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Posts Tagged ‘Congress’
December 9th, 2014 at 1:31 pm
Gruber Gets Gored

Even though Jonathan Gruber did his best to apologize for his incredibly damaging – and seemingly accurate – remarks about how and why ObamaCare was drafted, there was no place to hide from the bipartisan rebuke he received today from the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform.

Gruber is the now infamous MIT professor and erstwhile “architect” of Democrats’ signature health reform law that called American voters “stupid” for not understanding basic economics and the deceptive policies embedded in ObamaCare.

Gruber’s comments have incensed Republicans, but they’ve also infuriated Democrats. Of all the anger directed at Gruber today, perhaps none was more forceful than that erupting from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“As far as I can tell, we are here today to beat up on Jonathan Gruber for stupid – I mean absolutely stupid – comments he made over the last few years,” Cummings said. “Let me be clear, I am extremely frustrated with Dr. Gruber’s statements” because “They were irresponsibly, incredibly disrespectful, and did not reflect reality. And they were indeed insulting.”

We’ll see if any of this theater persuades the Supreme Court. Next spring the justices consider whether a section of ObamaCare should be interpreted, as written, to deny subsidies to citizens in 37 states that use the federal health insurance exchange. It’s an interpretation that Democrats oppose, but Gruber in at least one viral video adamantly confirms.

It’s been said that a political gaffe occurs when someone says the truth in public. Regarding ObamaCare’s deceptive elements, that may be Jonathan Gruber’s greatest offense.

December 8th, 2014 at 6:22 pm
ObamaCare’s ‘Stupid Voter’ Architect to Testify at GOP Hearing

On Tuesday this week Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and ObamaCare architect made infamous by a series of viral videos confirming suspicions of deceptive lawmaking, will appear before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

It won’t be a pleasant meeting for Gruber.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has titled the hearing, “Examining ObamaCare Transparency Failures.”

The biggest issue will be whether Issa and his fellow Republicans can get Gruber to confirm his previous statement that ObamaCare only grants insurance subsidies to people in states that operate their own health exchange. That’s the central issue in the case going before the Supreme Court next spring, and if the justices accept it, much of ObamaCare could be gutted.

Liberals are already trying to get ahead of any Gruber confessions under oath that could undermine their landmark domestic policy.

In a long-read piece at Politico, a former Democratic staffer tries to minimize the impact of Gruber’s comments by first saying he wasn’t involved in the policymaking process. That’s a fair point.

But then the staffer seems to completely confirm Gruber’s main argument – that the disputed statutory language was deliberately concocted to confuse people who weren’t in on the backroom political calculations.

The Politico reporter sums up the staffer’s argument this way: “The point of having the ‘Balkanized’ approach – state health exchanges plus a federal one for states that didn’t build their own – was to appeal to centrist senators, he said, since most liberal Democrats would have been happy just to have a federal one.”

As the staffer explains it, “No one was willing to fall on their swords to make sure states ran their own exchanges.”

In other words, the text in the law that limits the flow of subsidies to state exchanges is nothing more than an Orwellian wordplay. It doesn’t mean what it says. Rather, it’s designed to give ‘centrist’ senators political cover for voting to do the exact opposite – give subsidies to everyone.

Confused? Gruber isn’t.

This new rationale sounds an awful lot like the “tortured” drafting of ObamaCare that takes advantage of the “stupidity of the American voter” that Gruber’s been saying for years.

Kudos for being honest. Now let’s see if he will remain so under oath.

November 25th, 2014 at 5:03 pm
Jonathan Gruber to Testify Before House Committee

For political junkies, the news that MIT professor and ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber has agreed to testify before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee is must see TV.

Gruber has stirred up a hornet’s nest of negative press for the controversial health care law because of statements he’s made at academic conferences over the last few years. Helpfully summarized by the folks at American Commitment, Gruber’s comments include calling American voters stupid and admitting to writing ObamaCare’s text in a tortured way to avoid a straightforward cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

Also appearing at the hearing will be Marilyn Tavener, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to explain – presumably with a straight face – why revelations that ObamaCare’s reported enrollment of 7 million inexplicably counted 400,000 dental plans. Republicans suspect a bad faith face-saving move since without the incorrectly included dental plans enrollment would have failed to reach CBO’s benchmark estimate.

All in all, December 9, 2014 should be an entertaining day in Washington, D.C. – if you like to watch contentious oversight hearings.

November 17th, 2014 at 3:42 pm
Gallup: New High in Public Disapproval of ObamaCare

Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of ObamaCare, the highest number disapproving of the controversial health care law since Gallup began asking the question.

Approval of ObamaCare peaked just before the 2012 presidential election, but has cratered since then.

The culprit is reality.

The beginning of ObamaCare’s nosedive in popularity “occurred in early November 2013”, according to Gallup’s analysis, “shortly after millions of Americans received notices that their current policies were being canceled, which was at odds with President Barack Obama’s pledge that those who liked their plans could keep them. The president later said, by way of clarification, that Americans could keep their plans if those plans didn’t change after [ObamaCare] was passed.”

In other words, the law has continued to grow less popular with each new revelation that it was sold on a pack of lies.

Though completely repealing the entire law seems unlikely because the new Republican Senate majority is less than the number needed to overcome a certain Obama veto, the increasing levels of voter disapproval could convince some Senate Democrats to join Republicans in dismantling large parts.

Unless, that is, they want to risk involuntary retirement when their next election arrives.

November 14th, 2014 at 1:32 pm
Ponnuru: What to Do If SCOTUS Strikes Down ObamaCare Subsidies

With ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber’s admissions that the controversial health law was sold on a pack of lies, the probability is rising that the Supreme Court will interpret the law as written and eliminate subsidies for millions of people.

If that happens, will Republicans in Congress be ready?

In order to lay the groundwork for an ObamaCare alternative that covers as many or more people than the current law, and costs less, Republicans in Congress could unite behind a framework proposed by conservative health experts James Capretta and Yuval Levin. Similar ideas have been endorsed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the incoming-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

If the Supreme Court does strike down the subsidies, President Barack Obama won’t have much leverage since, “Much of ObamaCare would have just self-destructed due to its own design flaws and lack of public support, and Republicans would be offering a way to advance the law’s stated goal of assuring coverage – if not in the highly prescriptive and centralized manner the White House prefers”, writes Ramesh Ponnuru. “Democrats’ favored lines of attack on Republicans over health care – that they have no alternative, that they would take people off the insurance rolls – would have been neutralized.”

Sounds like a strategy worth pursuing.

November 13th, 2014 at 7:12 pm
Repeal of ObamaCare’s Medical Device Tax Coming Soon?

Repealing ObamaCare’s medical device tax is one of the ways to deprive the controversial health law of $30 billion in funding, so it’s no wonder Republicans in Congress are getting ready to do just that.

Unlike other features of ObamaCare – such as the individual and employer mandates – the medical device tax has bipartisan opposition because it threatens up to 43,000 jobs. So, even though President Barack Obama would likely veto any repeal bills that land on his desk, a measure killing the medical device tax might be able to attract enough votes to override him.

If successful, repealing the medical device tax might convince Democrats in Congress that ObamaCare isn’t sacrosanct. Maybe then they’ll be open to trying something else.

November 5th, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Can Congressional GOP Hang Together on ObamaCare?

Conservative health policy experts Avik Roy and Gracie-Marie Turner both have interesting long reads on what the new Republican majority in Congress should do to transition away from ObamaCare towards a more market friendly alternative.

Both call for a unified strategy focused on repealing ObamaCare’s most unpopular elements and daring President Barack Obama to veto. Importantly, both want the GOP to leave the door open for a truly patient-centered alternative that reduces the government’s role while increasing access to quality health care. It’s a tall order with little consensus.

Roy and Turner each have specific pathways for achieving their goals, and it’s worth reading their articles to get a sense of where conservative health policy may be heading. However, the success of a conservative ObamaCare alternative ultimately comes down to whether House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can corral enough of their members around a unified endpoint. That job is made trickier by the fact that the 2016 presidential campaign will soon be underway, with lots of Republican candidates keeping the specifics of their own ObamaCare alternatives close to the vest.

Going forward, the real goal for Boehner and McConnell is to get rid of what they can, minimize what they can’t and leave enough room for the 2016 presidential nominee to maneuver toward an alternative the public will support.

Easy? No. The price of leadership? You betcha.

October 8th, 2014 at 3:50 pm
Report: IRS Failed to Disclose Info in 100s of Cases

The IRS is out-of-control.

In the last year we’ve learned that Lois Lerner and other officials in the tax-exempt unit singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny before approving their requested non-profit status.

That was followed by revelations from IRS higher ups that they mysteriously lost thousands of emails from Lerner and others during the timeframe of interest to congressional investigators.

Last week, a private jet company alleged that the IRS “wiped clean a number of computer hard drives containing emails and other electronic documents that the Government was required to produce.”

And now this.

“The Internal Revenue Service wrongly withheld or failed to adequately search for records in hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests, while accidentally releasing sensitive taxpayer information in other instances, an independent government watchdog found,” reports the Washington Free Beacon.

The Beacon is summarizing an analysis released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

“TIGTA sampled FOIA requests to the IRS and found 11 percent ‘in which taxpayer rights may have been violated because the IRS improperly withheld or failed to adequately search for and provide information to the requestors’.”

As an independent federal agency, the IRS has a grave obligation to be accountable to the citizens it serves, either directly through FOIA requests or indirectly through congressional oversight panels. That the IRS seems chronically incapable – and increasingly, it seems, unwilling – to honor due process and the rule of law is reason enough to launch a full-scale reconsideration of what the agency does, how it does it and what kind of people should be entrusted to follow the rules.

October 6th, 2014 at 6:49 pm
Expert: ObamaCare Bailout of Insurance Industry Similar to Bush Era Prescription Drug Program

The Obama administration has been catching some flak over its intent to redirect taxpayer dollars toward a controversial “risk corridor” program designed to bailout ObamaCare-friendly health insurance companies that lose too much money.

The primary line of attack stems from the absence of any specific congressional appropriations to fund the program. Congressional Republicans and the Government Accountability Office say this precludes any end-run maneuvers to pay for it anyway, while the Obama administration is ignoring opposition.

But in the drive to add this abuse of executive discretion to President Barack Obama’s long list of power grabs, a bit of history is sure to make Republican critics think twice before pushing much farther.

“But Loren Adler, research director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, points out that a similar risk-protection program in the Medicare prescription drug program does not receive an explicit annual appropriation, yet has not been challenged,” reports an entry on the Modern Health Care blog. “He thinks that makes it highly unlikely that HHS will be deterred from making the payments to insurers under the risk corridors program.”

Indeed, any federal judge reviewing a future legal challenge to HHS’ pending move would very likely analogize the two programs and conclude that if Congress has not objected to the practice in one instance, and the two cases are similar, it probably intended to defer on both. In such a scenario, the end result is a judge (rightly) telling Congress to speak more clearly and fix the law.

The upshot of all this is that it makes everyone painfully aware of how important it is for Congress to pass clear laws. Republicans aren’t responsible for ObamaCare’s poor draftsmanship, but if they ever get enough power to make changes, they should take care to make them unambiguous to interpret.

September 30th, 2014 at 7:25 pm
HHS’ Burwell Caught Low-Balling Congress on Cost of Healthcare.gov

A new report by Bloomberg Government indicates that Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), gave a potentially misleading answer when she told Congress that Healthcare.gov – the federal government’s ObamaCare portal – cost taxpayers $834 million to build.

Nicole Kaeding at the CATO Institute teases out some of the unstated, but related, costs that balloon the overall price tag to $2.14 billion, far north of Burwell’s testimony.

I’ve summarized them here as bullet points:

  • $300 million contract to process paper applications to serve as backups to electronic files
  • $387 million for real-time interfacing between the IRS and Healthcare.gov to verify income and family size for insurance subsidy calculations
  • $400 million in accounting tricks HHS used to pay for creating Healthcare.gov when 26 states refused to take federal start-up grants to build their own. Congress made no appropriations to build Healthcare.gov, so HHS shifted money from other units to fund the project.
  • $255 million in spending between February 2014 – the end of Burwell’s timeline – and August 20, 2014, the most recent information available. Bloomberg also included projected spending at current levels through September 30, 2014, the end of the fiscal year.

These are the kinds of expenses that Members of Congress would expect the HHS Secretary to include when testifying about full cost of a program. The fact that Burwell gave a low-ball estimate when these figures were easily accessible to her or her staff weakens her credibility as an honest broker of information. As her departing colleague Eric Holder knows, once Congress loses its ability to trust a Cabinet official, the gloves come off.

August 27th, 2014 at 6:59 pm
IRS Erased Lois Lerner’s Blackberry AFTER Investigation Began

It’s been a rough five days for the Internal Revenue Service.

Last Friday attorneys at Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, said Department of Justice lawyers revealed a second back-up system that stores all government emails.

Presumably, this includes the emails to and from former IRS manager Lois Lerner’s account; emails that are sought by investigators on the House Oversight Committee because of Lerner’s connection to the potentially illegal targeting of conservative advocacy groups.

If true – DOJ officials are disputing Judicial Watch’s account of the conversation – this casts a serious shadow on the IRS’s credibility, since Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress under oath that the emails had been lost in a hard drive crash.

However many back-up systems there are – and whether Koskinen knew the number – the Commissioner has another integrity crisis brewing.

“Thomas Kane, Deputy Assistant Chief Counsel for the IRS, wrote in a declaration, part of a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the IRS, that [Lois Lerner’s] BlackBerry was ‘removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012,” reports Fox News.

The date is significant because congressional staff members had already interviewed Lerner about her role in the targeting operation. Deleting messages from her government-owned smartphone after that meeting – but before preserving the contents– looks like a thinly veiled attempt to destroy evidence.

The House Oversight Committee will have its hands full when Congress returns from its August recess.

Expect to see some high-profile hearings.

August 26th, 2014 at 7:57 pm
DOJ: We Have Lois Lerner’s “Lost” Emails

Apparently, you can lie to Congress but not to Judicial Watch.

The conservative watchdog organization is publicizing an admission by the Department of Justice that government officials can access emails reportedly lost in a hard drive crash.

The messages – correspondence to and from former IRS manager Lois Lerner – have been sought by congressional investigators seeking more information about the agency’s targeting of conservative advocacy groups filing for tax-exempt status.

In sworn testimony, IRS officials have told members of Congress that thousands of emails sent from Lerner’s government account could not be retrieved because a back-up system had also been erased.

But now attorneys at the DOJ are singing a different tune.

“Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Justice Department lawyers informed him that the federal government keeps a back-up copy of every email and record in the event of a government-wide catastrophe,” reports the Washington Examiner.

That includes Lerner’s IRS emails.

But don’t expect them to be produced anytime soon. The DOJ is claiming that the newly revealed back-up system would be “too onerous to search,” but did say that Treasury Department inspectors are looking into it.

While the litigators wrangle, we’re left with yet more evidence that the Obama administration doesn’t mind playing fast and loose with the truth – even under oath.

The House of Representatives already voted back in May to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify; making her the second administration official after Attorney General Eric Holder to receive such a dishonor.

If it’s true that top IRS brass lied under oath to Congress about the whereabouts of Lerner’s potentially damaging emails, one wonders what message House leadership would send to this latest act of executive defiance.

August 25th, 2014 at 7:06 pm
Pro-Amnesty Congressman: ‘Get Ready’ for Obama Executive Order

One of Congress’ biggest amnesty boosters is telling allies to “get ready” for a presidential announcement that could shield as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), an amnesty supporter who called on fellow Hispanics to “sign up to vote and punish those who speak ill and criminalize children who come to our border,” expects to hear very soon that President Barack Obama will issue an executive order to effectively legalize half of the United States’ illegal immigrant population.

“It’s music to my ears that someone would have a source at the White House that say it’s 5 million,” Gutierrez said on MSNBC today. “Let me just say, tomorrow, the next day, and all of this week we’re getting ready.”

By “getting ready,” Gutierrez means preparing to process 5 million quasi-legal residents into semi-permanent status. The problem is, Gutierrez has no idea what those structures will look like – or how they’ll be funded – because Congress has refused to pass any type of immigration reform that includes amnesty or anything like it.

Perhaps President Obama will opt for the complex “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status outlined in the Senate Gang of Eight bill that died in the House of Representatives. After all, Gutierrez and other amnesty supporters have “urged Obama to legalize all of the illegal immigrants that would have qualified under the Senate’s amnesty bill,” reports Breitbart News. If Obama can achieve the same policy goal as Congress, why can’t he do it using the same policy means?

Besides, just because the legislative branch won’t pass a law doesn’t prohibit the executive from doing whatever he wants, right?

Today, Gutierrez may be gleeful at the prospect of Obama violating the Constitution to benefit his pet issue, but he should remember: Once you brush aside the separation-of-powers, there’s no check on tyranny. Tomorrow, you lose.

August 21st, 2014 at 1:38 pm
Judge Orders Release of Fast and Furious Documents

Soon the American people may finally get some clarity about the Fast and Furious scandal.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the Department of Justice must provide a list of documents related to the gun-running scheme that it says are protected by executive privilege. The list will be turned over to investigators at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Disclosing the list will allow House investigators to challenge DOJ’s privilege claim for shielding each document, a case-by-case process that will likely result in at least some transparency into the murky program that enabled Mexican drug cartels to kill a U.S. Border Agent and scores of Mexicans.

H/T: National Review Online

August 14th, 2014 at 3:25 pm
Like IRS, CMS Emails Go Missing

It looks like Lois Lerner – the former IRS manager at the center of the scandal targeting conservative groups – isn’t the only Obama administration official who lost emails subpoenaed by Congress.

Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is now believed to have deleted emails sought by congressional investigators trying to understand why Healthcare.gov had such a horrendous rollout.

“In order to stay below the agency’s Microsoft Outlook email size limit, Tavenner would regularly delete emails after copying or forwarding them to her staff for retention,” says the MSNBC report that broke the story. “However, Tavenner didn’t follow that procedure every time, meaning some emails never made it to her staff for safekeeping before being deleted.”

That could turn out to be a costly oversight for Tavenner.

As Jillian Kay Melchior points out, “Federal law tasks heads of all federal agencies with ‘mak[ing] and preserv[ing] records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency and designed to furnish the information necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the agency’s activities.’”

Unlike Lerner who claims her IRS computer crashed taking with it unrecoverable emails – a claim disputed by IT experts inside and outside the tax-gathering agency – Tavenner, at best, is pleading that she’s too busy to follow the law. At worst, she’s the latest Obama administration official caught skirting her legal obligations to hide inconvenient truths.

To my knowledge, Tavenner isn’t considered an overt Obama loyalist, so it’s possible that the missing emails are a genuine oversight by a busy administrator. The trouble is, Tavenner works in an administration seemingly filled with people who are unwilling to comply with the kind of document sharing necessary for the people – through Congress – to understand and judge what unelected bureaucrats are doing. One of the tragedies of bad behavior by some is the suspicion it casts on everyone else on the team.

So be it.

Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has already pledged to hold hearings on alleged wrongdoing by agency heads when Congress returns from its August recess.

Don’t be surprised to see a hearing scheduled to get the truth about Tavenner’s missing emails.

August 11th, 2014 at 2:24 pm
HHS to Fund Coming ObamaCare Bailout of Insurance Companies

What makes conservatives so sure that the Obama administration will bailout insurance companies losing money under ObamaCare?

“According to a recent investigation conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Darrell Issa, insurers widely expect to receive funds from the bailout program,” writes U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). “One large insurer recently filed financial statements claiming they expect part of their revenue to come from American taxpayers via the ObamaCare bailout ‘fund.’”

Thwarted by the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who refuse to appropriate money for this part of ObamaCare, the Department of Health and Human Services “figured out a way to use general funds available through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to pay off health insurers,” says Rubio. “The effect is to circumvent Congress’ power of the purse for the purpose of bailing out health insurers with taxpayer funds.”

Whether it’s the CIA lying about spying on congressional investigators or IRS officials conveniently losing potentially damaging emails, executive branch officials in the Obama administration are destroying the ability of anybody outside their clique from being able to trust anything they say.

August 4th, 2014 at 2:21 pm
Obama’s CIA Caught Spying on Congress

Obama’s CIA Director was caught lying to Congress about spying on a Senate investigative committee, and so far it looks like his only punishment will be an apology tour.

In March, CIA Director John Brennan took issue with a line of questioning by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) alleging that the agency had hacked into a computer system used by Senate investigators. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that,” he said.

His cover blown, Brennan is facing bipartisan calls for his resignation. Despite his earlier claim, the embattled director is hoping his apology will quiet the critics and spare him the same fate as David Petraeus, his predecessor who was hounded from office by revelations of an extra-marital affair.

I’m no fan of firing people to make a point, but one does wonder what Congress could and should do now that the CIA – an executive branch agency – has been shown to be spying on a portion of the legislative branch.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds provides some answers.

“Congress can, of course, charge Brennan with contempt of Congress, or refer him for prosecution under the False Statements Act. But in both cases, the decision to prosecute would be made by Attorney General Eric Holder, who seems to see his role not as administering justice, but as running interference for the Obama administration and protecting its officials from consequences.”

Perhaps better, then, to make the agency as a whole feel the brunt of punishment for acting badly. “Probably the best that Congress can do is to punish the entire CIA by using its budgetary power to make employees’ lives worse: Cutting back on bonuses, raises, conferences, and other perks.”

None of these answers are completely satisfying. Punishing everyone for the misdeeds of a few can be precisely as unjust as the initial bad act. The truth is we want and need competent, honest public servants whose tenure in office won’t trigger massive expenditures of time and money cleaning up their messes. Until the man in the Oval Office sets a better example for following the rule of law, we’ll likely continue to see his subordinates faithlessly executing their duties.

April 26th, 2014 at 5:57 pm
Bad News: Holder Says He’s Staying

Any hopes the GOP had that Kathleen Sebelius’ resignation as HHS Secretary might convince fellow Obama Cabinet member Eric Holder to do the same were quashed on Friday.

“The Attorney General does not plan to leave before the mid-terms,” said a Justice Department official. “That does not mean that he is definitely leaving after the mid-terms, just that he is at least staying through that time.”

Prior to Sebelius taking the fall for ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout, it was Holder who was the face of bureaucratic scandal. Though voted in Contempt of Congress by the House of Representatives, Holder continues to stonewall investigators on details surrounding the “Fast and Furious” program that led to the deaths of at least one American and dozens of Mexicans.

Credit Sebelius with this much – At least the department she ran wasn’t responsible for killing anyone on her watch.

February 7th, 2014 at 4:55 pm
The Case for Expanding the House
Posted by Troy Senik Print

Here in Southern California, the biggest development in recent weeks has been the announcement that hyper-liberal congressman Henry Waxman — who’s held a House seat from the Los Angeles area for 40 years — is finally stepping down at the end of the current session.

Given how long Waxman has dominated the politics of the area, it’s no surprise that there’s a long list of candidates lining up to succeed him. There’s another reason, however, for the glut of competition: this is an enormous district of wildly divergent communities. In my weekly column for the Orange County Register, I argue that this stems from a mistake in how we’ve organized the lower chamber for the past 85 years:

The physical distance between the northwestern edge of Waxman’s 33rd District, in Malibu, and its southeastern terminus, in San Pedro, is more than 40 miles. The cultural difference can only be measured in light years. The South Bay, the Westside, the Conejo Valley, and the coastal refuges of Pacific Palisades and Malibu are all worlds unto themselves, populated by citizens who view themselves as distinct from one another. The idea that they should all be represented by one person in Congress makes a mockery of the notion that House districts represent discrete, coherent communities.

That sort of absurdity is inevitable, however, given the fact that the House was severed from its original purpose 85 years ago, when Congress passed the Reapportionment Act of 1929. That law fixed the number of seats in the House of Representatives at 435, dictating that the available seats would be redistributed among the states based on population changes in each census, instead of adding new ones, which had been the historical practice (the House had grown to 435 from its original number of only 65). As a result, the average House district now consists of over 700,000 people – a far cry from the original system, where there was one representative for approximately 33,000 souls.

Whoever inherits Waxman’s seat will represent more people than the U.S. senators from the states of Wyoming or Vermont. Were the ratios employed by the founders still in use today, California’s 33rd Congressional District would actually be split into 21 discrete House seats.

Returning to that standard may be overkill; it would swell the ranks of the House of Representatives to over 9,500 members. Some expansion, however, is surely justified to create House districts small enough to actually represent something like the will of a coherent community. Until such changes are made, the notion of the House as the “people’s chamber” will be little more than a touch of historical nostalgia.

I’ll also note that having an enlarged House would (A) make it harder for special interests to capture critical masses of legislators and (b) have the practical effect of making it cheaper to run for Congress and allowing more true citizen-legislators to emerge. In short, it would make it harder to consolidate power in Congress—which is precisely why most sitting lawmakers won’t support it…and why it’s the right thing to do.

January 14th, 2014 at 6:10 pm
Obama’s “Pen-and-Phone” Strategy

Get ready for more presidential overreach.

Today, Barack Obama convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Unwilling to negotiate with Republicans in Congress, the President threatened to bypass the legislative process in order to impose his preferred policies through executive orders.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” CBS’ DC affiliate quotes the President telling Cabinet members. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

Quick, grab the pen and unplug the phone!

What Obama is promising is to intervene in every stage of an American worker’s lifecycle, without any input from the 535 people elected to represent their diverse interests in Congress. Instead, he will rely on the accumulated wisdom of the bureaucratic and trade association elites to impose change in a centralized, top-down fashion.

It’s as if after five years of running annual trillion dollar deficits, destabilizing the health insurance market, destroying the coal industry and presiding over the largest increase in food stamp use in history the President thinks he needs to increase his influence over the nation’s economy.

It would be better if instead of rushing to issue a flurry of short-lived orders President Obama instead took the remainder of his lame duck tenure for what it is: An opportunity to see the big picture and exercise some humility.

Republicans are interested in talking about poverty reduction. Obama – whose upcoming State of the Union speech is rumored to include a section on income inequality – should meet them half way. Have a real conversation. In private and in public. Elevate thoughtful opponents like Paul Ryan so that the American people see two powerful intellects engaging a serious issue in a respectful way. In short, dabble in statesmanship.

Obama’s executive orders will expire the moment he leaves office. They will also incite partisan opposition, and rightly so since each will represent an end-run around the lawmaking process.

Mr. President, you can do a lot better than your so-called “pen-and-phone” strategy. America deserves it.