Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Fix the United States' Electoral/Political System

Yes, I know that is a bold title for a blog post, but, after watching the GOP wreck our traditional Congressional system through its refusal to compromise (compromise is what our Congress...mostly through the procedural rules of the Senate, was built to do), I've decided that a Constitutional Amendment is the only way to fix our nation's political system. That's not to say that a drastic change wasn't needed before now, but I believe that a Constitutional Amendment that accomplishes these tasks (+ legislation that could address concerns without a Constitutional Amendment) would be the best way to move our country from gridlock to prosperity:

1. Overturn Citizens United

Citizens United was the 2010 Supreme Court case that has allowed corporations to dump millions of dollars into campaigns, and it has also allowed the formation of multi-million dollar "Super-PACs", which allows corporations and individuals to funnel in money to T.V. Ads/etc. anonymously (tearing apart any aspect of transparency in our electoral process).

Overturning Citizens United is by far the most important thing our country can do to protect our electoral and political systems.

I would also like to see all of our campaigns become publicly financed, but I doubt anything like that could ever pass through Congress. This is unfortunate though because if we pulled the money out of the process then we'd eliminate a lot of the corruption (though not all because of Congress' power over the appropriations process, which is necessary since you want people who can be held accountable by the voters to control that process).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission

2. Proportional Representation

This is an issue that could actually bring the far left and the far right together, and it would create a system that would be more beneficial for everyone (not just the extremes). Right now we have a two-party system, and within each party (especially the Democratic Party) there are people with many different viewpoints. Therefore, you can only predict to a certain point what you are voting for when you vote for a political party (and a lot more focus is placed on the individual candidate as a result).

As opposed to the single member districts that we have now, if we allowed parties to be voted on for Congress and if we allowed each party to take the proportional amount of seats as compared to the percentage of the popular vote that each party received (ex: A party that wins 1% of the vote would get 4 seats), then we could allow multiple parties to exist. This could be done on a national level, or Congressional seats could be voted on within each state as a whole (I would prefer it be done on national level since that would be more in line with 1 person 1 vote...it would be more proportional).

Result: We finally get rid of the dreaded Congressional gerrymandering of districts (one of our political system's greatest illnesses), and we finally get multiple parties. The significance of having a multiple party system is consistency. You can actually know what to expect from a political party. Don't get me wrong, I am one of those who actually realizes that there are gigantic differences between the two parties (I'm so sick of the ignorant statement: "Both parties are the same"...read the legislation they propose for 5 seconds and you'll see there are some gigantic ideological differences); however, I also realize that there is ideological diversity within the parties and this causes more voter confusion than anything else. If green, libertarian, and other third parties were allowed to exist, then people could know exactly what platforms they are voting for when they cast their ballot. This would create more trust between the public and the government, and the business community could actually know what to expect from the government in power at the time (business loves stability in government).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation

3. End the Electoral College

This may actually be carried out by National Popular Vote (nationalpopularvote.com) before a Constitutional amendment could be ratified. What National Popular Vote is doing is basically lobbying state legislatures to pass legislation that would cause the states who agree to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. However, states would not have to do this until enough states pass the legislation to make up a majority of the electoral college (270...they are currently at 132, which includes VT, MD, WA, IL, CA, NJ, MA, HI, and D.C.).

However, I still think it is worth bringing this up here since it only makes sense that we allow the nation as a whole to elect our President (as opposed to allowing a handful of battleground states to elect our President). This issue also has more bipartisan support than the other two issues I brought up above. People on the right and the left realize that its unfair that Democrats in TX and Republicans in CA, both of which are large groups of people, hardly have a voice when it comes to Presidential elections.

nationalpopularvote.com

4. Getting rid of or at least modifying the filibuster/unanimous consent rules in the Senate.

This would probably be a given if the rest of the above proposals were to pass, and this is also something that would not require a Constitutional Amendment. The filibuster and the other procedural rules are not given to us by the Constitution. They are given to us by the tradition of the U.S. Senate. One of my law professors once convinced me that we should keep the procedural rules of the Senate intact since they force compromise, make sure that any change that is made in our country is a baby-step as opposed to a leap forward, and that business loves the stability that this type of process creates. However, I have since been convinced that this process has been broken by a political party that refuses to compromise. Maybe I'm wrong, and, after the GOP loses badly in a couple of election cycles, they'll realize that you have to have the middle on your side to win. Until that happens, I'm sticking to my opinion that these procedural rules need to go.

On the first legislative day of every Congress (which usually goes many real days so don't take this as meaning one day), the Senate can change its procedural rules with a simple majority. Senator Udall attempted this earlier this year, and here is the list of his reasonable proposals (quoted from the CNN article linked below):

"Udall is considering four key proposals as part of the resolution he will offer. One would prevent filibusters to taking up a bill or on a nomination, although it will still allow filibusters to end debate on a bill. A second would eliminate so-called "secret holds" in which a senator can anonymously stall legislation or a nomination from coming to the floor. A third would require senators leading a filibuster stay on the floor and debate the issue during the entire filibuster.

A fourth proposal from Udall is aimed at appeasing GOP concerns about being locked out of the process. It would require a certain number of amendments for the minority party for any bill being debated."

Here is a link explaining the end agreement that the two parties settled on earlier this year (which resulted in small changes in the right direction as opposed to the bigger/better changes proposed by Sen. Udall):

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/reid_and_mcconnell_agree_there.html

Here's a more condensed version of the agreement: http://fixthesenatenow.org/news/entry/senate-leadership-agrees-upon-rules-package/

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reached a mutual agreement on a new procedural system for the 112th Senate, earlier today.

The agreement eliminates secret holds, prohibits delay tactics like forcing the reading an amendment that has already been submitted for 72 hours, and exempts about one third of executive nominations from the Senate confirmation process.

Additionally, Sen. Reid agreed to reduce the use of 'filling the amendment tree,' while Sen. McConnell agreed to limit the number of filibusters. Both party leaders agreed not to seek the Constitutional option to change rules in the 112th or the 113th Congress."

I understand the argument for preserving the filibuster and other procedural rules of the Senate, which mostly evolve around the fear of the Senate becoming the partisan House. However, when one party decides gridlock is better than compromise, its difficult to side with the status quo on the rules of the Senate.

Other links on this topic:

http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/archives/senate_rules_reform_no_fire_and_brimstone_much_logic_and_reason/

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/04/some-senate-democrats-to-try-to-change-filibuster-rules-in-new-congress/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/us/politics/25rules.html

http://tomudall.senate.gov/?id=739&p=blog
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These proposals would not solve all of the world's problems, and we would still continue to have plenty of problems in our own country. However, what these proposals would produce, if they were to pass, would be a cleaner, fairer, and more transparent electoral and political system, which would better represent our country's electorate and would create more trust between Americans and their government.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Supercommittee, 2012 election, Affordable Health Care Act, and Prop 19 (CA) predictions

Predictions Summary:

Supercommittee: Will fail. (Called this a long time ago, and made some further predictions on this topic earlier this month. Just wanted to point this out since I know by the time I actually post this the news will already have declared the supercommittee a failure).

President Barack Obama: Re-elected.

House: Going back to Democratic control.

Senate: Toss-up (not much of a prediction here hah).

Affordable Healthcare Act: Deemed Constitutional before the '12 election with Scalia voting in favor of it.

Prop 19 in CA to legalize marijuana: A majority of voters will vote yes this time around.

Explanation:

First off, these are predictions (not things I'm certain of), and I'm sure I will adjust my predictions as the 2012 elections get closer and as new data comes in. However, I've been looking at a lot of information on the topics below lately, and I'm liking the trends that I'm seeing so much that I wanted to ramble on about it for a bit. It really is a bit early to be making the Presidential and Congressional predictions, but a few factors that I will discuss at least make it worth looking at.

Supercommittee

Earlier this month, I made this prediction on what would happen with the supercommittee, and it appears that at least the first part will be the case with the latter being very possible (though, technically, a last second deal could still be struck by today):

"My prediction on the supercommittee (or at least what I expect): Republicans will continue to refuse to increase taxes (and refuse to compromise in general), supercommittee will fail, Congress will immediately reinstate (at least part of) the defense cuts (via a bipartisan vote), they will actually compromise on where the cuts go (as a full Chamber after the supercommittee fails)...though that's already been agreed to previously to a certain extent, Bush tax cuts expire for everyone, President Obama scolds GOP for allowing tax cuts on the middle class to expire in order to stand by their demands to keep the tax cuts for the rich in place, and then the Democrats push tax cuts for the middle class to be reinstated over and over again to bait the Republicans into voting against it (I doubt they would, but who knows with today's GOP)."

The supercommittee failing should've been the obvious from its inception, since we currently have a GOP that has forgotten the definition of compromise and how important compromise is to our current Congressional system.

As I mentioned above, there is still time for a last second deal to be struck, but I just don't see the GOP budging with the current environment in D.C. Also, it would be worse for the Democrats to accept a deal with no tax increases than to just let it fail and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. Reinstating the tax cuts for the middle class would provide political cover for the tax increase, though it would increase our deficit.

I look very forward to seeing the figures on how much the deficit decreases once the Bush tax cuts expire (the data is already out there but, when it becomes official, I'm hoping a lot of voters' eyes are opened).

Rep. Frank also believes that the supercommittee failing is a good thing (and he seems to agree with many of the other predictions that I made earlier this month about the supercommittee):

"'The people who want to say ‘no’ have more leverage,' Frank said in a telephone interview. 'Every showdown until now, the right wing had more leverage. They tended to benefit more from gridlock. Now, thanks to sequestration and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, gridlock is bad for the right wing. So they are now going to be forced to deal.'

Frank said the supercommittee’s inability to produce a plan was not a failure of Congress, but rather a reflection of the country’s 'peak divisions.'

He said that Democrats should offer to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and end them for the wealthy, counting that as savings against the automatic cuts.

'And if you don’t like it,' Frank said, 'well, then we’ll just sit back, see sequestration and the taxes go up on everybody.'"

http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/budget-approriations/195139-rep-frank-supercommittee-failure-good-news-for-democrats
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As far as the 2012 predictions go, this is much more of a guessing game since anything could happen between now and late 2012; however, there is a lot of data out there on the race for President and various Congressional seats.

President: Barack Obama gets re-elected

The main thing that has made me feel strongly enough about this to make a prediction on it this early out is the numbers I'm seeing in Ohio. More than one recent poll has placed President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 6 points (49-43). He polls even better against failed candidates like Herman Cain and Rick Perry. The significance of polling at around 49% is that it leaves President Obama only needing to convince a few undecideds in order to win there (even if the polls get a little closer).

The reason that good numbers in Ohio alone would make me feel confident about a President that many people think will not be re-elected is because of two things: 1) Republicans have a very hard time winning the electoral college majority without Ohio because it forces them to have to pick up states that they do not traditionally win. (Note: No Republican has ever won the Presidency without Ohio.) 2) If the Republican overreach against labor has backfired this badly in Ohio, then it has probably backfired on them in many other states such as MI and WI, which are even harder places for the GOP to win in than Ohio. I expect this overreach to not only benefit President Obama, but I also expect it to help the Democratic Senate candidates in many states.

Republicans keep pointing to the close numbers between President Obama and the "generic Republican"; however, that is wishful thinking considering the fact that their primary field is one of the worst I've ever seen. The fact that Newt Gingrich has become the new anti-Romney candidate should have the GOP base disturbed (though at least Newt is smarter than Cain, Perry, and Bachmann combined).

When it gets closer to the 2012 Presidential election, I'll do a state-by-state analysis. For now, just keep an eye on the typical battleground states, and expect Arizona to be a battleground state this time around (I could see the Democrats pulling a surprise win off here based on recent polling on Governor Brewer's approval rating and based on demographic shifts/the population increase in AZ).
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House: Democrats retake it.

Earlier this year, I would never have made this prediction. While I knew all along that Democrats would make gains in the House in '12 (Republicans spread themselves thin and won in areas that they would normally never win in on election day 2010), I figured that the Republicans' 2010 success in taking over many state legislatures would lead to gerrymandering heavily slanted in their favor, which I thought would possibly even out the advantages that the Democrats have in 2012, which mainly consists of the higher voter turnout associated with Presidential races and the higher number of vulnerable Republican incumbents.

However, redistricting in CA, IL, and TX has given me new hope on that front (these states together will probably give Democrats around 10 new seats in Congress...they only need 25 to win the chamber). Though redistricting will hurt us in other states like NC and possibly MI, I'm starting to doubt that they will be able to do anything beyond break even with the Democrats on gains (nationally).

There's also good news from AZ and OH. In AZ, the AZ Supreme Court recently reinstated the independent commissioner on AZ's redistricting board after a Republican attempt to impeach the independent. In OH, the Democratic map will be placed on a voter referendum to oppose the current Republican map. Most likely the same people who defeated the anti-union law in OH recently will also approve of the Democratic redistricting map, which means more gains for Democrats in Congress in a state they were supposed to lose seats in as a result of the GOP takeover of its state's legislature.

Therefore, with redistricting not hurting the Democratic party like I thought it would and with a recent poll showing 12 Republican incumbents as likely to be defeated in 2012, I'm thinking that the Democrats will definitely make gains and have a good shot at retaking the House in 2012 (especially when you factor in the higher-than-usual turnout that is associated with Presidential elections).

Here's a good write-up on this topic from Tom Jensen from Public Policy Polling: (3 page report)

"Over the last few weeks national polling has increasingly showed House Democrats recovering from their defeat in 2010 and taking the lead back on the generic House ballot. An October 10 Reuters survey showed Democrats ahead 48-40 and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the same day found Democrats with a 45-41 advantage.

The national numbers point to the possibility for Democrats to reclaim a majority in the House next year, and a series of polls conducted by PPP in 12 individual Congressional districts last week backs up what the national numbers are showing. The 12 districts we polled are all in states where redistricting has already occurred- Arkansas, California, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

And in all 12 we found the same thing- voters would like to replace the Republican incumbent with someone else, and for the most part the new GOP House majority is proving to be extremely unpopular."

http://www.politico.com/static/PPM41_pppmemo.html

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/68855.html
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Senate: Toss-up

Here is the one place where I do not feel comfortable enough to even make a guess at this point. While I do think 2012 will be a good year for Democrats, the Democrats have to defend 23 seats while the Republicans only have to defend 10. The Republicans will only need to win a net-gain of 4 seats to control the Senate (3 seats would be enough for them to have the VP break tie votes if President Obama loses), but this of course would require them to not lose any seats, which I don't see happening.

Here's a good map of the states that are having U.S. Senate Elections this year:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_elections,_2012

States to watch:

MO: This is probably the main Senate seat that I see the Democrats losing. Sen. McCaskill's numbers have not been good.

MA: Elizabeth Warren is going to make Scott Brown a 1-term Senator, though should we really be surprised? She's a great candidate, and MA is a very blue state.

NV: Either party could win here, but keep in mind that they re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010 (which was a bad year for Democrats...even if 2012 is not the year I'm expecting for Democrats, it will be better than 2010).

AZ: I'm one of the few talking about AZ, and I stand by this prediction: AZ will be a close state for the Presidency and for the Senate in 2012.

MT: This is going to be a close one. Senator Jon Tester is a fairly moderate Democrat, and he and his opponent are currently fighting it out for the NRA's endorsement.

NE: Ben Nelson will always have a tough re-election bid in the red state of Nebraska (especially in the current political environment).

ND: I actually think the Democrats will put up a really good fight here. Their candidate is a popular long-term politician in the state.

VA: Governor Kaine will hopefully pull this one off, but it will be close.

WI: With an unpopular governor like Scott Walker, I see the Democrats retaining this open Senate seat. It should still be an interesting race to watch though.

Other people talk about OH, PA, NM, and MI; however, I think the Democrats will safely retain all of those Senate seats. As far as Florida goes, I'm much more worried about President Obama's chances down there than I am of Senator Bill Nelson's chances for re-election.

Wild Card to watch out for: Hopefully the tea party will nominate some crazy/awful candidate to replace Lugar in IN or Snowe in ME. If that happens in either state (especially ME), then expect that state to be much closer. Otherwise, the Republicans will likely keep both seats.

Here's a good article with more information on the 8 top races to watch:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gop-control-senate-top-races-watch/story?id=14374992#
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Affordable Health Care Act: Constitutional w/ Scalia voting for it.

I'm not going to say as much on this topic, but my primary reason for thinking this is precedent (the wheat case and the medical marijuana case that Scalia voted for), and the decision upholding the constitutionality of the healthcare mandate recently rendered by Judge Sutton, who is the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge that was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003. This is especially significant because he served as a law clerk for Justice Scalia. That seems to hint to me (along with other votes that he's made in the past) that Justice Scalia would vote in favor of the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act's individual mandate.

Here are some excerpts from the opinion:

"Commerce Clause

In his 27-page opinion, Judge Sutton said that the health care law meets the classic tests that the Supreme Court has imposed in deciding whether Congress has acted within its authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, the provision that empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce or matters that otherwise 'substantially affect' interstate commerce.

Noting that health care is a $2.5 trillion industry, Sutton said that 'no matter how you slice the relevant market,' virtually all of it affects interstate commerce, and Congress may constitutionally regulate such interstate economic activity. 'Few people escape the need to obtain health care at some point in their lives, and most need it regularly,' he observed. Everyone will eventually have some sort of big emergency bill that, left to their own devices, most individuals would be unable to pay. The health care mandate, he concluded, is little more than a requirement that everyone have insurance now so taxpayers and hospitals will not be left holding the bag later. Indeed, as he observed, federal law actually requires hospitals to accept many patients without regard to their capacity to pay.

Furthermore, wrote Sutton, 'No one is inactive when deciding how to pay for health care, as self-insurance and private insurance are two forms of action for addressing the same risk. Each requires affirmative choices; one is no less active than the other; and both affect commerce.'

Those opposed to the health care law raise good questions, he said, based on an intuition that this law cannot be constitutional. But '[n]ot every intrusive law is an unconstitutionally intrusive law,' wrote Sutton."

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/29/137506928/federal-court-upholds-health-care-law

The only good legal argument I've heard from the right is that there is a difference between the precedent and the current case in that the government is forcing people to do something as opposed to forcing people not to do something. While this is a legitimate argument, I do not think it is a strong enough argument to make Scalia vote against the Affordable Healthcare Act and prior Supreme Court precedent. However, even if he does, there is always the chance that Justice Kennedy will vote that the mandate is constitutional, which is something that I also expect.
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Prop 19 in CA: Passes

I'm not going to write as much on this topic either, but, if you aren't aware of Prop 19, it was the referendum over whether or not to legalize marijuana in CA. I believe it only obtained 46% of the vote in 2010, but I still found this to be impressive considering that turnout is typically lower in mid-term elections (and young people turn out much less in mid-term elections).

Since its failure, Gallup and other groups have released polls showing the legalization of marijuana favored by 50% of Americans for the first time ever. If the numbers are that high nationally, one would only assume that the numbers are even better in CA.

The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 thinks that its approach this time around will calm the concerns of many growers in CA who actually voted against Prop 19 in 2010:

Dale Gieringer, California's NORML's state coordinator said, "There's more confidence that whatever emerges is more likely to be from the marijuana community than there was with Prop. 19."

Assuming that the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 is successful in crafting a referendum that is more in line with what the local growers want, I think this + the increased turnout in 2012 will ensure a victory for Prop 19.

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2011/03/marijuana_2012_california.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/03/prop-19-results-marijuana_n_778050.html