House. Yes, he is corrupt, insane, arrogant and worthy of contempt, but how can you not love this guy? He outsmarted Harry Reid to get his pick in the Senate, boycotted his own impeachment trial and continues to protest his complete lack of guilt without addressing the obvious audio evidence of him trying to sell the senate seat. And to think, the 2008 Almanac of American Politics, published less than 2 years ago, called him a potential Presidential prospect. Guess Blago gets to join Elliot Spitzer on the list of "would've beens". He'll run the talk show circuit for a week or so, then we'll lost interest. But, he has been fun while he lasted.

Tom Daschle Doesn't Pay His Taxes
What happened to the legendary Obama vetting process? Tom Daschle is now the second cabinet pick this it was learned did not pay proper income taxes, in this case on a limo and driver provided to him for free by a friend and business associate over the past 3 years. To me, Daschle's sins are probably more flagrant than Timothy Geithner, who failed to declare international income. Both of them should have known better, but Daschle failed to pay almost $150K in taxes, a far larger sum. Besides, Daschle is a far less critical cabinet officer than Geithner. My opinion is that Daschle should withdraw his nomination and allow Obama to nominate someone who isn't as tainted.

But it poses the question -- did Obama know about this issue when he made the nomination or did his vetting process miss it?

All in all, the Obama cabinet continues to move slowly. Eric Holder is likely to be confirmed to justice by the Senate on Monday with maybe 20-30 nay votes. Hilda Solis' nomination to Labor is still being held up by conservatives who say she was evasive in answering questions at her committee hearing, but in reality, this is probably more of a philosophical schism than anything else. Daschle's fate is now in doubt, although Harry Reid issued a strong statement of support and as long as Democrats hold together, he will make it through. And the Commerce seat is still vacant.

Almost 2 weeks in, President Obama still has some work to do.

Why the House of Representatives Need to Be Expanded
Trivia questions for you:
#1 Where in the constitution is the size of the House of Representatives set?
#2 What was the original First Ammendment when the Bill of Rights was proposed?

Here are you answers:
#1 Nowhere! The size of the house is set by law, the constitution makes no stipulation as to the size.
#2 The original first ammendment was set to guarantee a minimum number of representatives per citizens, with the number varying based on population size, but setting a floor of at least 1 representative per 50,000 people.

We presently have 435 representatives, basically the same number we've had since 1913 (there were actually 437 for a few terms when Hawaii and Alaska were admitted into the union.) In 1913, there were 97 million people in the US, there are now 305 million. That means we now have approximately a representative for every 700,000 people.

So, who cares? Why do we need to expand? Here are my arguments:
(1) It would enable more retail campaigning -- if you have a district of 700,000 people, it is unlikely that you will ever meet all or even most of them. House campaigns have relied increasingly on tv ads and much less on actually spending time with your constitutents.
(2) It would allow for more upstarts -- it is much easier in a smaller, more retail campaign, for an upstart challenger to beat an incumbent.
(3) Communities would be better represented -- 700,000 is generally a huge swath of towns, particularly in middle America -- smaller districts would allow better representation of all constitutents.
(4) It would reduce small state disproportionality in congress -- in California, you get 1 rep for every 700,000 people. But 4 states don't even have 700,000 people -- North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming are all short. But they still get a representative. This gives them unfair influence relative to their population.
(5) It would greatly reduce the electoral college distortion -- I make no secret about the fact that I favor direct election of the president. But the electoral college IS set by the constitution, and as such is hard to change. But the constitution simply dictates that each house gets a number of electoral votes equal to it's number of senators plus representatives. So, with 435 representatives, 100 of the 538 votes (DC also gets 3 by constitutinoal ammendment) are apportioned not based on population. If congress were expanded to -- say 1,000 -- then only 100 out of 1,100 electoral votes would be apportioned not based on population -- not perfect but a big improvement.

But wouldn't this all lead to more gerrymandering?
This will always be a problem every time districts are redrawn. I think smaller districts actually make it somewhat harder. I would time the changes to the 2012 census redistricting that is happening anyway. Probably the best way to do this would be to pass a law that sets the number of representatives at, say, 1 per 300,000 people and automatically resets the number after each census. That way, when redistricting naturally occurs after each census, the appropriate number of new seats could be added.

Yes, we'd have to pay some more house salaries if we do this, but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Interesting Reader Comment -- 2010 Senate Races
Had a very interesting comment posted that I thought I would respond to.

"I'd be really surprised if Judd Gregg managed to win again, really. New Hampshire isn't a red state anymore, and if someone with money runs against him he'll go the same way Lincoln Chafee did.

Also, Thune probably will face a hard race. Congresswoman Herseth-Sandlin is more popular than he is, and since her seat is at-large, she represents the same geographic area he does. She'd make it tough.

As to my home state of Kansas, the only way it isn't a safe republican hold is if Governor Kathleen Sebelius runs. If she does, the seat's a pure toss-up."
-- Posted by Kansas Jackass

New Hampshire is certainly becoming more Blue. I don't think it is quite Vermont yet though (where Sheldon Whitehouse knocked off Lincoln Chafee) -- it still carries some of its old libertarian streak to go along with the new Boston suburban population that is more liberal. I still couldn't call it a likely Democratic pick-up, but maybe that seat should've been a "lean" instead of a "likely" Republican hold.

The potential Thune / Herseth-Sandlin match-up is intriguing. She may not want to give up a safe house seat to challenge an incumbent senator, but the race certainly becomes a lot closer if she does. Also, keep in mind, if history is any guide, 2010 will be a Republican-leaning midterm.

Sebelius would be a strong candidate in Kansas -- God, how great would it be to have her representing Kansas?

If you like this site, tell your friends.

No comments: