Archive for the ‘congress’ Tag

Freedom Caucus Stands Up   Leave a comment

Image result for image of the freedom caucusMark Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus, balked at passing an ACA-like sub rosa bill because they don’t have any proof that the American Health Care Act will fix the death spiral caused by the ACA’s poorly thought provisions.

Good for them and good for us. We shouldn’t be in such a hurry to replace Obamacare that we make all new, but equally grave mistakes, not to mention keeping the very provisions that are causing the ACA to fail – the pre-existing conditions mandate and the community ratings. Alaska is down to one insurer in the individual market and two in the group market. The problem is less severe in some states, but it will only get worse.

Unfortunately, the AHCA, as currently proposed, is not the answer to what ails Obamacare, so it is good that the Freedom Caucus stopped passage of this bill.

It’s About Time   Leave a comment

Congress has proposed an amendment to the federal constitution that would limit Congressional terms to two Senate terms and six House terms.

It will never pass Congress, but it shows that this particular Congress is aware that we the people expect change and not the odd, insubstantial change that Obama promised us.

Rep. Young blasts regulatory sprawl during Fairbanks visit – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Local News   Leave a comment

Rep. Young blasts regulatory sprawl during Fairbanks visit – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Local News.

I’m still voting against him in the primary because I think he should retire, but it’s hard not to like Alaska Representative Don Young!

A Truly Federal System   Leave a comment

You know how it is with a new idea!

Increasing the size of the House of Representatives is my new shiny object.

Husband Brad wasn’t convinced that increasing the size of Congress by any amount would really help anything. He was of the opinion that it would create a zoo-like atmosphere. Then I told him about New Hampshire.

Brad hasn’t lived in New Hampshire for a very long time. He’s been an Alaskan for more than half of his life and passed into Pioneer status last summer. But we always have a little bit of loyalty to our home town (or home state).

“Live Free or Die” is New Hampshire’s motto and my own experience in visiting Brad’s family there is that there is a higher-percentage of free-thinking people living there than in nearby states. Why? Logically, you would think that New Hampshiremen would not have substantially different politics than, say, Vermont or Massachusetts, but that isn’t the case. New Hampshire scores high in the freedom indices. Why?

New Hampshire’s 1.2 million citizens are represented by 400 legislators in the lower house of the state legislature. Yes, the entire 300+ million population of America is represented by only 435 representatives.

For comparison’s sake, look at California with a population of 34 million. New Hampshire’s population is about equal to the city of San Deigo (for comparison). California (the largest population state in the union) has 80 legislative districts. If New Hampshire were to follow California’s example, the lower house of the state legislature would have about 30 representatives instead of 400. The average house district in California represents more than 400,000 people, while the average house district in New Hampshire represents only 3,096. Alaska, btw, has 40 representatives in the lower legislative house, representing about 18,000 people in each district.

The organization Thirty Thousand, which advocates for a return to the original structure for representation in Congress, looked at a number of individual liberties and compared states according to population and number of representatives in their state houses. They looked at state fiscal policy, regulatory burden, economics freedoms, and personal liberties for their analysis. They grouped states as least-free, medium-free and most-free based on these indices. Looking at 15 different freedom indices (from three different reports), they found that in every case, the average district size of the least-free states was significantly larger than that of the most-free states. The average district size of the least-free states was 73,136, which was substantially larger than the most-free states at 45,842. That’s a 60% difference.

The most-free states were New Hampshire, Colorado, South Dakota, Idaho and Texas. The least-free states were Maryland, California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York. Alaska didn’t make it into the most-free states group because of the size of our state government and the regulatory burden mostly coming from our colonial relationship with the federal government.

Brad still thinks 60,000 representatives for the federal government might be too many. I tend to agree in theory. A Congress of that size would need to structure itself along some sort of federated system because there is no way they could all meet in one location at one time.

But think about what it would mean? Here is Alaska, we’d have 15 representatives. Don’t get me wrong. Don Young is a responsive Congressman, but he represents more than 700,000 people. Of course, he can’t represent us all. He’s a riverboat captain and teacher from Ft. Yukon. If he hadn’t been in Congress for four decades, what sort of common ground would he have with a business owner in Anchorage? Shouldn’t Anchorage be represented by someone who understands what living in Anchorage is all about? Shouldn’t Fairbanks or Nome get the same respect? And, when I cast my vote, shouldn’t I have had some opportunity to have met this candidate for something more than a handshake? Wouldn’t I feel better about that vote if I didn’t have to rely on what I can glean from advertisements and a few radio interviews?

And, no! It’s not a magic bullet, but it may well be a step toward a return to individual liberty. At least it is doing something rather than just watching the train wreck.

Old Becomes New Again   Leave a comment


So, what do we do to make Congress more accountable to the People. It’s a hard answer. The solution is to substantially increase the number of congressional districts in accordance with the original vision of the Framers. In 1789, the House required that there be at least one Representative for every 50,000 people, which would, given our current population of 300 million people, require about 6000 congressional districts.

Wow, that’s a lot of politicians!

Or not! A politician is concerned with winning favor or retaining power rather than maintaining principles. As congressional districts became larger, candidates who were better politicians were favored. As districts become smaller, citizens are more able to perceive the character of the candidates and demand they articulate unambiguous positions and REPRESENT the people who elected them. A larger House could give the diversity of American views and values their full expression through their Representatives. The House would return to being a people’s House, likely to reflect some of your views.

My own concern with this proposed amendment was that more Representatives might mean a bigger government. Of course, there is a difference between governance – the management of government at the legislative and budgetary levels by elected representatives – and government – the bureaucracy created and funded for the purpose of implementing the legislation established by our representatives. It’s possible that increasing the number of representatives in the federal House will reduce the overall size and cost of government because we the people will be more able to influence our representatives. However, there might need to be some discussion about staff size and time spent in Washington as well as Representative salaries. Theoretically, a Representative dealing with the concerns of 50,000 constituents would need far fewer staff than one dealing with 700,000 constituents.

Six thousand Representatives seems an overwhelming number that could not get anything done, but I would note that the 100 Senators couldn’t pass a budget for five years while the House with 465 passed one every year. Virtually all work accomplished in Congress takes place in various subcommittees now anyway. That would still be the case.

Furthermore, it should no longer be necessary, or even advantageous, to require all Representatives convene in one location at one time. We live in the Internet Age. Video conferencing could geographically decentralize the House of Representatives, putting your Representative in an office near you for most of the year – and less accessible to lobbyists. What’s not to like about that?

Congress is not likely to voluntarily increase the number of Representatives beyond a token few because the current super-sized districts give them too much power. Therefore, a Constitutional amendment is the only way to ensure a proportionally equitable representation in the House.

In 1789, the Founding generation almost included such a provision in the Constitution, btw. This is the “first” first amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Posted March 25, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Constitutional Rights

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Consequences of a Broken Congress   Leave a comment

Amending the Constitution to change the structure of the House of Representatives is a complex topic.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned congressional districts that were relatively small (about 60,000 people per each), equivalently sized across the nation in keeping with the one-person-one-vote principle. Federalists #55 and #56 explicitly promised there would be one Representative for every 30,000 inhabitants. Congress became larger as the country grew in population until Congress fixed the total number of Representatives at 435 in 1913. The size of Congress is not regulated in the Constitution, but is an arbitrary number chosen by Congress.

Today, the average district size is approximately 700,000 per Representative and instead of being proportionately sized throughout the United States, some House districts are nearly twice the size of others. This is an egregious violation of the one-person-one-vote principle that comes with adverse consequences.

  • The average tenure of Representatives serving in the 108th Congress (2003-2005) was 10.2 years.
  • Tellingly, of all the Representatives in the 108th Congress who sought reelection to the 109th, over 97% won.
  • Yet Congress has an approval rating of less than 10%.

It would seem that, once elected, Representatives become virtually undefeatable, even if their performance in office is mediocre or incompetent. This is because candidates representing large districts can present different faces to different constituents without getting caught (usually) rather than taking principled stands. The diverse views and values of Americans are not being represented by those elected to the House.

The growth of super-sized districts means that most Representatives spend the last year of their two-year term campaigning for reelection rather than spending time on their primary responsibilities of reading legislation and providing constituent services. Except for a few independently wealthy individuals, election campaigns in super-sized districts require that Representatives solicit considerable sums of money on a nearly continuous basis, creating the appearance (and probably the actuality) of corruption while fostering a dependence on lobbyists and other special interests for campaign funds.

Another, often overlooked, consequence (highlighted in the Netflix series House of Cards) is that the President and Vice-President are indirectly elected via the Electoral College, the size of which is mostly a function of the number of House Representatives. The smaller the Electoral College, the less likely it will reflect the popular vote, which may explain the last four Presidential elections and will become a greater issue with each election in the future.

Citizens are gradually becoming estranged from the federal government. Whether it is because we feel disconnected or because of other cultural issues, we fail to vote at increasingly alarmingly high rates. Low voter turnout creates a political vacuum that is frequently filled by mobilized fringe interest groups which exert an inordinate influence over election outcomes.

The purpose of the federal House was not only to represent the citizenry, but to protect us from the government, but the House of Representatives has devolved into a virtual oligarchy.

What do we do about that?

Congress is Broken   1 comment

Article V turns out to be a huge subject and as I research, I find more and more information. Proposed amendments are a sub-category in themselves that I barely touched on when I did the first series.

Certainly I support returning the Senate to the state legislatures via repeal of the 17th amendment, thereby reducing the power of corporations in selecting that body through the manipulation of voter ignorance. Senators should represent the states.

On the other hand, most of us – including me – really haven’t given due consideration to how to fix the House of Representatives. Except someone has and I’m going to touch on what they have come up with.

As with most of these sorts of organizations, I am not endorsing them whole-heartedly. I find useful information all over the place, but I don’t necessarily agree with everything on any website.

The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights intended that the total population of a single Congressional district should never exceed 50-60,000. Oh, my! Currently the average population size of the districts is nearly 700,000. Proportional, equitable representation has been abandoned!

The bar chart below shows a disturbing trend. From 1790 to 1910, the total number of congressional districts increased every 10 years (with one exception during the Civil War). In 1910, the total number of congressional districts was increased to 435 where it has remained ever since (with a temporary increase to 437 after Alaska and Hawaii became states). Overlaid on the chart is a line graph representing the total population of the United States.

Reps Chart 1

Dividing the total population by the number of representatives calculates the average population per congressional district, which is illustrated in the chart below.

Average Pop Chart 2

In 1804, each Congress person represented approximately 40 thousand people. Today, the average population of congressional districts is nearly 700,000 and increasing. Don Young, Representative from Alaska, has 736,400 constituents. It’s no wonder he is difficult to contact, though he is – I’m told – better than many representatives from other districts.

Given that, is it any wonder that most of us feel like the federal government no longer governs with the consent of the governed?

Mark Begich Votes   Leave a comment

Click here for 8 full quotes on Budget & Economy OR background on Budget & Economy.

  • Closed $33M budget gap without using one-time reserves. (Jul 2008)
  • No secret earmarks; full online disclosure. (May 2008)
  • As mayor: bond rating up; jobs increased; taxes down. (Apr 2008)
  • Voted YES on $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending. (Jul 2009)
  • Voted YES on modifying bankruptcy rules to avoid mortgage foreclosures. (May 2009)
  • Voted YES on additional $825 billion for economic recovery package. (Feb 2009)
  • More enforcement of mortgage fraud and TARP fraud. (May 2009)
  • Ban abusive credit practices & enhance consumer disclosure. (Feb 2009)

 Mark Begich on Civil Rights 
Click here for 3 full quotes on Civil Rights OR background on Civil Rights.

  • Added sexual orientation to Anchorage non-discrimination law. (Nov 2008)
  • ENDA: prohibit employment discrimination for gays. (Jun 2009)
  • Prohibit sexual-identity discrimination at schools. (Mar 2011)

 Mark Begich on Corporations 
Click here for 2 full quotes on Corporations OR background on Corporations.

  • Expand lending caps for credit unions to small business. (Mar 2012)
  • Rated 71% by UFCW, indicating a mixed management/labor voting record. (May 2012)

 Mark Begich on Crime 
Click here for 3 full quotes on Crime OR background on Crime.

  • Added $5M and 13 more police to Anchorage budget. (Oct 2008)
  • Added city police; pushed anti-gang & cyber-crime units. (Apr 2008)
  • Three strikes traffic violators should face felonies. (Oct 2006)

 Mark Begich on Drugs 
Click here for the full quote on Drugs OR background on Drugs.

  • Prevent youth from trying the deadly drug methamphetamine. (Jul 2008)

 Mark Begich on Education 
Click here for 3 full quotes on Education OR background on Education.

  • Local control and accountability of America’s schools. (Aug 2008)
  • Professional development grants for elementary principals. (Jul 2010)
  • $25B to renovate or repair elementary schools. (Sep 2011)

 Mark Begich on Energy & Oil 
Click here for 10 full quotes on Energy & Oil OR background on Energy & Oil.

  • Advocate for opening up ANWR to drilling. (Nov 2008)
  • Short term: $2.5B for LIHEAP; 70M bbl from strategic reserve. (Sep 2008)
  • Long term: develop ANWR; build renewable energy plants. (Sep 2008)
  • Support US participation in binding climate agreements. (Sep 2008)
  • Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (May 2008)
  • Alaska is ground zero for global warming. (May 2008)
  • Voted NO on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. (Apr 2011)
  • Voted YES on protecting middle-income taxpayers from a national energy tax. (Apr 2009)
  • Voted YES on requiring full Senate debate and vote on cap-and-trade. (Apr 2009)
  • Allow horizontal drilling into Alaska’s Coastal Plain. (Feb 2009)

 Mark Begich on Environment 
Click here for 4 full quotes on Environment OR background on Environment.

  • Implemented energy efficiency and conservation in Anchorage. (May 2008)
  • Respect unique cultural role of subsistence whaling. (May 2007)
  • Voted YES on $2 billion more for Cash for Clunkers program. (Aug 2009)
  • Rated 100% by HSLF, indicating a pro-animal welfare voting record. (Jan 2012)

 Mark Begich on Families & Children 
Click here for the full quote on Families & Children OR background on Families & Children.

  • Increase number of children eligible for free school meals. (Oct 2009)

 Mark Begich on Foreign Policy 
Click here for 6 full quotes on Foreign Policy OR background on Foreign Policy.

  • Rebuild US reputation by diplomatic efforts. (Sep 2008)
  • Pay dues to UN, and cooperate with ICC. (Sep 2008)
  • Supports adding 1% of US budget to international aid. (Sep 2008)
  • Rated 0 by AAI, indicating a mixed Arab/Palestine voting record. (May 2012)
  • Integrate gender into diplomatic and foreign aid processes. (Sep 2012)
  • Vigorous support for State of Israel against Hamas in Gaza. (Nov 2012)

 Mark Begich on Free Trade 
Click here for the full quote on Free Trade OR background on Free Trade.

  • Capitalize on our assets in the global economy. (Jul 2007)

 Mark Begich on Government Reform 
Click here for 13 full quotes on Government Reform OR background on Government Reform.

  • Brought greater openness to city government. (May 2008)
  • Increase financial transparency for Senate staff. (May 2008)
  • Senate lobbying disclosures should include family ties. (May 2008)
  • Campaign transparency with sortable online database. (May 2008)
  • No secret meetings; full appointment disclosure for Senators. (May 2008)
  • No more automatic pay raises for Senators. (May 2008)
  • No revolving door for former senate staff to lobby. (May 2008)
  • No campaign fundraising through private foundations. (May 2008)
  • Support an Independent Office of Public Integrity. (May 2008)
  • Voted YES on Congressional pay raise. (Jul 2009)
  • Voted YES on providing a US House seat for the District of Columbia. (Feb 2009)
  • Require full disclosure of independent campaign expenditures. (Jul 2012)
  • Repeal automatic Congressional pay raises. (Jan 2009)

 Mark Begich on Gun Control 
Click here for 7 full quotes on Gun Control OR background on Gun Control.

  • Strongly supports Constitutional right to bear arms. (Aug 2008)
  • Lifetime member of NRA. (Apr 2008)
  • Voted YES on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains. (Apr 2009)
  • National cross-state standard for concealed carry. (Jan 2009)
  • Sponsored loosening restrictions on interstate gun purchases. (Oct 2011)
  • Allow veterans to register unlicensed guns acquired abroad. (Oct 2011)
  • Apply concealed carry permit to all other states where legal. (Feb 2009)

 Mark Begich on Health Care 
Click here for 8 full quotes on Health Care OR background on Health Care.

  • Protect future Medicare with “medical home” model. (Oct 2008)
  • Privatization undermines the integrity of Medicare. (Oct 2008)
  • Increase Medicare reimbursements and affordable health care. (May 2008)
  • Favors expanding Alaska’s Denali KidCare program. (May 2008)
  • Voted NO on the Ryan Budget: Medicare choice, tax & spending cuts. (May 2011)
  • Voted YES on regulating tobacco as a drug. (Jun 2009)
  • Voted YES on expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program. (Jan 2009)
  • Expand the National Health Service Corps. (Mar 2009)

 Mark Begich on Homeland Security 
Click here for 9 full quotes on Homeland Security OR background on Homeland Security.

  • Consult with Congress on major military actions. (Sep 2008)
  • Ratify Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; no new nukes. (Sep 2008)
  • Repeal the Patriot Act. (Aug 2008)
  • Pledges full support for the 21st Century GI Bill. (May 2008)
  • Increased Anchorage’s support for military personnel. (Apr 2008)
  • Voted NO on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps. (Feb 2011)
  • Repeal Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, and reinstate discharged gays. (Mar 2010)
  • Military spouses don’t lose voting residency while abroad. (Feb 2009)
  • Expand health services for women veterans. (Mar 2009)

 Mark Begich on Immigration 
Click here for the full quote on Immigration OR background on Immigration.

  • Reservations about denying illegals’ retirement benefits. (Oct 2008)

 Mark Begich on Jobs 
Click here for 3 full quotes on Jobs OR background on Jobs.

  • Anchorage employment grew by 800 jobs since Jan. 2008. (Jul 2008)
  • Form unions by card-check instead of secret ballot. (Mar 2009)
  • Ban discriminatory compensation; allow 2 years to sue. (Jan 2009)

 Mark Begich on Principles & Values 
Click here for 4 full quotes on Principles & Values OR background on Principles & Values.

  • Democrats advertise Stevens’ calls secretly recorded by FBI. (Oct 2008)
  • Reputation as mayor for getting things done. (Sep 2008)
  • Served 10 years on Anchorage Assembly and 5 years as Mayor. (Apr 2008)
  • Voted YES on confirming of Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court. (Aug 2009)

 Mark Begich on Social Security 
Click here for 4 full quotes on Social Security OR background on Social Security.

  • Treat “Notch babies” equally with all other seniors. (Oct 2008)
  • Adjust Soc. Sec. cost of living by consumer price index. (Oct 2008)
  • No privatization; no individual investment accounts. (Oct 2008)
  • Elderly are entitled to solvent & reliable Social Security. (Aug 2008)

 Mark Begich on Tax Reform 
Click here for 2 full quotes on Tax Reform OR background on Tax Reform.

  • Extend tax cuts; and end the AMT. (Aug 2008)
  • Minimum tax rate of 30% for those earning over $1 million. (Mar 2012)

 Mark Begich on Technology 
Click here for 2 full quotes on Technology OR background on Technology.

  • Warrantless wiretapping infringes on constitutional rights. (Aug 2008)
  • Invest in Port of Anchorage & pedestrian-friendly downtown. (Jul 2008)

 Mark Begich on War & Peace 
Click here for 4 full quotes on War & Peace OR background on War & Peace.

  • Fully fund US contribution to UN operations in Darfur. (Sep 2008)
  • We must responsibly re-deploy out of Iraq. (May 2008)
  • Iranian nuclear weapons: prevention instead of containment. (May 2012)
  • Sanctions on Iran to end nuclear program. (Apr 2009)

 Mark Begich on Welfare & Poverty 
Click here for 2 full quotes on Welfare & Poverty OR background on Welfare & Poverty.

  • Voted YES on instituting National Service as a new social invention. (Mar 2009)
  • Support school breakfast for low-income children. (Mar 2009)

Oops, That Didn’t Work Out So Well!   Leave a comment

The law of unintended consequences rears its head once again. Prohibition was a well-intended notion with a very dark downside. Smoky the Bear meant well, but stored a lot of fuel for super-forest fires decades later. And, now — read it and weep.

This story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights a problem with the ban on “earmarks” instituted two years ago by Congress.

Such earmarks were a long-standing prerogative of Congress for decades. Members would slip earmarks into spending bills that designated a portion of that spending bill to go to a specific project, a specific city, a specific state. It allowed Congress – who is supposed to make the laws and direct the government – to specify where allocated funds were going to be spent.

It became abused in recent years, adding massive amounts of spending to bills and costing taxpayers a lot of money. So the GOP-led House banned “earmarks” in 2011, then renewed the ban in November 2012.

And, now Minnesota and a lot of other states and localities are discovering that they can’t direct funds toward projects, so … where is the money going?

This year’s funding is determined through a bureaucratic budget process, not by congressional appropriations.

AH! The administrative state is involved! Who knows where the money is going, but we can bet it won’t go where the people want it because the administrative state does not exist to serve the people.

Road funding should remain with Congress, but they’ve tied their own hands. They can only give the federal Department of Transportation a budget and hope it will go where they want and it is now clear that it isn’t going to.

That was a dumb idea!

The previous system of earmarks was broken and corrupt. It allowed Washington to spend money it didn’t have on projects most of Congress knew nothing about and, in some cases, projects that didn’t need to be built. The Gravina Island Bridge would have serviced an island that has 50 people and a fairly small airport. The people living on the island didn’t want it – many of them make a living operating water taxis from the airport to Ketchikan. Clearly, the system of politicians using public funds to build unnecessary projects needed to go away. But giving the money to the administrative state to do whatever it wants is clearly a REALLY BAD idea.

So why can’t Congress come up with a process that cuts through federal bureaucratic red tape by allowing projects to be prioritized (by Congress) in a transparent merit-based manner? Elected officials are far better suited than Washington bureaucrats to determine which local projects should receive federal funds, but even they should be constrained by rules and a public process.

The administrative state always leads to tyranny, because the people are not consulted when administrators make decisions with our money and resources. The intention to limit pork barrel spending was a good one, but the unintended consequences are that the administrative state now controls our road funds.

What are WE the people going to do about it?


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