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Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (PDF)
Source: Perspectives on Politics (forthcoming)

Each of four theoretical traditi ons in the study of Am erican politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

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CRS — Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Campaign Contribution Limits: Selected Questions About McCutcheon and Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Recently invalidated aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions capped the total amount that one can give to all candidates, parties, or political action committees (PACs). For the 2014 election cycle, the aggregate limit for individual contributions was $123,200.The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the aggregate limits on April 2, 2014. Alabama contributor Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) brought the case, McCutcheon v. FEC, after the aggregate limits prevented McCutcheon from contributing as desired to federal candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle. The decision does not affect “base limits” that individuals may contribute to particular candidates or parties. Instead, McCutcheon permits individuals to give limited contributions to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

This report offers a preliminary analysis of major policy issues and potential implications that appear to be most relevant as the House and Senate decide whether or how to respond to McCutcheon. With the aggregate limits relaxed, additional funds might flow to candidate committees, party committees, or PACs. Joint fundraising committees and leadership PACs might expand as tools to funnel large contributions to multiple candidate committees, parties, or PACs. Disclosure of contributors who exceed the current aggregate limits might also be a policy concern. It is important to note that whether these possibilities will occur is unclear at this time.

This report will be updated to reflect major developments. This version of the report supersedes previous versions.

CRS — The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress

April 22, 2014 Comments off

The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways of amending the nation’s fundamental charter. Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses, may propose amendments to the states for ratification, a procedure used for all 27 current amendments. Alternatively, if the legislatures of two-thirds of the states apply, 34 at present, Congress “shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments…. ” This alternative, known as an Article V Convention, has yet to be implemented. This report examines the Article V Convention, focusing on contemporary issues for Congress. CRS Report R42592, The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives for Congress examines the procedure’s constitutional origins and history and provides an analysis of related state procedures.

CRS — Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress’s contempt power is the means by which Congress responds to certain acts that in its view obstruct the legislative process. Contempt may be used either to coerce compliance, to punish the contemnor, and/or to remove the obstruction. Although arguably any action that directly obstructs the effort of Congress to exercise its constitutional powers may constitute a contempt, in recent times the contempt power has most often been employed in response to noncompliance with a duly issued congressional subpoena—whether in the form of a refusal to appear before a committee for purposes of providing testimony, or a refusal to produce requested documents.

See also: Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: A Sketch (PDF)

CRS — Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (updated)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides the results of recent elections in Latin America and the Caribbean. Below are three tables organized by region, including the date of each country’s independence, the name of the newly elected president or prime minister, and the projected date of the next election. Information in this report was gathered from numerous sources, including the U.S. State Department, the CIA’s Open Source, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and other news sources.

CRS — Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response (updated)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. In Doe v. Bolton, a companion decision, the Court found that a state may not unduly burden the exercise of that fundamental right with regulations that prohibit or substantially limit access to the means of effectuating the decision to have an abortion. Rather than settle the issue, the Court’s rulings since Roe and Doe have continued to generate debate and have precipitated a variety of governmental actions at the national, state, and local levels designed either to nullify the rulings or limit their effect. These governmental regulations have, in turn, spawned further litigation in which resulting judicial refinements in the law have been no more successful in dampening the controversy.

CRS — Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate (updated)

April 11, 2014 Comments off

Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Library)

As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major point of contention is the question of whether action is needed to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” While there is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality,” most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.

A major focus in the debate is concern over whether it is necessary for policymakers to take steps to ensure access to the Internet for content, services, and applications providers, as well as consumers, and if so, what these steps should be. Some policymakers contend that more specific regulatory guidelines may be necessary to protect the marketplace from potential abuses which could threaten the net neutrality concept. Others contend that existing laws and policies are sufficient to deal with potential anti-competitive behavior and that additional regulations would have negative effects on the expansion and future development of the Internet.

The January 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit (Verizon Communications Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, D.C. Cir., No.11-1355) upholding the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to regulate broadband providers, but striking down the specific anti-blocking and nondiscrimination rules of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order has focused attention on the issue. Three measures (H.R. 3982, H.R. 4070, and S. 1981) have been introduced in direct response to the January 2014 court decision, and subsequent FCC action. A consensus on the net neutrality issue has remained elusive. Some Members of Congress support FCC regulation of broadband providers, others feel that the regulation of the Internet is not only unnecessary, but harmful. It is anticipated that the issue of access to broadband networks will be of continued interest to policymakers.

Few Americans Know Where Elected Officials and Candidates Stand on Government Support for Research and Innovation, New Polling Booklet Reveals

April 10, 2014 Comments off

Few Americans Know Where Elected Officials and Candidates Stand on Government Support for Research and Innovation, New Polling Booklet Reveals
Source: Research!America

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say it’s important for candidates running for office to assign a high priority to funding medical research, according to America Speaks, Volume 14, a compilation of key questions from public opinion polls commissioned by Research!America. Polling shows that Americans place a high value on U.S. leadership in medical innovation, yet only 12% say they are very well informed about the positions of their senators and representative when it comes to their support of medical and scientific research. www.researchamerica.org/poll_summary.

To help close this knowledge gap, Research!America and partner organizations are launching a national voter education initiative, Ask Your Candidates! Is Medical Research Progress a Priority? Through online and grassroots activities, social media strategies and on-the-ground events, congressional candidates will be urged to share their views on government policies and support for medical innovation conducted in both the public and private sectors. www.askyourcandidates.org.

Pew Index Shows 40 States Improved Election Performance in 2012

April 8, 2014 Comments off

Pew Index Shows 40 States Improved Election Performance in 2012
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

Between 2008 and 2012, state election performance overall improved by 4.4 percentage points, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest Elections Performance Index, released today. The expanded index makes it possible for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to measure how well they conducted elections compared not only with other states, but also over time.

This annual study allows states to measure election administration by looking at such indicators as wait times at polling locations, availability of voting information tools online, rejection of voter registrations, problems with registration or absentee ballots, rejection of military and overseas ballots, voter turnout, and accuracy of voting technology.

Overall, 40 states and the district improved their scores in the 2012 election, compared with 2008. The scores of 21 states and the district rose at a rate greater than the national average, 19 states’ averages improved but didn’t keep pace with the national average, and 10 states’ performance declined. The district improved the most—20 points—from 2008 to 2012 but still remained among the lower performers.

CRS — The Debate Over Selected Presidential Assistants and Advisors: Appointment, Accountability, and Congressional Oversight

April 7, 2014 Comments off

The Debate Over Selected Presidential Assistants and Advisors: Appointment, Accountability, and Congressional Oversight (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

A number of the appointments made by President Barack H. Obama to his Administration or by Cabinet secretaries to their departments have been referred to, especially by the news media, as “czars.” For some, the term is used to convey an appointee’s title (e.g., climate “czar”) in shorthand. For others, it is being used to convey a sense that power is being centralized in the White House or certain entities. When used in political science literature, the term generally refers to White House policy coordination or an intense focus by the appointee on an issue of great magnitude. Congress has noticed these appointments and in the 111th Congress examined some of them. The Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, for example, conducted hearings on the “czar” issue on October 6, 2009, and October 22, 2009, respectively.

One issue of interest to Congress may be whether some of these appointments (particularly some of those to the White House Office), made outside of the advice and consent process of the Senate, circumvent the requirements of the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A second issue of interest may be whether the activities of such appointees are subject to oversight by Congress.

This report provides background information and selected views on the role of some of these appointees. Additionally, it discusses some of the constitutional concerns that have been raised about presidential advisors. These include, for example, the kinds of positions that qualify as the type that must be filled in accordance with the Appointments Clause, with a focus on examining a few existing positions established by statute, executive order, and regulation. The report also reviews certain congressional oversight processes and assesses the applicability of these processes to presidential advisors. Legislative and non-legislative options for congressional consideration are presented.

CRS — The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Issues

April 7, 2014 Comments off

The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The deadlocked November 2000 presidential election focused national attention on previously obscure details of election administration. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court had resolved the election in December, numerous bills to address the failings of the election system were introduced in Congress and state legislatures. The response at the federal level was the Help America Vote Act (HAVA; P.L. 107-252), enacted in 2002. HAVA created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), established a set of election administration requirements, and provided federal funding, but did not supplant state and local control over election administration. Several issues have arisen or persisted in the years since HAVA was enacted. This report provides background information about HAVA and its provisions, the EAC, funding for the agency and for state programs to improve elections, and a number of enduring election administration issues.

CRS — Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile (updated)

April 7, 2014 Comments off

Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

This report presents a profile of the membership of the 113th Congress (2013-2014). Statistical information is included on selected characteristics of Members, including data on party affiliation, average age, occupation, education, length of congressional service, religious affiliation, gender, ethnicity, foreign births, and military service.

CRS — Considering Legislation on the House Floor: Common Practices in Brief

April 7, 2014 Comments off

Considering Legislation on the House Floor: Common Practices in Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via MSPB Watch)

This brief overview explains the most common ways legislation is considered on the House floor, and it describes the types of questions most likely to be voted on and the opportunities for legislative debate that are most frequently used by Members.

Does Secular Education Impact Religiosity, Electoral Participation and the Propensity to Vote for Islamic Parties? Evidence from an Education Reform in a Muslim Country

April 6, 2014 Comments off

Does Secular Education Impact Religiosity, Electoral Participation and the Propensity to Vote for Islamic Parties? Evidence from an Education Reform in a Muslim Country (PDF)
Source: Institute for the Study of Labor

Using a unique survey of adults in Turkey, we find that an increase in educational attainment, due to an exogenous secular education reform, decreases women’s propensity to identify themselves as religious, lowers their tendency to wear a religious head cover (head scarf, turban or burka) and increases the tendency for modernity. Education reduces women’s propensity to vote for Islamic parties. There is no statistically significant impact of education on men’s religiosity or their tendency to vote for Islamic parties and education does not influence the propensity to cast a vote in national elections for men or women. The impact of education on religiosity and voting preference is not working through migration, residential location or labor force participation.

The Political Economy of Discretionary Spending: Evidence from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

April 5, 2014 Comments off

The Political Economy of Discretionary Spending: Evidence from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Source: Brookings Institution

Members of Congress don’t appear to have successfully used their influence to send stimulus-funded projects to their districts, but targeting areas with high local unemployment rates did not play much of a role either.

CRS — Financial Assets and Conflict of Interest Regulation in the Executive Branch

April 3, 2014 Comments off

Financial Assets and Conflict of Interest Regulation in the Executive Branch (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

Congressional offices reviewing or conducting oversight concerning the operations of executive agencies and departments, reviewing executive branch nominees for high-level appointments, or responding to constituent inquiries or petitions, may often be confronted with issues and questions of possible “conflicts of interest” of agency officials or nominees. This report summarizes and analyzes the issues of conflicts of interest that are addressed in federal law and regulation regarding officers and employees in the executive branch of the federal government.

CRS — Social Security Reform: Current Issues and Legislation (updated)

April 3, 2014 Comments off

Social Security Reform: Current Issues and Legislation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library

Social Security reform is an issue of ongoing interest to policy makers. In recent years, Social Security program changes have been discussed in the context of negotiations on legislation to increase the federal debt limit and reduce federal budget deficits. For example, in August 2011, the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) established a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction tasked with recommending ways to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the fiscal year period 2012 to 2021. Social Security program changes were among the measures discussed by the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee, however, did not reach agreement on a legislative proposal by the statutory deadline. Looking ahead, Social Security program changes could again be considered as part of any future negotiations on broad deficit reduction legislation or as stand-alone Social Security legislation.

The spectrum of ideas for reform ranges from relatively minor changes to the pay-as-you-go social insurance system enacted in the 1930s to a redesigned, “modernized” program based on personal savings and investments modeled after IRAs and 401(k)s. Proponents of the fundamentally different approaches to reform cite varying policy objectives that go beyond simply restoring long-term financial stability to the Social Security system. They cite objectives that focus on improving the adequacy and equity of benefits, as well as those that reflect different philosophical views about the role of the Social Security program and the federal government in providing retirement income. However, the system’s projected long-range financial outlook provides a backdrop for much of the Social Security reform debate in terms of the timing and degree of recommended program changes.

Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown; Majority have consistently aligned with Democratic Party since 2006

March 29, 2014 Comments off

Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown; Majority have consistently aligned with Democratic Party since 2006
Source: Gallup

Young adults — those between the ages of 18 and 29 — have typically aligned themselves with the Democratic Party, but they have become substantially more likely to do so since 2006.

From 1993 to 2003, 47% of 18- to 29-year-olds, on average, identified as Democrats or said they were independents but leaned to the Democratic Party, while 42% were Republicans or Republican leaners. That time span included two years in which young adults tilted Republican, 1994 and 1995, when Republicans won control of Congress. Since 2006, the average gap in favor of the Democratic Party among young adults has been 18 percentage points, 54% to 36%.

This Democratic movement among the young has come at a time when senior citizens have become more Republican. The broader U.S. population has shown more variability in its party preferences in recent years, shifting Democratic from 2005 to 2008, moving back toward the Republican Party from 2009 to 2011, and showing modest Democratic preferences in the last two years.

CRS — Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy (updated)

March 28, 2014 Comments off

Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service

After a failed effort to violently disperse pro-European Union protests, the government of President Viktor Yanukovych collapsed on February 21, 2014. He fled from Kyiv, as did many of his supporters, and protestors took over Kyiv. The Ukrainian parliament approved a new proreform, pro-Western government on February 27. The parliament has scheduled new presidential elections for May 25, 2014. Russia has condemned the new government in Kyiv as illegitimate and responded by sending troops to seize Ukraine’s Crimea region. Ignoring U.S. and international condemnation, Russia annexed Crimea on March 18. Ukrainian officials charge that Russia is also trying to stir unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine, where many Russian-speakers live, perhaps in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of those regions.

Ukraine’s new government faces serious economic problems. Ukraine has long-standing problems in attracting foreign investment, in part due to rampant corruption and other shortcomings in the rule of law. In the near term, the government’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves have raised the prospect of a default on sovereign debt later this year, unless the government can secure new loans quickly.

Congressional Officials Grant Access Due To Campaign Contributions: A Randomized Field Experiment

March 28, 2014 Comments off

Congressional Officials Grant Access Due To Campaign Contributions: A Randomized Field Experiment (PDF)
Source: University of California-Berkeley

Concern that lawmakers grant preferential treatment to individuals because they have contributed to political campaigns has long occupied jurists, scholars, and the public. However, the effects of campaign contributions on legislators’ behavior have proven notoriously difficult to assess. We report the first randomized field experiment on the topic. In the experiment, a political organization attempted to schedule meetings between 191 Members of Congress and their constituents who had contributed to political campaigns. However, the organization randomly assigned whether it informed legislators’ offices that individuals who would attend the meetings were contributors. Congressional offices made considerably more senior officials available for meetings when offices were informed the attendees were donors, with senior officials attending such meetings more than three times as often (p < 0.01). Influential policymakers thus appear to make themselves much more accessible to individuals because they have contributed to campaigns, even in the absence of quid pro quo arrangements. These findings have significant implications for ongoing legal and legislative debates. The hypothesis that individuals can command greater attention from influential policymakers by contributing to campaigns has been among the most contested explanations for how financial resources translate into political power. The simple but revealing experiment presented here elevates this hypothesis from extensively contested to scientifically supported.

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