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Key Mechanism on How Money Took Over Congress

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by glynch, Apr 13, 2011.

  1. glynch

    glynch Contributing Member

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    Our Polarized and Money-Driven Congress: Created Over 25 Years By Republicans (and Quickly Imitated by Democrats)

    Political scientist Tom Ferguson prepared a short but important paper for the INET conference last weekend on how Congress got to be as polarized as it is today. His answer: it was redesigned quite deliberately by conservative Republican followers of Newt Gingrich starting in the mid 1980s and their methods were copied by the Democrats.

    Their changes resulted in firmer control by leadership (ie, less autonomy of individual Congressmen) and much greater importance of fundraising (which increased the power of corporate interests).

    The extent of corruption may surprise even jaundiced readers. Both houses have price lists for committees and sub-committees. Ferguson delineates some of the many mechanisms for influencing political outcomes; they extend well beyond campaign donations and formal lobbying. Even though many are by nature hard to quantify in any hard or fast way, he does categorize them and has developed some estimates (see “The Spectrum of Political Money”, starting on p. 23, and see also his summary on p. 42). Finally, Ferguson goes through conventional explanations of why politics has become so polarized (such as changing cultural attitudes) and shows why they don’t stand up.

    I strongly urge you to read the entire paper. Some key extracts:

    Before a series of political reverses and another corruption investigation forced him from the scene, Gingrich and his leadership team, which included Dick Armey and Tom (“the Hammer”) DeLay, institutionalized sweeping rules changes in the House and the Republican caucus that vastly increased the leadership’s influence over House legislation.

    They also implemented a formal “pay to play” system that had both inside and outside components. On the outside, DeLay and other GOP leaders, including Grover Norquist, who headed Americans for Tax Reform, mounted a vast campaign (the so called “K Street Project”) to defund the Democrats directly by pressuring businesses to cut off donations and avoid retaining Democrats as lobbyists.

    Inside the House, Gingrich made fundraising for the party a requirement for choice committee assignments.9 The implications of auctioning off key positions within Congress mostly escaped attention, as did the subsequent evolution of the system into one of what amounted to posted prices….

    By contrast, the changes in House procedures and rules that the Republicans instituted proved durable: Democrats rapidly emulated the formal “pay to play” system for House committee assignments, leading to a sharp rise in campaign contributions from members of Congress of both parties to their colleagues and the national fundraising committees. Soon leaders of the Democrats, too, were posting prices for plum committee assignments and chairmanships. They also centralized power in the leadership, which had wide discretion in how it treated bills and more leverage over individual members:

    Under the new rules for the 2008 election cycle, the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] asked rank and file members to contribute $125,000 in dues and to raise an additional $75,000 for the party. Subcommittee chairpersons must contribute $150,000 in dues and raise an additional $100,000. Members who sit on the most powerful committees….must contribute $200,000 and raise an additional $250,000. Subcommittee chairs on power committees and committee chairs of non-power committees must contribute $250, 000 and raise $250,000.

    The five chairs of the power committees must contribute $500,000 and
    raise an additional $1 million. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emmanuel must contribute $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. The four Democrats who serve as part of the extended leadership must contribute $450,000 and raise $500,000, and the nine Chief Deputy Whips must contribute $300,000 and raise $500,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must contribute a staggering $800,000 and raise an additional $25 million.12…..

    Under Gramm and like minded Senate Republicans, partisanship in the upper chamber grew at close to the same rate as in the House, if less flamboyantly (Figure 2). A radically different tone began to envelope a body long celebrated for comity: Constant threats of filibusters by defiant minorities meant that working control came to require not 51, but a 60 vote “super-majority,” while confirmations of presidential nominees slowed to a snail’s pace when different parties controlled the White House and the Senate (“divided government”).

    The show of more political jousting helped in branding efforts by both sides, in that more frequent votes could be used to argue for fealty on certain pet issues. The media increasingly amplified themes used in Congressional debates, which increasingly led to a feedback loop, as messages that played well with readers and listeners were reiterated by Congressmen.

    More from Ferguson:

    Gingrich and his allies were painfully aware that transforming the GOP’s gains at the presidential level into a true “critical realignment” of the political system as a whole required breaking the Democratic lock on Congress. So they shattered all records for Congressional fundraising in their drive to get control of the House. Their success in this is what polarized the system. The tidal wave of political money they conjured allowed Gingrich, Gramm, Barbour and their allies to brush aside the older, less combative center-right Republican leadership and then persist in their efforts to roll back the New Deal and remake American society in the image of free market fundamentalism.

    In power, the Republicans restructured their national political committees and the Congress into giant ATMs capable of financing broad national campaigns to protect and extend their newly won position in Congress. The Republican success left the Democrats facing the same dilemma they had in the late seventies, as the Golden Horde first formed up behind Ronald Reagan: they could respond by mobilizing their older mass constituencies or emulate the Republicans. That battle had been settled in favor of so called “New Democrats” (Ferguson and Rogers, 1986).

    Dependent for many years on campaign money from leading sectors of big business where regulation kept recreating divisions – notably finance and telecommunications (Ferguson, 1995b) – the Democrats reconfirmed their earlier decision to go for the gold. They followed the Republicans and transformed both the national party committees and their Congressional delegations into cash machines, with the leaders in each chamber, but especially the House, wielding substantially more power than at any time since the famous revolt that overthrew Speaker Cannon in 1910-11. As the Republicans moved further and further to the right, the Democrats did, too, constrained only by the need to preserve something of their mass base.

    If you want to understand elite dysfunction in America, this paper provides an illuminating, if depressing, view. Having made money so central to how our political process works, it isn’t clear how to put that genie back in the bottle. And that in turn looks likely to perpetuate government catering to the needs and wishes of the very rich.http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011...aign=Feed:+NakedCapitalism+(naked+capitalism)
     
  2. Invisible Fan

    Invisible Fan Contributing Member

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    Is it in poor taste to wish Newt would eat **** and die?
     
  3. Sooner423

    Sooner423 Contributing Member

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    Nope.
     
  4. Sooner423

    Sooner423 Contributing Member

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