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The Numbers Don’t Lie: Women Make More Effective Legislators Than Men

By Emily Greenhouse, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Everyone knows that Congress does very, very little. The Washington Post crunched the numbers last year and found that, mathematically,”no Congress in 40 years has been paid more to pass less legislation.” It’s also a fact that Congress is heavily male. The current, 114th Congress has a record 104 women — but that’s 104 of 535 lawmakers in all. (And somehow we’re supposed to cheer.)

But what if these things are connected — that men are less likely to introduce legislation and cut deals than women? It turns out that women have been considerably more likely than their male counterparts to get bills through, and to achieve that near-unicorn of modern Washington: bipartisan agreement.

The numbers, as published Thursday by a new startup called Quorum, founded not a month ago by two Harvard seniors, seem to bear this out. Over the last seven years, in the Senate, the “average” female senator has introduced 96.31 bills, while the “average” male introduced 70.72. In the House, compare 29.65 for women, and 27.2 for men. And women were more likely to gain co-sponsorship: In the Senate, women had an average of 9.10 co-sponsors, men 5.94. In the House, the difference was smaller — but women still proved better, or more interested, in sponsoring together: Female Representatives averaged 16.84 co-sponsors, and men 14.64.

There are effective female dealmakers from both sides, though more are Democrats, probably because there are more Democratic female members of Congress. In the Senate, Quorum’s co-founders, Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks, told me that Dianne Feinstein has sponsored the most bills of any female senator: 300. Amy Klobuchar is next, at 215, then Kirsten Gillibrand 204, Barbara Boxer 176, and Patty Murray 126. In the House, Sheila Jackson Lee leads, with 177, then Carolyn Maloney at 163, Eleanor Norton a 136, Barbara Lee at 96, and Rosa DeLaura at 91. Senator Boxer has had the most sponsored bills enacted — ten, followed by Feinstein and Klobuchar (both seven), then Patty Murray and Lisa Murkowski. In the House, Reps. Norton and Maloney lead, and then Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Nydia Velazquez, and Ann Kirkpatrick.

Women are also more likely to co-sponsor with other women than men are with other men. From the 111th Congress to the present one, the typical female senator cosponsored 6.29 bills with another female senator, as opposed to 4.07 bills cosponsored by male senators with a male peer. Ironically, one contributing factor may be that the limited number of women helps create strong bonds that facilitate collaboration. Trend pieces have been written before about the supper club of bipartisan female senators who meet monthly at each other’s places, or — give this a minute to sink in — in the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond room. Senator Barbara Mikulksi started it; she told Margaret Carlson some years ago that the members call her Coach Barb. She said, “When a new woman is elected to the Senate — Republican or Democrat — I bring her in for my Senate Power Workshop and guide her on how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.” It could be a coincidence that Mikulski has a high average number of co-sponsors for bills in the Senate — Senators Shelley Capito, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren and Mikulski all average more than ten co-sponsors per bill — or it could have something to do with this sense of camaraderie. (For the House, Terri Sewell led, at 64, and then Anna Eshoo, Katherine Clark, Louise Slaughter and Kay Granger.)

There’s also an unusual streak of bipartisanship. Susan Collins co-sponsored a whopping 740 bills with opposite party sponsors. Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored 445, Kelly Ayotte 217, Klobuchar 200, and Mazie Hirono 172. (The dinner group may have helped, at least in the cases of Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Murkowski, a Republican. They may have political disagreements, but, Klobuchar told Carlson, “But when we went on family vacation to Alaska. Lisa had us over to her house.”) In the House, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen cosponsored 458 bills that had an opposite party sponsor. Norton, Maloney, Madelein Bardallo and Zoe Lofgren were also active on that front.

Yes, it could be the need for banding-togetherness, against an overwhelming male majority, that makes women masters of deals. It could also be something about women, or how women are conditioned. Last December, in something of a holiday wish-list, Michael Lewis wrote for Bloomberg View that women should “henceforth make all Wall Street trading decisions.” They are less prone to egregious risk-taking, and overconfidence. Lewis compared trading to pornography: “Women may like it, but they don’t like it nearly as much as men, and they certainly don’t like it in ways that create difficulties for society. Put them in charge of all financial decision-making and the decisions will be more boring, but more sociable.”

Boring, sociable — how about just plain effective?

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flick

Big Media’s Crummy Advice For Democrats

Before anyone even knew just how badly the Democrats would get trounced in the 2014 midterm elections, some pundits were already sending the party a message: Be more like the Republicans.

Now they don’t put it that way, exactly.

The professional campaign watchers like to say instead that the Democratic Party needs to move to the “middle” or the “center.” What they mean is that the Democrats should get closer to the Republicans on the issues.

Think about this for a second.

The turnout for the midterm elections was the lowest in 70 years. Can we really expect more people to get excited about voting if the two major political parties become more like one another?

It doesn’t make much sense, but that’s Big Media’s remedy.

For example, after Senate Democrats voted to give the populist senator Elizabeth Warren a leadership role in their caucus, CBS host Bob Schieffer told one Democrat that it was “going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left,” when the advice from “a lot of people” is that nothing will get done in Washington unless “both parties move toward the center.”

USA Today actually recommended that Barack Obama steal an idea from post-Iran-Contra Ronald Reagan and apologize on TV. What for? The newspaper didn’t say.

The problem, as The New York Times saw it, was that the Democrats had gone too far to the left under Obama: “Democrats largely abandoned the more centrist, line-blurring approach of Bill Clinton to motivate an ascendant bloc of liberal voters,” the paper insisted.

But that’s a dubious description of Obama-era Democrats.

On foreign policy, after all, the White House has escalated the war in Afghanistan, carried out drone attacks on several countries, helped engineer a disastrous Libyan War, and is now going back into Iraq.

The centerpiece of Obama’s domestic policy, meanwhile — the Affordable Care Act — was borrowed from Mitt Romney, who established a similar initiative as the governor of Massachusetts. And the law’s “individual mandate” to buy insurance was first cooked up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

But if that’s what the media considers veering left, what do Beltway insiders think the White House should do to make up for it?

For them, the first order of business is, well, big business: Obama should push through the secretive, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. People who actually turned up to vote must find this peculiar, since almost no one was talking up the deal before Election Day.

What else should Obama do, according to these pundits? Approve the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump dirty tar sands oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast for refining.

Why would a president who says he cares about the climate crisis do this? To be more bipartisan, apparently.

Does any of this sound like the message voters were sending?

Not at all.

In fact, one of the most intriguing findings to come out of the 2014 exit polls was that voters overwhelmingly think the economic system favors the wealthy: 63 percent of respondents said so, up from 56 in 2012.

This would suggest that a more vigorous brand of economic populism would resonate with voters — even if the pundits would hate it.

Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Distributed via OtherWords.

Screenshot: Face the Nation via OtherWords

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Plain Vanilla Bipartisanship

WASHINGTON — When does Congress become so embarrassed by its laughably low approval ratings that its leaders decide to pass laws to make our country a modestly better place? Is there a plain vanilla agenda that might pass muster across party lines?

If you thought attitudes about Congress couldn’t get any worse, consider the Washington Post/ABC News poll’s finding this week that 51 percent of Americans disapproved of their own House member. This was the first time in the 25 years the poll has been asking the question that a majority disapproved of their representative. Usually, people hate the body as a whole but like their own guy or woman.

Congress in the abstract does fare much worse. The Real Clear Politics average puts approval of the institution at 12.6 percent. And Republicans are especially unpopular: the Post/ABC poll found that while 49 percent of Americans held a favorable view of the Democratic Party, only 35 percent had a favorable view of the GOP.

The conventional take is that Republicans don’t need to be concerned because their supporters vote in larger numbers in midterm elections and the big fights of 2014 are mostly on conservative turf.

But at some point, doesn’t pride kick in? Do Republicans really want to be known as a purely negative party? The GOP’s establishment was pleased that it once again beat back the Tea Party with Senator Pat Roberts’ victory in Tuesday’s Kansas primary. Might this not give the party a little more room to work with Democrats on something?

That’s where the plain vanilla agenda comes in. Yes, the label risks dooming the enterprise. The phrase comes from President Obama — last week, he scolded House Republicans for blocking “even basic, common-sense, plain vanilla legislation” — and many conservatives presume anything associated with Obama is toxic.

Still, it’s an instructive concept to encourage a search for policy ideas that ought not be terribly controversial. To construct such an agenda, I sat down this week with Heather Boushey and Elisabeth Jacobs of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. We put together two lists. The as-plain-as-possible-vanilla list included proposals that already have a lot of Republican support. The ought-to-be-plain-vanilla ideas either once won GOP backing or should have appeal, given other things to which conservatives are committed.

On the first list: extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for single, childless people; a refundable Child Tax Credit; and a big infrastructure bill, perhaps including an Infrastructure Bank.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has already endorsed the expansion of the EITC, which rewards work by boosting the incomes of those who have jobs. The Child Tax Credit is popular in principle among Republicans. Making it refundable ensures that less well-off people who often pay Social Security taxes but not income taxes get help in raising their kids.

On infrastructure, my guide is former Rep. Steve LaTourette, an Ohio Republican who once told me that he left Congress when he realized it couldn’t even pass transportation bills anymore. The inability of Congress to agree on rebuilding our country is a national disgrace.

And here’s the ought-to-be-plain-vanilla list: a minimum-wage increase (many Republicans used to vote for it); pre-kindergarten expansion (many of the most ambitious pre-K programs are in Republican-led states such as Oklahoma and Georgia); paid family leave (financed as an insurance program so employers don’t carry the whole load); and the right not to be fired just for requesting a flexible work schedule.

It shows how hard it is to get even to plain vanilla when you consider that some conservative researchers have questioned the long-term value of pre-K programs and that the House recently voted to extend the Child Tax Credit to somewhat more affluent families while, unconscionably, allowing it to expire eventually for low-income families.

This means our second list has a Democratic feel to it — which is precisely what Republicans should worry about. The GOP talks a great deal about family values, but what, pray, is it willing to do to ease life for parents trying to make a living and do right by their kids at the same time? And do conservatives really think that Georgia and Oklahoma are foolish for investing in the education of the very young?

Congress will stay in the ratings dumpster as long as voters see it as not even trying to meet the country’s basic challenges. If plain vanilla doesn’t do it for you, offer another flavor. But let’s stay away from exotic ideology that clearly leads down a rocky road.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Caroline’s eye via Flickr

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Obama’s Paradox Problem

WASHINGTON — Call it the Party-of-Government Paradox: If the nation’s capital looks dysfunctional, it will come back to hurt President Obama and the Democrats, even if the Republicans are primarily responsible for the dysfunction.

Then there is the Bipartisanship Paradox: No matter how far the president bends over backward to appeal to or appease the Republicans — no matter how nice, conciliatory, friendly or reasonable he tries to be — voters will judge him according to the results. And the evidence since 2009 is that accommodation won’t get Obama much anyway.

This creates the Election Paradox: Up to a point, Republicans in Congress can afford to let their own ratings fall well below the president’s, as long as they drag him further into negative territory. If the president’s ratings are poor next year, Democrats won’t be able to defeat enough Republicans to take back the House and hold the Senate. The GOP can win if the mood is terribly negative toward Washington because voters see Obama as the man in charge.

Everything the Republicans are doing makes sense in light of the three paradoxes, even though, by the numbers, they have been the big losers from the summer’s debt ceiling fiasco and their broader refusal to cooperate with Obama.

A Pew Research Center survey released last week showed Obama with a 49 percent disapproval rating, but Congress with a 70 percent unfavorable rating. So Obama is still “ahead.” The Democrats are also better regarded than the Republicans — or, perhaps more accurately, less poorly regarded. “Only” 50 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party; 59 percent had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.

But the trend on the president’s numbers has been downward, and the Republicans seem willing to pay a high price to keep them moving that way. Remember: The core GOP argument is that government can’t do much good and generally makes everyone’s life worse. Democrats are the ones who insist that government can solve problems and improve people’s lives. If government isn’t doing that — if it is discredited and made to look foolish — guess whose side of the debate is weakened?

Obama’s central task is to break out of the three paradoxes, not just to get re-elected but also to get anything done. Having tried conciliation, his only alternative is to build pressure on the Republicans. He needs to get them to act, or, failing that, to make clear who is responsible for Washington’s paralysis.

That’s why his coming speech on jobs has to describe a program that’s broad and imaginative enough to capture the public’s attention. The middle-of-the-road voters his advisers want to win back look first for chief executives to be strong, decisive, and principled, not at how many millimeters they are from the political center.

Despite reports that the White House is split over how much Obama should ask Congress to do, the president has signaled that he understands the stakes. “My attitude is that my job is to present the best plans possible,” Obama said in an interview Tuesday with talk-show host Tom Joyner. “Congress needs to act. If Congress does not act, then I’m going to be going on the road and talking to folks, and this next election very well may end up being a referendum on whose vision of America is better.”

Obama hates to bring up the nasty fact that we have political parties, but very soon, he will have to point out that it is Republicans in Congress who are blocking his program. They will either have to start worrying about its low ratings, or begin to pay a real price for obstruction.

The model, of course, is Harry Truman. In a lovely book on the 1948 election, The Last Campaign, Zachary Karabell explains the problems that Truman’s attacks on the “do-nothing” Republican Congress created for his GOP opponent, Thomas E. Dewey.

“Dewey couldn’t distance himself too much from Congress or he would lose the support of his own party and perhaps jeopardize Republican chances in the congressional elections,” Karabell wrote. “Yet he needed to create some space between himself and the Congress in order to avoid being dragged down in their wake. It was a precarious position.” Indeed it was.

Truman, it’s true, didn’t get to this strategy until the election year. But the unemployment rate in 1948 averaged below 4 percent. Obama doesn’t have the luxury of waiting.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at)

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group