Wonkblog: politics

Interactive: When women inherit their husbands’ Congressional seats

If Debbie Dingell succeeds her husband John in Michigan's 12th Congressional district - as seems likely - it will mark a slightly odd milestone: She'll be the first woman to take over her husband's seat while her husband is still alive.

Plenty of women have inherited their husband's seats before - 47 to be exact, 8 in the Senate and 39 in the House. But according to Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, in all those instances the woman took over the seat after her husband had passed away. The mechanics are slightly different for the House and Senate - empty House seats are filled via a special election, while Senate seats are typically filled via appointment. "Widow's succession" or the "widow's mandate" is the technical term for when an empty seat is filled by the spouse of the deceased legislator.

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The government is the only reason U.S. inequality is so high

The government is the only reason U.S. inequality is so high

While the rhetoric in President Obama's big inequality speech Wednesday was characteristically soaring, the policy proposals were largely rehashes of past administration initiatives. What's more, a surprising number of them had little to do with tax or transfer programs. Things like increasing exports, reducing certain regulations, boosting spending on scientific research and other investments, and raising the minimum wage are intended to reduce inequality before taxes or transfer programs like Social Security and the Earned Income Tax Credit come into the picture.

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The U.S. economy does better under Democratic presidents — is it just luck?

The U.S. economy does better under Democratic presidents — is it just luck?

Since World War II, there's been a strikingly consistent pattern in American politics: The economy does much better when a Democrat is in the White House.

More specifically, since 1947, the U.S. economy has grown at an average real rate of 4.35 percent under Democratic presidents and just 2.54 percent under Republicans:

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Is America a bubble?

Is America a bubble?

The markets shuddered slightly as the debt ceiling neared. The yield on short-term Treasuries rose tenfold. Fidelity Investments sold off its short-term government debt.

But the shudder was slight -- and, on Friday, there was a relief rally in equities on the news that House Republicans might agree to suspend the debt ceiling for six weeks in order to spend more time with their shutdown.

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Fourteen countries that don’t have debt ceilings and are not on fire

Fourteen countries that don’t have debt ceilings and are not on fire

House speaker John Boehner has said that he considers the debt limit an important part of the democratic process, a way to effect needed change when other methods fail.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with,” Boehner said in a speech Monday. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices.”

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The U.S. has a $7.25 minimum wage. Australia's is $16.88

The U.S. has a $7.25 minimum wage. Australia's is $16.88

Minimum wage advocates love to point to Australia's $16.88 an hour minimum as evidence that a very high wage floor needn't stifle a country's growth. After all, Australia hasn't had a recession in 20 years. But Australia is hardly an outlier. Most developed countries have a higher minimum wage than we do, as this chart from Business Insider's Matthew Boesler — using data from the ConvergEx Group — shows:

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At the Bipartisan Policy Center, is cash the real divide?

At the Bipartisan Policy Center, is cash the real divide?

The word "bipartisan" carries a special weight in Washington. If something's bipartisan, it's presumed to be fair and balanced. Just get an approximately equal number of Democrats and Republicans together to agree on something, and it should inoculate you against attacks from either side.

But what if the sheen of bipartisanship masks a deeper, more important bias? That the real divide in Washington is between those who can afford to pay for manufactured reports and white papers, and those who can't or don't want to?

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Barack Obama loves broccoli. So does America!

Barack Obama loves broccoli. So does America!

President Obama made a shocking revelation Monday night: the country's 44th president favorite food is broccoli.

Who chooses broccoli as their favorite food? Well, we don't have the answer to that. But we can tell you that Americans are actually really big fans of the much-maligned vegetable, which, most recently, took on a starring role in the Supreme Court's health law decision.

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Think our Senate is horrible? Wait til you see Canada's

Think our Senate is horrible? Wait til you see Canada's

Americans aren't especially happy with Congress. Only 10 percent say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institution. And, last we checked, they liked lice, root canals, used car salesmen, and even Nickelback more than the legislative branch:

And the Senate isn't any exception. A number of individual Senators saw their approval ratings plummet following April's gun control vote, and in December, a plurality of Americans expressed opposition to the chamber's filibuster rules.

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When businesses give judges money, they usually get the rulings they want

When businesses give judges money, they usually get the rulings they want

You're probably pretty familiar with the way the federal government picks its judges. The president selects a nominee, the Senate confirms or rejects the nominee (or else declines to bring them up for a vote), and if the Senate confirms, then the pick gets to serve as long as he or she likes. If they serve for 15 years and make it to age 65, and aren't on the Supreme Court, they can even enjoy a genteel form of semi-retirement known as "senior status," where they get to oversee cases but don't have to work full-time.

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America's taxes are the most progressive in the world. Its government is among the least.

America's taxes are the most progressive in the world. Its government is among the least.

A few readers were surprised by my mention Thursday that the U.S. tax code, while less progressive than it may initially appear, is actually the most progressive in the developed world. But it's true! For example, look at how big a share of the income pie the top 10 percent gets vs. what share of taxes it pays here, and then compare that to peer countries like Britain, France, Germany and Sweden:

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Obama: 'Braaaaaains.' Partha Mitra: 'Whoa there, buddy.'

Partha Mitra is the Crick-Clay professor of biomathematics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. A theoretical physicist by training, he is working on mapping mouse brain circuits. We spoke on the phone Tuesday evening about President Obama's $100 million initiative to map the human brain, which he had announced earlier that day at the White House. A lightly edited transcript follows.

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Obama Inc.: What businesses want to learn from the president's campaign

Obama Inc.: What businesses want to learn from the president's campaign

The president raised a billion dollars for his reelection campaign, but the staffers who engineered his victory may be worth even more to corporations and other groups that are eager to unlock the trade secrets that made the Obama brand so successful.

"Everyone wants to know what the special sauce is," says Holly Goulet, senior vice president of the American Program Bureau, a speakers bureau that has encountered rising interest from business groups in hearing from Obama alumni. "There's been a blurring of the lines between politics and business now."

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The five stages of Republican grief

The five stages of Republican grief

Something very interesting is happening in the Republican Party. It's just not entirely clear what it is, or how far it can go.

Dick Morris and Sarah Palin are out at Fox News. Rep. Paul Ryan is helping House Speaker John Boehner talk his caucus down from the debt-ceiling ledge. Sen. Marco Rubio is going from one conservative talk-radio host to another to sell them on bipartisan immigration reform. Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal is telling Republicans to cease being "the stupid party." Tea Party icon Jim DeMint left the Senate, while FreedomWorks, a Tea Party catalyst, went through a nasty, costly divorce with its figurehead, Dick Armey. Karl Rove's super-PAC is turning its formidable financial artillery toward helping Republicans win primary elections against Tea Party insurgents.

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The secret behind Israel's dysfunctional political system

The results of the 19th Knesset elections in Israel are in, and the plurality winner is Likud Beitenu, the electoral alliance between the conservative Likud party and Yisrael Beitenu, a nationalist party popular with Russian immigrants. But Likud Beitenu only has 31 seats out of 120, or 25.8 percent of the Knesset.

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No, America's peaceful transitions of power are not special

No, America's peaceful transitions of power are not special

One of the strangest features of the inauguration was various politicians' boasting of the U.S.'s long run of peaceful, democratic transitions. "We do this in a peaceful, orderly way," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in his introduction. "There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy."

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Study: The U.S. government has way too many overlapping programs

Study: The U.S. government has way too many overlapping programs

It's no secret that the federal government can be a complicated mess. For every given problem, there are often several, if not dozens, of programs intended to tackle it. There isn't just one health care program -- there are Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP the Affordable Care Act insurance subsidies, the employer insurance deduction, etc. There isn't just one higher education subsidy -- there are the American Opportunity credit, Pell grants, Perkins loans, Stafford loans, etc. And that's not even every federal program that serves those two sectors.

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How Americans have become more polarized, in two charts

There’s no question Congress has become more polarized. But it’s not just Washington that’s responsible for the sharpening political divide: ordinary Americans have become more polarized as well.

The Pew Research Center finds partisan differences among the public began increasing sharply in the beginning of the Bush administration and have risen ever since. The divide emerged from a set of “values questions” that Pew posed to participants, largely focused on policy questions like the social safety net and immigration. Here’s the percentage-point gap in the questionnaire over time:
(SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER)
What were the issues that most divided Republicans from Democrats? The social safety net, environment, and labor unions:
(SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER)
Pew points out that a similar partisan divide emerged among “independents,” though Pew finds that most independents actually lean toward one political party or the other.

How Congress’s top referees would fix Washington

How Congress’s top referees would fix Washington

For 35 years, Alan Frumin did everything he could to avoid talking to the press.

As Senate parliamentarian, Frumin was responsible for keeping the rules in an institution that’s grown increasingly dysfunctional over time. But now that he’s retired as the Senate’s top referee, Frumin has finally begun to open up — and after three decades keeping the rules in the Senate, he has a few ideas on how to break the logjam on Capitol Hill.

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Why the Violence Against Women Act is a LGBT issue

It started with the small things, Yali says.


A "Take Back the Night" rally in Portland, Maine. (Tim Greenway - AP)
She missed her college graduation in New York City when her girlfriend insisted that being alone together was a better way to celebrate. Soon, she stopped talking to nearly all of her old friends and family: her girlfriend told her they’d just brainwash her into being heterosexual again. Her girlfriend was quick to lose her temper, but Yali, who asked that her last name be withheld, brushed it off as a personality quirk. After all, Yali had just come out a few months earlier. She felt simply grateful to find love and belonging with an older woman who knew her way around New York’s gay community.

Then came the hitting.

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Cook: Primaries might be tougher on incumbent Republicans than the general

If you need more evidence of Americans Elect’s claim that party primaries are an increasingly effective means of maintaining party discipline, here’s Charlie Cook:

The Cook Political Report counts 22 House Republicans (not including member–versus-member races) with primaries worth watching. Some are more ideological or tea party-infused (Rep. Fred Upton’s race in Michigan); some are more generational or anti-entrenchment (Rep. Ralph Hall’s contest in Texas); and some are predominantly redistricting-related (Rep. Paul Gosar’s fight in Arizona).[...]

In the postwar era, no election has seen more House incumbents lose primaries than general elections. But with 11 member-versus-member primaries on tap and a bevy of other interesting primaries brewing, particularly on the GOP side of the electorate, such an outcome isn’t out of the question.

Americans Elect’s plan for primary reform

By now, you’ve probably heard of Americans Elect, the political-reform group funded by a collection of Wall Street executives (some of whom remain anonymous) who hope to field a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2012.


Former Oklahoma Gov. and U.S. Sen. David Boren talks about the Americans Elect signatures to be given to the election board at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. (Sarah Phipps - AP)
Americans Elect has been amply, but poorly, covered. The part of its strategy that generates the most attention is also the part that’s most wrongheaded: an effort to nominate a bipartisan superticket to contest for the presidency in 2012.

This sort of thing is a perennial fantasy. At its best, it’s mostly harmless. The candidates run weak campaigns and fade away. At its worst, it can split the vote for reasonable candidates and let extreme politicians slip into office. Either way, it perpetuates a harmful misunderstanding about what’s wrong with our political system, and what it will take to fix it.

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Do political dynasties make countries less democratic?

Do political dynasties make countries less democratic?

Political dynasties have persisted in democratic countries, as those with family political ties still make up about 6 percent of the members of Congress and up to 40 percent of the legislature in Mexico and the Philippines, UNICEF economist Ronald Mendoza notes in a new paper for VoxEU. In certain ways, these dynasties exacerbate existing economic inequality and make political power less democratic, reducing access to political power among those who don’t have the privilege of politically connected families and the wealth that often comes with them. In the Philippines, for example, Mendoza finds that political dynasties are most prevalent in the poorest areas of the countries.

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Our polarized Congress, in one chart

The National Journal lays it out:


(Atlantic Media Company)

Jonathan Chait believes that fast-exiting moderates like Sen. Olympia Snowe are overrated. Sen. Susan Collins disagrees.

Exposing corruption can decrease voter turnout, researchers say

Exposing corruption can decrease voter turnout, researchers say

Voters can become disillusioned and withdraw from the entire political process if there’s evidence of broad-scale corruption without the promise of further reform, according to a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

“We provide experimental evidence that information about copious corruption not only decreases incumbent support in local elections in Mexico, but also decreases voter turnout, challengers’ votes, and erodes voters’ identification with the party of the corrupt incumbent. Our results suggest that while flows of information are necessary, they may be insufficient to improve political accountability, since voters may respond to information by withdrawing from the political process. We conclude with a discussion of the institutional contexts that could allow increased access to information to promote government accountability...

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Does our polarized Congress represent a more polarized public?

Does our polarized Congress represent a more polarized public?

Is our increasingly polarized Congress out of touch with the voters who got them into office? Or does it mean that voters themselves are becoming increasingly ideological? Peter Orszag points to evidence suggesting that it’s the latter: There’s research showing that polarization in state-level governments increased even more rapidly than in Congress, at the same time that Republican and Democrat voters were “sorting” themselves into increasingly homogeneous neighborhoods. Political polarization, in other words, isn’t just a Beltway phenomenon, and an increasingly divided electorate may be a big factor.

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House Democrat: Occupy the Constitution!

Occupy Wall Street’s popularity with the public may be sinking, but the group’s still making inroads in Washington. On Friday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced the first piece of federal legislation directly inspired by the movement. Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) would amend the Constitution to outlaw the use of all corporate money in elections, not only undoing the biggest changes under Citizens United but also going after the legal concept of “corporate personhood” altogether. I talked to Deutch about the OCCUPIED amendment on Friday afternoon (interview lightly edited for length and clarity).


(SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES)
Suzy Khimm: I understand this amendment was directly inspired by Occupy Wall Street. Tell me more about how this all came to be.

Ted Deutch: One thing that’s been clear throughout the protests all across the country is that people are tired of a political system that they believe doesn’t respond to their needs, that doesn’t reflect the interests of the American people, and that caters to the corporations that have occupied Washington for far too long.

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