Tag Archives: congress

Poll: 14 Percent Approval Rating for Congress

The Washington Post does not paint a pretty picture:

For most it’s not just a casual dislike of Congress: Sixty-two percent say they “strongly disapprove” of congressional job performance. An additional 20 percent “somewhat” disapprove.

Only 3 percent of Americans said they “strongly approve” of the performance of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — essentially as low as possible, given the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

Congress is doing all it can to placate people who want it to do something, anything to help the economy. The trouble is that those somethings and anythings have been spectacularly ineffective.

Lawmakers need to do something about their do-something bias. Instead of more bailouts, financial regulations, stimuli, cash-for-clunkers, jobs bills, and the like, Congress should try a deregulatory stimulus. Besides stimulating the economy, it would likely stimulate approval ratings, too.


The Power of Incumbency: Charlie Rangel Edition

Over at the AmSpec blog, I look at the just-wrapped House ethics trial against Charlie Rangel. Worth noting: while that Damoclean sword was hanging over Rangel’s head, 80 percent of his district’s voters though him worthy of another term.

Nothing against Rangel; he has his problems, but he’s good on some issues, such as wanting to end the Cuban embargo. But the ease with which even ethically-challenged incumbents get re-elected is a sign that our democracy is not healthy.

Making a Difference – A Very Small Difference

The House passed a budget enforcement resolution yesterday. It sets 2011’s discretionary spending $7 billion below what President Obama has requested.

Next year’s discretionary spending target is $1.12 trillion for next year. The $7 billion difference represents savings of 0.625 percent. Barely a rounding error. If total spending (including mandatory and defense spending) ends up at $3.5 trillion next year, the savings becomes 0.2 percent.

Of course, 2010 discretionary spending was $1.39 trillion. 2011 spending will very likely end up much closer to that than the targeted $1.12 trillion. The appropriations process is not kind to non-binding resolutions, however well-intentioned. Especially when the resolution “doesn’t detail how Congress should reach that [deficit reduction] goal.”

Congress lacks the will to cut $270 billion of spending. The interests benefitting from that spending will scream bloody murder the second their programs are put on the chopping block. In an election year when incumbents are more fearful than usual, no politician worth his salt wants to cause an uproar.

Congress need not worry too much, though. Even in anti-incumbent years, re-election are almost always above 90 percent. The vast majority of congressional turnover happens through retirement, running for other office, or death.

The pattern is holding this year, so far. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato recently pointed out that 5 incumbents have lost their state primary elections this year, while 240 were re-nominated. That’s a 98 percent success rate. There will be a few more casualties, especially in the November general elections.

Most members are safe. They can, and should, rock the boat by cutting unnecessary spending. If anything, the most aggressive cutters might become folk heroes like Chris Christie in New Jersey. They just don’t have the guts.

I will be more than happy if Congress proves me wrong. We’ll find out over the next few months.

Solving America’s Problems

The days of trillion-dollar deficits, multiple land wars in Asia, and other catastrophes may soon be coming to an end. Congress continues to work long and hard to solve America’s most important problems. Take a look at some of the legislation that passed on May 18:

H. Res. 1256: congratulating Phil Mickelson on winning the 2010 Masters golf tournament

H. Res. 792: honoring Robert Kelly Slater for his outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the world of surfing and for being an ambassador of the sport and excellent role model

H. Res. 1297: supporting the goals and ideals of American Craft Beer Week.

H.R. 4491: to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of alternatives for commemorating and interpreting the role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the early years of the National Parks, and for other purposes

I applaud each and every one of these bills, frivolous though they are. Each one took a good deal of time to write and to put through committee. Each one was given 40 minutes of floor debate, though less than that was typically used. All of that time and effort was not spent further destroying the economy with more substantive legislation.

Most states get by with part-time legislatures. Congress would do well to follow suit. In the meantime, as long as Congress is full-time, it should devote as much time as possible to trivial bills like the ones listed above.

The Kagan Nomination: What Matters, What Doesn’t

One of the criticisms being hurled at Elena Kagan from the right is that she might be a lesbian. This concerns me.

Not the lesbian part; few things are less important to one’s judicial qualifications. My worry is that Republicans have so atrophied intellectually that this is their loudest reason for opposing her.

A thoughtful soul (I forget who) recently remarked that twenty years from now, almost everyone currently on the wrong side of gay rights issues will be embarrassed to admit it. Yet the obsolete epithets being hurled at Kagan — which may or may not be accurate, and frankly, who cares — are what many of Kagan’s opponents seem to care about the most.

And people wonder why I often take visible offense when someone tries to call me a conservative.

There are substantive reasons to be skeptical about Kagan. One of them is how she views the executive branch. “She is certainly a fan of presidential power,” one scholar remarks. This is important.

Chief Justice Roberts has similar views. He was picked in part because the Bush administration knew he wouldn’t strike down that administration’s more controversial power grabs. Harriet Miers was not rejected for her views, which are utterly conventional. Her nomination was only struck down because her lack of subtlety in expressing those views was considered gauche.

While I have never been an Obama fan, one of my hopes for his administration was that he would repudiate Bush-era excesses such as the PATRIOT Act. He embraced them instead. Having all those cool powers at his disposal was just too much to pass up.

President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees so far seem no different from Roberts or Miers: what the other branches of government want, they shall get. The exceptions, such as the Citizens United decision, are so rare that they garner weeks worth of headlines; such outbursts must be kept to a minimum. Hence Kagan.

What the Supreme Court needs is a healthy dose of judicial activism. Kagan, like Roberts, Sotomayor, and other recent nominees, is a judicial passivist. They reflexively defer to the executive and legislature, right or wrong.

What we need are Justices who will stand up and say “no” when Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, or when the president abuses his powers. That’s why judicial review exists in the first place. This tradition goes all the way back to Marbury v. Madison, often the very first case that students read in undergraduate constitutional law classes.

As Kagan goes through the pomp and circumstance of the confirmation process, maybe she’ll prove better than her likely soon-to-be colleagues. Maybe she won’t. But so long as her Republican opponents are fixated on something so trivial as her sexual orientation, we may never find out. Given her relative youth, three decades or more of jurisprudence are at stake.

Regulation of the Day 132: Fire Sprinklers

The U.S. tax code stands at well over 100,000 pages. All but the hardiest of souls hire professionals to do their taxes for them. Cries for simplification grow every year.

How does Congress respond? By introducing legislation to “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to classify automatic fire sprinkler systems as 5-year property for purposes of depreciation.”

Do Incumbents Deserve Reelection?

A stunning 8 percent of Americans believe members of Congress should be reelected, a staggering indictment of the legislative branch as Democrats prepare to defend their majority in the midterm elections.”

Not sure what those 8 percent are thinking. They probably aren’t.

Of course, talk is cheap. The very same people who so loudly disapprove of Congress have re-elected 94 percent of its incumbents the last two election cycles. The last time it was as low as 90 percent was 1992.

People do seem to want change. They just rarely vote for it.

Congress to Close Up Shop

Good news:

The House suspended votes for the rest of the week because of the impending snowstorm while the Senate may cancel votes on Wednesday.

The Republic is safe until at least Thursday.

Regulation of the Day 93: Predatory Lending

Congress has used the financial crisis as an excuse to regulate what it calls “predatory lending.” As so often happens, its new regulations have had unintended consequences.

A bank in South Dakota, in order to comply with the new rules, is charging 79.9 percent interest for one of its low-limit credit cards. The pre-regulation rate was 9.9 percent.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 makes it illegal to charge annual fees greater than a quarter of a card’s limit. For small-balance cards, the allowable fees are tiny now. That leaves banks with three options:

-1. Lose money. The Wall Street Journal correctly notes that “Banks can’t be expected to give money away, even if Congress is in the habit of doing just that.” So this option is unlikely.

-2. Stop offering low-limit cards. This will hurt people who need them, such as people with low incomes, people with bad credit records, and young people who are trying to establish a credit record.

-3. Charge higher interest rates to make up for the money lost in fees. This is exactly what is happening here with the 79.9 percent rate for a $250-limit card.

If the bank calculated correctly, the 79.9 percent rate will be roughly a wash compared to the earlier high-fee, low-rate policy. But different customers will be paying. The people who incur a lot of  interest-rate charges are usually the people who can’t afford them. And they’ll be paying a lot more than they were before the CCARD Act.

People who can afford to pay their balances on time often don’t pay little or no interest interest anyway. The 79.9 percent rate doesn’t really affect them. And now their annual fees have gone way down. The CCARD Act is, completely unintentionally,  a wealth transfer from poor people to richer people. Congress is actively hurting the very people it intended to help.

Poll: Used Car Salesmen More Ethical than Congress

According to a new poll, “Congressmen were rated as having a “low/very low” ethical standards by 55 percent of 1,017 adults across the nation.”

The same poll found that 45% of 1,017 adults across the nation had either never heard of Congress, or are big believers in grade inflation.

The shocking part is that used car salesmen only out-performed Congress by four points.