Archive for October, 2011

Walking the Halls

Oct 30 2011 Published by under Hill Top-tips

A few quick tips for navigating the people highways in DC – from the Metro tunnels to the Halls of Congress:

  1. Look to the direction you intend to walk, not at the face of the Hill staffer you’re about to run into.
  2. Walk down the middle of the hallways.  People can pop out of doorways in a hurry.
  3. The default behavior should be to let oncoming traffic pass on your left.
  4. Take corners slowly and give a wide margin for others who might be cutting the corners tightly, otherwise you might find yourself wearing someone’s lunch for the rest of the day.
  5. And please, please, please, if you’re going to stand on the escalators, stand on the right.  Though if you find yourself on the right, feel free not to stand too.

Most of all, have patience and have perspective: at least you’re not driving a car in DC rush-hour(s).

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Why the President’s Approval Rating Matters

Oct 16 2011 Published by under Congress

To most of us, the President’s approval rating equates to his likelihood of being re-elected, or his party retaining control of the executive branch.  Indeed, the media tends to push this view and seems to especially enjoy playing out various scenarios of election-day-magedon.  The more astute might equate approval rating with political capital and ability to push his agenda on a macro scale.  While not immediately obvious, there is a more nuanced consequence to the President’s approval rating particular to Members of Congress.

The leverage a Member has to negotiate or flat-out defy the President’s agenda is directly affected by the popularity of the President in that Member’s district.  If the Member’s approval rating is greater than that of the President’s, then the Member has less incentive to comply with requests from the Executive Branch.  This applies to both parties.  For example, say a moderate Democrat (might be hard to find one these days) who is popular in her own district is facing a vote on Obama’s jobs bill (or part of it, as will be more likely at this point).  If Obama  is popular in her district as well, she will feel pressure to support the bill.  Likewise, a Republican in a swing district might feel it necessary to drag his feet in following his party’s leadership in denouncing it.  If Obama has low approval ratings in those districts, the Dem might look for ways to temper the bill while the Republican will have more freedom to publicly criticize it, should they so desire.

This effect is greater, in either direction, when the President will be on the ticket in the approaching election.  Down ticket campaigns (i.e. Congressional campaigns) will concern themselves with the President’s rating and either distance themselves from or tie themselves to the President.  Of course, there will be exceptions as there are many forces in play in any campaign, but consider this one of those forces.

Consequently, the success of the Obama administration to push legislation through Congress over the next 13 months will depend on his approval rating relative to those of Members of Congress.  And that’s why he is campaigning now, not just for re-election, but so that Members of Congress are more likely to warm to his policy agenda.  Think thumb-screws.  Any Member who is looking at an approval rating less than that of the President’s in their own district might be inclined to find more ways agree with him.

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Metal Detectors

Oct 10 2011 Published by under Hill Top-tips

Through various trials, errors, and suggestions by the Capitol Police, I have learned a few helpful tips in navigating through the Hill’s various metal detectors.  For those who would rather learn from my experience instead of their own, here’s a short list:

  1. Walk straight through the detector, without hesitation or hanging out in it (as cool as it might be), and modest belts and watches will not set off the buzzer.  If yours does, wear a belt with less metal next time.
  2. Coats go on the x-ray belt, suit jackets do not.
  3. If you use one of the plastic dishes for small items, put it back where you got it once it’s gone through.
  4. Consider putting small items (wallet, phone, etc) in your bag or briefcase before you arrive at the security point.  This is especially helpful if you are waiting in a long queue.
  5. If you lost your wallet, check with the most recent security point you passed through.

(Subject to additions and modifications.)

 

 

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Bernanke: No Way to Run a Railroad

Oct 04 2011 Published by under Congress,Monetary Policy

Today I had the opportunity to attend a hearing by the Joint Economic Committee with number two on my list of heros: Ben Bernanke.  It’s rumored that Mr. Bernanke wears red socks, a rumor that inspired my own collection of colorful socks.  And no, it is not a rumor that I dressed as him for Halloween a couple years back.  In any case, it was exciting to see and hear him in person.

While Mr. Bernanke answered most questions with surprising frankness, he dodged other questions that only served to put an exclamation at the end of his overall point: this is “no way to run a railroad”.

Mr. Bernanke confirmed our greatest fears: the current condition of the US economy (and the Euro crisis for that matter) is a political problem, not an economic one.  He reiterated that US debt was downgraded because of political brinkmanship, not from concerns about the US long-term growth.  One Member asked, what can Congress do? Mr. Bernanke’s reply: short-term fiscal stimulus, medium-term deficit reduction, and clarity about policies; the continuous threat of government shutdown… it’s no way to run a railroad.

Is Congress truly that dysfunctional?  If so, how has it come to this and what can be done about it?  What is clear, according to Mr. Bernanke, is that if Congress does not get its house in order, it will be the economy that suffers.

 

 

 

 

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