# Congressional Reform

• News
Staff Emeritus

## Main Question or Discussion Point

Is it possible to fix the "Broken Branch"?

http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20061101faessay85607/norman-j-ornstein-thomas-e-mann/when-congress-checks-out.html [Broken]

http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/mann/20061201.htm [Broken]

Audio program from the Commonwealth Club - http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/06/06-10mannornstein-audio.html

http://www.brookings.edu/scholars/tmann.htm [Broken]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_E._Mann

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_J._Ornstein

http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Politics/AmericanPolitics/LegislativeStudies/?view=usa&ci=9780195174465 [Broken]
How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track

The Brookings Institution is a center-left think tank, based in Washington, D.C., in the United States. . . . .

Brookings is devoted to public service through research and education in the social sciences, particularly in economics, government, and foreign policy".[1] Its stated principal purpose is "to aid in the development of sound public policies and to promote public understanding of issues of national importance."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookings_Institute

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a conservative think tank founded in 1943 whose stated mission is to support the "foundations of freedom - limited government, private enterprise, vital cultural and political institutions, and a strong foreign policy and national defense." The Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization supported primarily by grants and contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Enterprise_Institute

Congresspersons to watch.

Republicans
Jeff Flake, Arizona
Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri
Jerry Moran, Kansas
Mike Conaway, Texas

Democrats
Jane Harman, California
Lincoln Davis, Tennessee
Jim McGovern, Massachusetts
Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts
Hilda Solis, California
Gregory Meeks, New York

Last edited by a moderator:

Related General Discussion News on Phys.org
Staff Emeritus
No Appropriations Bill? Inappropriate!!!
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6669967

Weekend Edition Sunday, December 24, 2006 · The recently departed 109th Congress left town without passing an appropriations bill -- one of the fundamental duties of the national legislature. What's behind it all?
Taking Time to Assess the 109th Congress
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6624488
News & Notes, December 14, 2006 · The 109th Congress may go down as one of the most partisan, and least productive, in history. Farai Chideya takes a closer look at the outgoing Congress with Melissa Harris Lacewell, an associate professor of political science at Princeton, and Robert George, an editorial writer with the New York Post.
It shouldn't be hard for the democrat-lead 110th congress to do better - but will they?

Staff Emeritus
Washington, Feb 01 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is seeking to use military aircraft for domestic flights as did her predecessor, Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Sources told The Washington Times Pelosi wants to use the aircraft for herself, staff, family and other members of the California delegation for the commute between Washington and San Francisco.

The practice began after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Hastert, as second in line to the presidency, began using military flights to Illinois for security reasons, the newspaper said.

A former Hastert aide told the Times the speaker did not use military planes for political trips or to regularly transport his family.

Pelosi's request was made to the Pentagon, which forwarded it to the White House but a decision has not been announced, the newspaper said.

Congressional access to military passenger jets is usually restricted to official trips abroad, for domestic flights to military bases or events to which the Pentagon invitd the lawmaker, the report said.
:yuck: WAIT a minute! I thought there was supposed to be some kind of reform or change in status quo.

The sources, who include those in Congress and in the administration, said the Democrat is seeking regular military flights not only for herself and her staff, but also for relatives and for other members of the California delegation.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20070201-122225-1157r.htm

The Washington Times, like Fox News, is rather deferential to Bush and his supporters, so they are not an unbiased source, but I did here this discussed on CNN.

Democrats and Republicans really do seem like opposite sides of the same coin - both made of the same substance.

Why does it seem like the more things change, the more they stay the same. :grumpy:

We really do need a third alternative.

Last edited:
Astronuc,

There was a time in my life, perhaps even the vast majority of it where in idyllic splendor, I believed in our government and the principles on which it was based. Then owing to a number of events, I made a vow that for one year I would watch no TV nor listen to any commercial TV. Talk about a lifechanging event. Coincidentally that was about 3 months before 9/11. What unfolded thereafter has indelibly radicalized me. So maybe I can't even offer thoughtful comment on the matter. But we need to ditch this de facto two party tweedle-dee/tweedle-dum system, outlaw lobbying (good luck), and revise many federal issues, the first IMHO to make the presidential election a straight up vote. Then we can look at the mess with appointees, examine whether the supreme court and other judges should have life terms, etc. In short, the gov't should more closely reflect the wishes of the people, vs allfluence [sic]. In this vein, we need to sharply constrain spending on campaigns. The usual leftist stuff-wish I has domething more thoughtful to add.

Staff Emeritus
Congress Finds Ways to Avoid Lobbyist Limits
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/us/politics/11trips.html

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 — The 110th Congress opened with the passage of new rules intended to curb the influence of lobbyists by prohibiting them from treating lawmakers to meals, trips, stadium box seats or the discounted use of private jets.

But it did not take long for lawmakers to find ways to keep having lobbyist-financed fun.

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least$1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like “Mary Poppins” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (also$2,500 for two).

The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules.

Instead of picking up the lawmaker’s tab, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee set up by the lawmaker. In turn, the committee pays the legislator’s way.

Lobbyists and fund-raisers say such trips are becoming increasingly popular, partly as a quirky consequence of the new ethics rules.
:yuck: :grumpy:

Well so much for reform.

verty
Homework Helper
the first IMHO to make the presidential election a straight up vote.
Not being an American, I'm wondering why this is not so and why it should be changed. Is a straight-up vote better than however it is now?

Last edited:
turbo
Gold Member
Not being an American, I'm wondering why this is not so and why it should be changed. Is a straight-up good better than however it is now?
Our electoral system was set up when representatives from the states had to travel long distances to cast the ballots of the voters in their districts. There would be a popular vote in each state, then the electors (the number of which is determined mostly by the population of the state) would travel to the capitol to cast votes for the districts that they represented. This is no longer necessary, since we have the ability to transmit vote results very rapidly. Straight-up popular vote would make certain that everybody's vote carries equal weight, which is certainly not the case, today. It is possible to lose the popular vote by a significant margin, and still be elected President by the electoral college. In a democratic (supposedly) country, this should not be possible - the will of the people is reflected in the popular vote.

verty
Homework Helper
If the popular vote differs from what the electoral college votes, I suppose there are problem states whose vote doesn't represent the average. Which states account for the difference?

turbo
Gold Member
If the popular vote differs from what the electoral college votes, I suppose there are problem states whose vote doesn't represent the average. Which states account for the difference?
That's not the worst part of the problem. The worst part is in the winner-take-all nature of the electoral college in most states. You can win by a slim margin in states with large numbers of electoral votes and get all their votes, and win the election by a margin that does not reflect the popular vote, even while losing the popular vote by a significant margin.

TURBO-1 said:
"You can win by a slim margin in states with large numbers of electoral votes and get all their votes, and win the election by a margin that does not reflect the popular vote, even while losing the popular vote by a significant margin."

This is really bad because it means that presidential candidates can focus their speeches on a few states and ignore the well-being of the majority.
A more proportional representation would force presidential candidates
to know more about the whole country and to demonstrate that they do - no small feat -you'd have to be good to do that.And when you think of the influence the US has over the world as a whole,I think that people should demand presidents of this calibre.Since so many groups of people vote in small numbers,it might be a good idea to get a representative sample of voters from these groups and give some sort of extra weighting to their votes.Let's face it - voters staying at home because they think their votes won't make a difference is a big problem all around the world and one that's likely to persist.

verty
Homework Helper
Hmm, I'm reading in Wikipedia that each state has an amount of electoral votes in proportion to the state's population, so any bias is due to quantization errors, like jaggies (computer term referring to quantization errors when rendering to pixellated format).

So because some states have many votes and some have few, the quantization error will be largely attributable to the most populous states; large quantization errors are almost certainly attributable to slim margins of victory in the populous states.

Oh sorry, you did say that. Didn't mean to steal your thunder.

Staff Emeritus
OMB tracking billions in pork-project earmarks

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget now has an online database of more than 13,000 congressional earmarks from the 2005 budget — $19 billion worth of pork in all, and some big companies are benefitting. STEVE HENN: Good government types say a database of congressional earmarks is an important first step. And makes for some pretty interesting reading. The largest single set-aside in 2005 went to Boeing —$168 million for four fat Chinook Helicopters. The second-largest earmark went to — wait for it — Boeing. This one for fighter planes. But earmarks are hard to track — even for government insiders.

. . . .

So Dana Chasin at OMB Watch wasn't surprised that more than two years after this money was appropriated, and presumably spent. The White House can't tell us who ultimately received more than 600 earmarks worth about $800 million dollars. . . . . The Department of Defense told the OMB the ultimate recipients of 51 separate congressional earmarks worth$367 million were quote, "Unknown."
Waiting impatiently for things to change. :grumpy:

Last edited by a moderator:
Staff Emeritus
AP Exclusive: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2007/07/08/state/n133829D55.DTL&tsp=1 [Broken]
Cindy Sheehan, the soldier's mother who galvanized the anti-war movement, said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unless she introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

Sheehan said she will run against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 as an independent if Pelosi does not seek by July 23 to impeach Bush. That's when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting next week from the group's war protest site near Bush's Crawford ranch.

"Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership," Sheehan told The Associated Press. "We hired them to bring an end to the war. I'm not too far from San Francisco, so it wouldn't be too big of a move for me. I would give her a run for her money."

Messages left with Pelosi's staff were not immediately returned.

She plans her official candidacy announcement Tuesday. Sunday wrapped up what is expected to be her final weekend at the 5-acre Crawford lot that she sold to California radio talk show host Bree Walker, who plans to keep it open to protesters.

Sheehan announced in late May that she was leaving the anti-war movement. She said that she felt her efforts had been in vain and that she had endured smear tactics and hatred from the left, as well as the right. She said she wanted to change course.

. . . .
Oh, sure.

Last edited by a moderator:
slugcountry
AP Exclusive: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2007/07/08/state/n133829D55.DTL&tsp=1 [Broken]
Oh, sure.

Can you explain the oh sure? I don't know exactly what you mean by that...

Are you trying to say that Sheehan is just as bad as the rest of them, or that she has no chance of beating Pelosi? If its the latter, Sheehan would certainly have my vote.. I certainly believe the president should be impeached, and Pelosi is in the way.

Last edited by a moderator:
Can you explain the oh sure? I don't know exactly what you mean by that...

Are you trying to say that Sheehan is just as bad as the rest of them, or that she has no chance of beating Pelosi? If its the latter, Sheehan would certainly have my vote.. I certainly believe the president should be impeached, and Pelosi is in the way.
oo

Me too--I lost respect for Pelosi the moment she hit the floor and promptly struck a deal to remove impeachment from consideration. So King George, is running amok again with dismissive remarks re "old news" (if it were ever mainstream news, may not be so old by now) and executive privelege.

Her No Cal district probably wants her head by now and a real progressive likely beat her in a NY minute,
JS

Staff Emeritus
Can you explain the oh sure? I don't know exactly what you mean by that...

Are you trying to say that Sheehan is just as bad as the rest of them, or that she has no chance of beating Pelosi? If its the latter, Sheehan would certainly have my vote.. I certainly believe the president should be impeached, and Pelosi is in the way.
Just being cynical at this point.

I hope Sheehan has more to offer than impeaching Bush.

Staff Emeritus
Well this is not really reform - just an example of status quo.

Short of Funds, G.O.P. Recruits the Rich to Run
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/us/politics/26recruit.html
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 — Confronting an enormous fund-raising gap with Democrats, Republican Party officials are aggressively recruiting wealthy candidates who can spend large sums of their own money to finance their Congressional races, party officials say.

At this point, strategists for the National Republican Congressional Committee have enlisted wealthy candidates to run in at least a dozen competitive Congressional districts nationwide, particularly those where Democrats are finishing their first term and are thus considered most vulnerable. They say more are on the way.

These wealthy Republicans have each already invested $100,000 to$1 million of their own money to finance their campaigns, according to campaign finance disclosure reports and interviews with party strategists. Experts say that is a large amount for this early in the cycle.

In New York’s 20th Congressional District, in the Albany area, Alexander Treadwell, an independently wealthy former State Republican Party chairman, has invested more than $320,000 of his money in a race that Republicans predict will cost each candidate at least$3 million.

While Mr. Treadwell, the grandson of a founding executive of General Electric, plans to raise money from donors, he has privately told party officials that he is ready to invest more of his money to unseat Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a freshman Democrat, Republicans close to him said.

. . . .

The most recent figures show that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised $56.6 million and has$29.2 million at its disposal. By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee has raised $40.7 million with a cash balance of$2.5 million.

That is a striking turnabout for the Republicans, who have outraised the Democrats by considerable margins for years. As recently as 2006, the Republican Congressional campaign committee raised $40 million more than its Democratic counterpart,$179.5 million to $139.9 million. . . . . This is an interesting reversal. I would like to see each representative going to Washington with an independent mind, rather than one of many who simply follow party leadership. Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Congress needs to rein in the earmarks and special subsidies. The federal government needs to live within its means and stop spending more than it is taking in. I agree with Bush's veto, but now the question is - did he veto the right bill? Does Congress need fixing or what? Farm-bill mistake creates mess in Washington Paperwork blunder has lawmakers, White House crying foul WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- A bureaucratic paperwork mistake reportedly has lawmakers and the White House scrambling to sort out Wednesday's presidential veto of the$290 billion farm bill and subsequent override by the House.

The Associated Press reported late Wednesday that while the Senate had been expected to quickly follow suit on the override, action was stalled when it was discovered Congress left out a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House.

As a result, President Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, raising questions whether the eventual law would be unconstitutional, the AP noted.
According to the report, House Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, on Thursday under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation, with the Senate expected to follow. The correct version would then be sent to Bush under a new bill number for another expected veto.

Lawmakers also will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires Friday. The AP quoted Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., as saying, "We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate. We can't let the farm bill just die."

"We are trying to understand the ramifications of this congressional farm bill foul-up. We haven't found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude," Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, told the AP. "It looks like it may be back to square one for them."
Well - Nancy!?

Staff Emeritus
Hey, the Democrats promised "a different way of doing business in Washington". This is different all right!

Staff Emeritus
Senators Caught in Mortgage Fallout
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/washington/14loans.html
By LESLIE WAYNE, NY Times
When Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota wanted a mortgage for his beach house, he turned to a Washington insider, James A. Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae, the government mortgage giant, who then put the senator in touch with Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial.

The ensuing telephone call between Mr. Conrad and Mr. Mozilo led to two Countrywide mortgages, including one in which the company bent its rules to give Mr. Conrad a loan.

Those loans are now among a number of Countrywide mortgages at the center of an examination into whether a number of top politicians in Washington — members of Congress, the cabinet and celebrated advisers — received favorable deals from a company whose lax lending standards are at the center of the subprime mortgage crisis.

This week, Mr. Johnson, whom Mr. Conrad turned to for help, was forced to step down as head of Senator Barack Obama’s vice-presidential selection committee in part over Countrywide home mortgage loans that Mr. Johnson had received at favorable rates.

At the center of the scrutiny is Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program, also known as the “Friend of Angelo” program, in which Countrywide appeared to bend its lending rules for prominent people. Now, many of those receiving Countrywide home mortgages say they were not aware the company might have been working behind the scenes to give them favorable loan terms.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a leader in the effort to help homeowners caught in the mortgage crisis, denied on Friday that he received preferential treatment for his two Countrywide loans. A spokesman for Mr. Dodd, Bryan DeAngelis, said that neither Mr. Dodd nor his wife had spoken to Mr. Mozilo about their loans.

“As a United States senator, I would never ask or expect to be treated differently than anyone else refinancing their home,” Mr. Dodd said in a statement. “This suggestion is outrageous and contrary to my entire career in public service. Just like millions of other Americans, we shopped around and received competitive rates.”

But Portfolio.com, the Web site of the business magazine Portfolio, cited internal documents indicating that Countrywide had reduced the rate on the mortgage of Mr. Dodd’s Washington town house by three-eighths of a point, saving him $2,000 a year in interest payments, and reduced the rate on a Connecticut house by a quarter point, saving$17,000 over the life of the loan.

For Mr. Dodd, who is said to be on a short list for vice president for Mr. Obama, the Countrywide mortgages may prove to be a problem in light of Mr. Obama’s ejection Mr. Johnson from his campaign over a similar issue.

“Obama has set such high standards on ethics,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. “If indeed Chris Dodd got below-market loans, it could be a disqualifier for someone being considered for an important appointment.”

. . . .
Statement from Senator Kent Conrad on Portfolio.com Article

It's the part about "he [Conrad] turned to a Washington insider, James A. Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae, the government mortgage giant, who then put the senator in touch with Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial." and the "ensuing telephone call between Mr. Conrad and Mr. Mozilo," which led to "two Countrywide mortgages, including one in which the company bent its rules to give Mr. Conrad a loan."

How many average Americans get in touch with the CEO of a major financial institution regarding a personal mortgage? Geeeezzzz!!!!!

Politicians in the administration and Congress seem so out of touch with the reality of ordinary folks. :grumpy:

Last edited by a moderator:
chemisttree
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Politicians in the administration and Congress seem so out of touch with the reality of ordinary folks. :grumpy:
The understatement of the season!

Staff Emeritus
The understatement of the season!
Right up there with - "We're from the government. We're here to help you." And they say that with a straight face.

Congressional reform is necessary.

It's time for the Big Stick!

Staff Emeritus
Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) under Federal Indictment

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest serving U.S. Republican senator, was indicted Tuesday on seven counts of making false statements to federal investigators, according to media reports. The Justice Department is expected to announce the charges shortly.
Sen. Ted Stevens indicted on 7 criminal counts

Stevens, 84, has been dogged by a federal investigation into whether he pushed for fishing legislation that also benefited his son, an Alaska lobbyist.

From May 1999 to August 2007, prosecutors said Stevens concealed "his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of things of value from a private corporation."
. . . .
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080729/ap_on_go_co/stevens_indictment [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator:
BobG
Homework Helper
Re: Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) under Federal Indictment

Sen. Ted Stevens indicted on 7 criminal counts

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080729/ap_on_go_co/stevens_indictment [Broken]
Mixed opinions on what this means. If http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/478115.html [Broken] beats Stevens in the Republican primary, then Republicans should hold onto the seat. If Stevens wins the primary, Dems are expected to pick up the seat.

Never good to have an opponent from the same party throw \$410,000 worth of TV spots highlighting a Senator's corruption. As unlikely as coming from a 70 point deficit in the polls is, that much money in a small market is at least a boost for Steven's other opponents, both Rep and Dem.

Stevens should pull out of the race (and maybe start working on his plea bargain?). Considering 2 VECO employees and 3 state legislators have already been convicted in the same scandal, I doubt too many voters would bet on his being found innocent.

Last edited by a moderator:
Staff Emeritus
I heard a presentation (recored Feb 10, 2009) by former congressman Bob Edgar who is now president and CEO of Common Cause. It was interesting, and unfortunately, I haven't found any transcripts. It is worthwhile listen to his ideas.

Helping Restore the Core Values of American Democracy
http://www.commonwealthclub.org/audio/20090210edgar-complete.ram [Broken]

http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4860231 [Broken]

I think the US could use a viable third party, or viable Independent candidates.

Last edited by a moderator: