Gerrymandering creates endless conflict
(New Castle, Pa., News)
The national approval rating for Congress hovers around 18 percent, according to various polls.
We think that figure speaks volumes about the disgust most Americans have for the House and Senate.
(We also think it speaks volumes about the 18 percent of Americans who apparently think Washington is working quite well. What’s wrong with them?)
Anyway, with this sort of approval rating, you might conclude most lawmakers are in trouble with the folks back home. Such a stark revelation of public opinion ought to signal a massive voter backlash.
But that’s not the case. Most members of Congress enjoy what are called “safe” seats. Absent some sort of scandal or other unexpected turn of events, they face little danger of being thrown out of office.
And as Congress’ overall popularity drops, the number of safe seats seems to grow.
According to Nate Silver, the New York Times data analyst who picked 50 out of 50 states correctly in November’s presidential election, the House had 103 swing districts in 1992 — meaning they were up for grabs by either party. Today, Silver calculates that number at just 35.
The reason has to do with a process called gerrymandering. Both parties have gotten the practice of carving out safe districts down to a hard science.
Congressional redistricting in most states is designed to serve the party in power and the incumbents who hold seats. Creating compact, sensible districts that serve constituencies is of no concern to those making the decisions.
Not only does the lack of competitive districts protect incumbents, it also contributes to the ideological gulf we are seeing in Washington. Basically, most incumbents in the House retain their seats by appealing to the activist voters in their district — either Democrats or Republicans. For most of these lawmakers, there is no incentive to reach across the aisle or talk about the need to compromise.
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Strip pork, then OK Sandy relief bill
(The Free Press – Mankato, Minn.)
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to take up amendments to its own Sandy relief package that on the face appears to do what the original Senate bill failed to do -- concentrate solely on providing relief.
The bill includes $17 billion in emergency appropriations and another $33.7 billion in relief for longer-term recovery efforts in the northeast.
What it does not include is what "porked up" the Senate bill causing some House Republicans to halt on advancing the bill further. This failure to approve drew much publicized vitriolic rage against the House and especially Speaker John Boehner as being callous to the people suffering in the New York and New Jersey areas.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, upon learning of the GOP delay, lambasted the U.S. House for the "palace intrigue" and Boehner in particular saying "politics was placed before serving our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch." He went on further to say "we've got people down there who use the citizens of this country like pawns on a chessboard."
We agree the delay on providing relief was somewhat callous and the lack of communication with northeast leaders was unjustified. But we also acknowledge that there were games being played by the Senate that waved a red flag toward members of the House.
One reason the GOP balked at approving the bill was it included such items as $2 million to repair roof damage at Smithsonian buildings in Washington, D.C.; $336 million for Amtrak-related expenses; $8 million to buy new cars for federal agencies; $150 million for fisheries in Mississippi and Alaska; $4 million for repairs at the Kennedy Space Center and relief for droughts and fires across the country.
This latest offering from the House -- while inexcusably late -- has the right intention of actually providing funds for which it is intended. If there could be further acknowledgment that is that way bills should be passed, we could move bills faster and escape more "palace intrigue" that Christie deplores.