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Despite Calls For Change, Pelosi Keeps Her House Leadership Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was re-elected to her post on Wednesday despite a challenge from a Rust Belt congressman who said the party needed new leadership after a disappointing showing in elections this month.

Pelosi, 76, a Californian who has been in Congress for 30 years and led the party in the House for 14 of them, defeated 43-year-old Tim Ryan, a seven-term representative from the Youngstown area of northeastern Ohio in a 134-63 vote, aides said.

U.S. voters elected Republican Donald Trump to the White House and Republicans kept their majorities in the House and Senate in the Nov. 8 elections.

Ryan, in challenging Pelosi for the leadership job, said the party needed to do a better job of reaching out to the working-class voters who backed Trump in large numbers, and complaining about the Democrats’ track record under her guidance.

Ryan said the Democrats have only been in the majority in the House of Representatives for four of the past 18 years. Ryan and other Democrats are angry the party did not do better on Nov. 8, when Trump won the White House and Republicans gained only about a half-dozen seats in the House, when some had predicted double-digit wins.

Ryan told reporters that Democrats came out of the election united. “We got the message out that we wanted to get out, and that’s that as Democrats we need to talk about economics,” he said. “If we’re going to win as Democrats we need to have an economic message that resonates in every corner of this country.”

Pelosi, a San Francisco congresswoman, had claimed the support of two-thirds of the caucus before Wednesday’s leadership election. Only about a dozen Democrats publicly supported Ryan ahead of the vote, which was held by secret ballot.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Alexander and James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

The Democrats’ Bad Map

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica. This story was co-published with The New York Times’ Sunday Review.

Even as Hillary Clinton appears poised to win easily against a highly erratic candidate with a campaign in meltdown, a sobering reality awaits Democrats on Nov. 9. It seems likely that they will eke out at most a narrow majority in the Senate, but will fail to pick up the 30 seats they need to reclaim the House. If they do manage to win a Senate majority, it will be exceedingly difficult to hold it past 2018, when 25 of the party’s seats must be defended, compared with eight Republican ones.

The Republican Party may seem in historic disarray, but it will most likely be able to continue to stymie the Democrats’ legislative agenda, perpetuating Washington’s gridlock for years to come.

Liberals have a simple explanation for this state of affairs: Republican-led gerrymandering, which has put Democrats at a disadvantage in the House and in many state legislatures. But this overlooks an even bigger problem for their party. More than ever, Democrats are sorting themselves into geographic clusters where many of their votes have been rendered all but superfluous, especially in elections for the Senate, House and state government.

This has long been a problem for the party, but it has grown worse in recent years. The clustering has economic and demographic roots, but also a basic cultural element: Democrats just don’t want to live where they’d need to live to turn more of the map blue.

Americans’ tendency toward political self-segregation has been underway for a while now — it’s been eight years since Bill Bishop identified the dynamic in “The Big Sort.” This helps explain why red-blue maps of so many states consist of dark-blue islands in the cities surrounded by red exurbs and rural areas, a distribution that is also driven by urban concentrations of racial minorities and by the decades-long shift in allegiance from Democratic to Republican among working-class white voters.

That hyper-concentration of Democratic votes has long hurt the party in the House and state legislatures. In Ohio, for instance, Republicans won 75 percent of the United States House seats in 2012 despite winning only 51 percent of the total votes for the House. That imbalance can be explained partly by Republican gerrymandering. But even if district lines were drawn in rational, nonpartisan ways, a disproportionate share of Democratic votes would still be clustered in urban districts, giving Republicans a larger share of seats than their share of the overall vote. Winning back control of state legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan could help Democrats in redistricting in 2020. But it would help more if their voters were not so concentrated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

“It would be awfully difficult to construct a map that wasn’t leaning Republican,” said the University of Michigan political scientist Jowei Chen. “Geography is just very unfortunate from the perspective of the Democrats.”

More recently, a confluence of several trends has conspired to make the sorting disadvantageous for Democrats on an even broader scale — increasing the party’s difficulties in House races while also affecting Senate elections and, potentially, future races for the presidency.

First, geographic mobility in the United States has become very class-dependent. Once upon a time, lower-income people were willing to pull up stakes and move to places with greater opportunity — think of the people who fled the Dust Bowl for California in the 1930s, or those who took the “Hillbilly Highway” out of Appalachia to work in Midwestern factories, or Southern blacks on the Great Migration. In recent decades, though, internal migration has slowed sharply, and the people who are most likely to move for better opportunities are the highly educated.

Second, higher levels of education are increasingly correlated with voting Democratic. This has been most starkly on display in the 2016 election, as polls suggest that Donald J. Trump may be the first Republican in 60 years to not win a majority of white voters with college degrees, even as he holds his own among white voters without degrees. But the trend of increasing Democratic identification among college graduates, and increasing Republican identification among non-graduates, was underway before Trump arrived on the scene. Today, Democrats hold a 12-point edge in party identification among those with a college degree or more. In 2004, the parties were even on that score.

Finally, in the United States the economic gap between the wealthiest cities and the rest of the country has grown considerably. The internet was supposed to allow wealth to spread out, since we could be connected anywhere — but the opposite has happened. Per capita income in the District of Columbia has gone from 29 percent above the United States average in 1980 to 68 percent in 2013; in the Bay Area, from 50 percent above to 88 percent; in New York City, from 80 percent above to 172 percent. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, exert a strong pull on mobile, highly educated, Democratic-leaning voters, while at the same time stirring resentment in the less prosperous areas those voters leave behind. And these economically dominant cities tend to be in deep-blue states.

How extreme is Democratic clustering? If you compare President Obama’s 2012 performance with Al Gore’s in 2000, you can see a huge increase in the Democratic percentage of the vote in the 68 largest metro areas. But it barely budged everywhere else. Some of that increase was caused by voters already in those cities flipping from Republican to Democratic. But it was also the gravitational effect.

This clustering of Democrats helps explain why Trump has been keeping it close in Ohio and Iowa, both states where some 72 percent of white residents over 24 lack college degrees, the highest share among the 13 most competitive states.

It works the other way in presidential elections, too. Democrats have gained in some other swing states with high levels of college-educated voters, like Virginia and Colorado, and they do at least reap a benefit in the Electoral College for having a lock on big states such as New York and California.

But it’s another story in the Senate, where this dynamic helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.

Clustering is part of the problem. All those Democrats gravitating to blue strongholds like New York and California get the party no more Senate seats than Republicans get from Idaho and from Wyoming, a state with a population of about 580,000, slightly more than Fresno, Calif. If the Democrats are going to gain a lasting hold on the Senate, they have to win seats in swing states. But that gets harder the more that Democratic-leaning voters flock to big, blue states, abandoning swing states like Ohio, where the Republican Rob Portman is gliding to re-election, or smaller red states where Democrats might still have a shot at holding Senate seats, like Montana, Indiana or North Dakota.

Jenn Topper has thought about this dynamic a lot, because she’s a clear example of it. Topper, 31, grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, a city that has lost nearly half its population since 1960. She left for college at Florida State, then for a public relations job in New York, then for a political communications job in Washington.

“When you grow up in Ohio, there’s a bigger world out there, and if you know about it, you just want to go to it,” she said.

A couple years ago, Topper and some colleagues who were also from Ohio were excited to meet “their” Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, at an event. He asked them where they lived in Ohio. But they don’t live in Ohio — and won’t be able to vote for him in what is sure to be a tough race in 2018.

Topper’s high school classmate Brett Stelter, 31, left Dayton after attending Ohio University. His father was a district parts manager for Honda, which has a plant near Dayton, and Stelter himself did part-time work at the plant. But his dream was to be an actor, and so he ended up in Los Angeles.

“There’s just nothing to do in Ohio,” he said. “The jobs are limited, but it’s not just the jobs and the industries that are in Ohio, it’s the mind-set that I didn’t gravitate to.”

Stelter, who voted twice for Obama, is disappointed that his vote is superfluous in California, and tries to make up for it by engaging on social media with people back home — people like his father, who is leaning toward Trump. “Part of me wishes I could be there to personally talk to people instead of trolling them on the internet,” he said. But his political irrelevance is not enough to make him consider moving back. “Going back to Ohio to be able to vote every four years is not enough for me.”

This clustering is happening even as many smaller cities and outlying regions are experiencing mini-cultural renaissances. For one thing, a foodie or beer snob now has much less to complain about when contemplating dining outside a big coastal city. And most of these places are much more affordable than Brooklyn or Los Angeles. But they can’t seem to compare with the profusion of cool elsewhere.

Even cities making comebacks, with restored downtown buildings and plenty of locally brewed I.P.A., have the memory problem. If a city was on the ropes when young people left it, it’s frozen in that form in their image of it. “You’re competing with memory,” Topper said. “People look back and remember what it was like when they were there. You don’t often hear about how things are moving or growing or new things are happening. That picture of when you have left is all you have.”

Of course, some people do go back. Brittney Vosters, 30, who went to high school and college in Dayton, left for several years, living in Chicago and enrolling in graduate school in public administration at Rutgers in New Jersey. She recently moved back to Cincinnati so her husband could go to graduate school in northern Kentucky. It has struck her how much her former Dayton classmates have sorted out politically. “It’s noticeable that the people who left are more liberal-minded and the people who stayed are more Republican,” she said.

And this sorting out is self-perpetuating, too. The fewer people you encounter of the opposite political persuasion, the more they become an unfathomable other, easily caricatured and impossible to find even occasional common ground with. By segregating themselves in narrow slices of the country, Democrats have also made it harder to make their own case. They are forever preaching to the converted, while their social distance also leaves them unprepared for what’s coming from the other end of the spectrum. Changing that would mean adopting a broader notion of what it means to live in a happening place, and also exposing themselves to discomforts that most people naturally avoid, given the human tendency to seek out our own kind.

Vosters, for one, appreciates that her vote counts a lot more now in Ohio than it did when she was in New Jersey and Illinois. But she has no doubt where she’d like to end up for good. For her next move, she said, “I’d look at the political map and go toward the blue, because it’s more comfortable to be around people who are like you.”

Photo: Democratic members of Congress rise to their feet for a standing ovation as Republican members remain seated during U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  

Senate OKs Budget, But GOP Rift Over Pentagon Emerges

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate stayed in session all night to pass a $3.7 trillion Republican budget early Friday, grinding through tough — but symbolic — votes that provided the new Congress with a needed achievement.

Passage on a strict party line vote, 52-46, represented progress for Republicans who have struggled to present a unified front in their first months controlling both the House and Senate.

Even though the budgets are simply road maps for future spending, they hold ideological significance as statements of party principles, especially heading into the 2016 campaign season. Speaker John A. Boehner ushered the House’s $3.8-trillion plan to passage earlier in the week.

Getting to this point was not easy. With Democrats flatly opposed to the Republican budget plan that deeply slashes federal safety net programs, the debate exposed divisions between the Republican Party’s traditional defense hawks and those who prefer to hold the line against extra spending.

The difference spilled over Thursday as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — both senators who are expected to run for president in 2016 — amplified the issue with competing plans to bolster defense spending.

The Pentagon had already received a sizable bump up after both the House and Senate plans averted spending limits established just a few years ago and added Pentagon funds by using a separate war contingency account unaffected by the limits.

But Paul and Rubio wanted to increase the military money even more. Their proposals, however, had one main difference: Rubio’s plan would have allowed the extra spending to raise the deficit, while Paul’s amendment required that deep cuts be made in education, climate change research and other accounts to offset the costs.

Both of their votes failed, but the outcome clearly established the dominance of the defense hawks. Paul’s amendment won just four backers, including himself and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Rubio’s fared better, failing on a vote of 32-68.

In the end, Rubio relented and voted in favor of the final budget, while Paul voted against it, as did Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), also a 2016 presidential aspirant.

“It is irresponsible and dangerous to continue to put America further into debt,” Paul said. “We need national defense, but we should pay for it. … We should be honest with the American people, and pay for it.”

The all-night session, dubbed “vote-a-rama,” always puts senators in a bind on a number of votes, and Thursday’s session was no different.

In between a buffet dinner off the Senate floor catered by McConnell’s office, the senators were forced to choose whether to support paid sick days for workers (approved, 61-39) or impose a temporary war tax to pay for the fight against Islamic State (rejected, 46-54).

The Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran were a topic of debate, with senators supporting an amendment, 59-41, to block money for implementing any agreement until it is approved by the Senate. They also agreed 100-0 to impose new sanctions if Iran violates any deal.

Earlier in the week, President Barack Obama’s own budget was put to a vote in a political move designed to embarrass Democrats. It failed overwhelmingly, 98-1.

Now the two chambers face the daunting task of reconciling their differences if Republicans hope to achieve a top goal — holding a vote to repeal Obama’s health care law under special budget rules that would prevent a filibuster in the Senate.

Mostly, the budgets of the House and Senate align along Republican priorities of lowering taxes, slashing federal spending on social programs and repealing Obama’s health care law. Both Republican budgets poured about $38 billion more into the military than would have been expected had Congress stuck to the earlier limits.

Democrats are led on the Budget Committee by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who called it “particularly offensive that Republicans, who are demanding massive cuts in Medicaid, education, nutrition and health care in order to move to a balanced budget, have no problem adding $38 billion to Pentagon spending.”

But key differences between the Republican plans remain — including the House’s decision to include the GOP plan for turning Medicare into a new program that would give seniors vouchers that could be used to purchase private health insurance.

Senate Republicans have panned that Medicare overhaul and did not include it in their budget.

Both budgets also claim to balance within the decade, but include the tax revenues from Obama’s healthcare law, even as Republicans are trying to repeal it.

Resolving those issues will be thorny. The House and Senate have not reconciled their budgets since Democrats controlled Congress in 2010, when they too wanted to use special budget procedures to pass Obama’s health care law.

Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that undoes the Affordable Care Act, but that has not stopped Republicans from trying. Now they hope to use the same budget shortcut to try to repeal it.

With lawmakers headed out of town for a two-week spring recess, those votes are expected later this summer.

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Crazy George via Flickr

Loading Time For Online Sales Tax Is Expiring

By Alan K. Ota, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Anyone hoping for an online sales tax bill out of the 114th Congress might as well be staring at a spinning circle on a computer screen.

A push to allow states to enforce sales taxes on remote online vendors faces likely stalemate, with a quiet retreat by Senate supporters and a splintering of House Republicans. That’s a big disappointment to backers of an overhaul of the tax structure for Internet sales; they had hoped the momentum from Senate passage of a bill in the last Congress would carry over into 2015.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), said he has no firm timetable for introducing his draft bill to require sales tax collections by remote vendors — based on rates in effect in the seller’s home state. Under Goodlatte’s proposal, the buyer’s home state would receive sales tax revenue from a remote online transaction involving one of its residents, but only up to the rate charged by the seller’s home state.

“The time frame is when we have an agreement,” Goodlatte said in an interview this month. “We are working with a wide variety of parties to reach an agreement on how to proceed. We are looking to work this out….We need people on board with widely differing points of view — governors, state legislators, big box retailers, online retailers, technology companies.”

Goodlatte has said in the past he would issue a bill. But he faces resistance from some conservatives, who argue that any legislation would be perceived as a tax increase.

Goodlatte said he and Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), will hold back on moving his draft bill until there is an agreement among key groups, including the National Retail Federation, National Governors Association, and National Conference of State Legislators. All three groups support the Marketplace Fairness Act proposed by Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, (R-WY), that would clear the way to enforce traditional sales taxes based on rates in the buyer’s home state.

But the Enzi plan has no clear path to the Senate floor, even though a similar bill won easy passage, 69-27, in May 2013. It was never acted on in the House.

That’s because the bill is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and other key players such as Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT).

Instead of bucking Senate GOP leaders, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander said he and other supporters of the Enzi bill think the House should go first this time.

“In the last Congress, the Senate took the lead and passed legislation first. Now, the House should pass legislation and send it to the Senate,” the Tennessee Republican said.

With Goodlatte at odds with House backers of the Enzi approach, lobbyists say prospects for a 2015 deal are fading, and will vanish completely in the 2016 campaign season.

“The chances are less than 50 percent that we will see a bill pass the House in 2015,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, an alliance that represents eBay, Facebook, and other online commerce companies such as Utah-based

Even that may overstate the potential for action. If Congress simply does nothing, opponents of a national online sales tax plan can maintain the status quo, where states have little chance of enforcing sales taxes for online purchases across state lines.

Goodlatte disputes the gloomy predictions. “I wouldn’t rate it that way at all. I think it’s something we can solve. And we’re committed to doing it,” he said.

Goodlatte said he had not decided whether to try to move an online sales tax compromise with his separate proposal for a permanent extension of the moratorium on new Internet access taxes, which expires at the end of September.

Loading Time Talks are going on between Goodlatte and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has been working on a proposal similar to the Enzi plan with a streamlined audit process for online vendors and other adjustments. Like Goodlatte, Chaffetz said he had no timetable for introducing a bill, but would like to reach an accord.

Instead of holding a markup with votes on rival proposals, Goodlatte said he wants to broker a deal that brings together states and retailers backing the Chaffetz and Enzi measure with business alliances backing Goodlatte’s approach: NetChoice and the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which includes Google and Hewlett-Packard Co.

David French, a senior vice president of the National Retail Federation, confirmed that a coalition of retail industry groups had sent suggestions to Goodlatte in hopes of reshaping his bill. “We have encouraged the chairman to consider a destination-sourced model instead,” French said. “We think the chairman wants to solve the problem.”

Critics say Goodlatte’s origin-based approach favors some Silicon Valley businesses, and would hurt Main Street retailers. For example, they said it could prod manufacturers and online retailers to move to states with low sales taxes or to lobby home-state legislatures for exemptions or reduced rates for certain products such as computers or health-related items.

Goodlatte denies he is tilting in favor of Silicon Valley, where he has long been a GOP rainmaker with his purview over patents, copyrights, and foreign skilled-worker visas. He raised more than $435,000 in the last cycle from entertainment, technology, and Internet businesses and their employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Goodlatte said his approach is best for many businesses.”It’s better for growing our national economy because it does not allow states to regulate businesses outside of their jurisdiction,” he said.

Enzi introduced his latest version of the Marketplace Fairness Act this month, and cited help from an unlikely ally: Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

He said he hoped to gain support because of Kennedy’s recent written remarks expressing a desire to reverse the court’s 1992 ruling in the Quill v. North Dakota case that prevented states from compelling sales tax collection by vendors with no nexus or presence in their borders.

Kennedy, in his concurring opinion for a court decision in a Colorado online commerce case, wrote that he believed it was time for “a reconsideration of the court’s holding in Quill,” citing concerns about state fiscal problems and “changes in technology and consumer sophistication.”

“A case questionable even when decided, Quill now harms states to a degree far greater than could have been anticipated earlier,” Kennedy said.

The comments were connected to the court’s ruling on Tuesday in favor of online retailers in Direct Marketing Association v. Broehl. The court cleared the way for vendors to challenge a Colorado mandate for customer information to expedite enforcement of sales taxes.

Supporters of the Enzi bill say Kennedy’s remarks may spur legislation by raising the possibility of new court rulings that favor states.

NetChoice’s DelBianco said he’d prefer legislation, but not at all costs.

“I would rather take my chances with the Supreme Court than have Enzi’s bill,” he said.

Photo: Tim Reckmann via Flickr