In my last post I examined the leaders of the Senate. Today I’ll start discussing the leaders of the house, beginning with the mysterious, bipartisan dot that is John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.

image of Boehner through CCP

John Boehner's dot

In the above image, Boehner is shown compared against all the members of the House. I’ve used a new feature I added last week, “dots mode,” to more clearly present where he is placed along the two axes. How could Boehner, the leader of a Republican, conservative House, end up in the most bipartisan position of any Republican?

The most important point to remember is that Clear Congress Project derives its attributes solely from their legislative sponsorship and co-sponsorship record. So while Boehner may have a more partisan voting record, this is not taken into account. A quick look at Boehner’s OpenCongress page reveals that Boehner has only sponsored three pieces of legislation (two of which garnered no cosponsors) and has co-sponsored only one piece of legislation. This lack of legislative activity is likely due to his schedule as Speaker. His organizational duties, negotiations, and golf outings fill up a lot of his schedule and leave little room for writing and co-sponsoring legislation. Even members slightly to the right of him have co-sponsored a much higher amount of legislation. For Example, Peter King has cosponsored over 100 pieces of legislation this session.

However, this doesn’t explain everything. What Boehner’s position also reveals is just how partisan the Republican majority actually is. As Republican members of the House put forth legislation that draws significantly more Republican support than Democratic support, they all drift further and further to the right on the partisanship axis. This is understandable, given that they have a significant majority.  However, I would also argue that this reveals how ideology has gripped the Republican party, forcing them to put forth a flood partisan legislation that has little chance of passing the Democratically-controlled Senate. If Republicans were interested in passing legislation that could become law, they would have a much more bipartisan record as a whole, but it appears their main legislative goals are strictly political in nature.

Boehner’s legislative bipartisanship is mostly a result of his lack of legislative activity but is also a reflection of the partisan nature of his party, which is currently more interested in satisfying its political desires rather than passing legislation which has a realistic chance of becoming policy.

Today I start examining the party leaders through the lens of Clear Congress Project and what their legislative record can tell us about how Congress functions and that the leaders by name are not necessarily the legislative leader.

Reid is the undisputed legislative leader

Reid as the undisputed legislative leader

First, we’ll start off in the Senate where Harry Reid has served as the Democratic majority leader since 2005.  As you can see from the image above, Reid is the undisputed legislative leader. At one point or another, every Senator has co-sponsored a piece of legislation brought forward by Reid. This demonstrates that even within a divided Congress, the majority leader of the Senate serves as the main driver of legislation. The Senate majority leader is likely to sponsor “must-pass” legislation and, as such, will collect a large number of co-sponsors who don’t want to be left out. Another factor is that Reid, as a deal-maker, will likely also attract co-sponsors as part of the deal-making process. It’s also interesting to note that the high number of cross-party co-sponsors gives Reid a stronger record of bipartisanship than many of his colleagues.

McConnell is not the legislative leader

McConnell is not the legislative leader

Now, if we turn our attention to the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, we get a much different picture. Looking at the above image, you can see that McConnell is not the legislative leader within his own party, with Senators Orrin Hatch, Kay Hutchinson, Jim DeMint, and John McCain garnering more co-sponsors. All of them, despite attracting more cosponsors, are also further to the right than McConnell on the partisanship axis. In other words, the minority leader has demonstrated less legislative leadership than other, more partisan members within his own party. This may be function of McConnell’s organizational duties as the minority leader, but is also likely a result of the pressure he feels from the more conservative members within his own party, who are quietly fighting for his leadership position (such as Jim DeMint) or loudly fighting for their legislative lives (Orrin Hatch).

Tomorrow I will examine the leaders within the House and the mysterious, tiny, bipartisan dot that is John Beohner.

Clear Congress Project was posted on infosthetics.com today.  A big thanks to Andrew Vande Moere for the posting and wonderful write up about the project.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to analysis, examining the leaders of each party and what Clear Congress Project tells us about them and how Congress functions.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was  going to examine how Republican leadership in the house is something of a reflection of the pattern seen on the Democratic side, where the Progressive Caucus counts among it’s members every major Democratic legislative leader.  I was too hasty in making this assumption, however. On the Republican side, the Tea Party Caucus in fact does not count the Republican legislative heavyweights among its ranks.  Check out the image below (click for a larger image).

tea party caucus highlighted

Tea Party Leaders

In the image above I’ve highlighted all the members of the Tea Party Caucus who show up above the mid-leadership line. As expected they are also all concentrated to the far right.  While these few representatives have established themselves as leaders of  a small, partisan portion of the House, the true legislative leaders within the party are not members of the Tea Party Caucus and have actually attracted quite a bit of bipartisan support with their legislation. Check this out:

The two legislative leaders, Eric Cantor and Jim Gerlach, have garnered large amounts of bipartisan support for their legislation.  Because of this, they have risen to the top.  Now, it’s important to remember that Republicans in the House should not need any Democratic support to pass legislation due to their significant majority.  So why is this bipartisanship occuring? I have a few ideas.

First Idea: When in the majority, legislators will have more of a tendency to attract bipartisan support. If a bill is sponsored by the majority party it has a higher chance of passing.  As such, Democrats may be clinging onto legislation that is likely to pass, contains some good ideas, and is not overly offensive to their base.

Second Idea: Due to divisions within the Republican party, it has become necessary for Republicans to deal with Democrats in order to pass some important legislation.  For instance, the Tea Party, with its libertarian tendencies, has forced some close votes on what would have been relatively safe votes in the old GOP, such as the vote to extend the Patriot Act, which only passed with Democratic support.

Likely it’s some combination of these two ideas that is causing this bipartisan leadership pattern among Republicans, along with a dash of some other factors I’m missing.  Ultimately, this indicates that leadership from a less moderate caucus is possible when your party is in the minority, but it is hard to lead from a partisan caucus while in the majority.  As members of the majority, the legislative heavyweight are by the nature of their majority position likely to attract more bipartisan support. At the same time the broader diversity of ideologies within the majority party requires occasional bipartisan efforts in order to pass legislation.

The Tea Party may see value in their ideological, partisan pursuits, but that does not (and probably cannot) result in legislative leadership, especially from within the majority.

The biggest political news of today is that Obama has signaled a willingness to make reductions to social security, medicare and medicaid in order to facilitate a “Grand Bargain” that will reduce the deficit by perhaps $4 trillion over the next decade.  Liberals responded by sending a strong letter to Obama, signed by leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. What I’d like to show is how these Progressive leaders actually stack up legislatively and who in the Progressive caucus is really getting work done.

ccp image from 07/07/11

Some who signed the letter to Obama

In the image above, I highlighted some of the legislators who signed the letter to Obama mentioned in the Politico article.  They all fall squarely withing the left half of the diagram, as expected. Liberals are more likely to co-sponsor or sponsor Democratic legislation, after all. However, none of these legislators have strong legislative leadership records.  In fact, the leader of the Progressive Caucus, Grijalva has the lowest leadership score of any legislator. Perhaps not surprisingly he also has the most Democratic partisanship score. This may demonstrate the difficulty of being an extreme partisan in the minority party.  This may also be a reflection that, as the leader of a caucus, much of his work might not be legislative but more organizational or “behind-the-scenes”.  But, surprisingly, the biggest Democratic heavyweight in the House are also members of the Progressive Caucus, the big three being Barbara Lee, Rosa DeLauro, and Lynn Woolsey, as shown in the image below.

CCP image of Liberal Lions

House Democratic leaders are members of the Progressive Caucus

As shown above, though some members of the Progressive Caucus may appear as relatively weak legislative leaders, Progressives also make up all of the Democratic leaders in Congress, where as those with more bipartisan tendencies tend to have little legislative power.  I included the network lines to demonstrate that their legislative power derives almost entirely from their side of the aisle. What this demonstrates is that Progressives are the true power within the Democratic minority and Obama should probably be on friendly terms and take their letters to heart.  This especially true if Dems manage to take back the house, which will likely catapult the Progressive Caucus to an even more powerful position as leaders of the majority. This also this sheds some light on the partisan atmosphere within Congress, and how legislative power in this environment can come almost entirely from within your own party.

This phenomenon is also reflected on the Republican side, which I will explore tomorrow.

Hey y’all (currently in Atlanta, y’know?),

So the impression is that this blog is done and gone, and my work on the Clear Congress Project is also finished.  Not so! I’ve made a number of improvements over the past 2 months. I also want to explicitly outline some of the features I hope to implement soon!

Features Added

First I’ll talk about the passive interface elements I’ve added.  The most important is the legend on the right hand side, which provides some immediate explanation.  I also think it’s important to include some simple initial directions to the user, since it may be hard to determine that the scatter plot can be interacted with.  I will likely change the cursor CSS for the entire canvas to imply more interactivity.  In addition to this, I also added some middle lines across the chart to create quadrants.  I will likely add the option to add/remove these. In addition, I changed the background color to black.  I think it makes the details window pop more and makes the graphic a bit more dramatic.  I want to give the user the ability to change between black and white, and also provide a color-blind viewing option, which affects around 2% of people and almost 8% of all men.

On the interactive side of things, I implemented a few viewing options, such as a jitter/reset option, as well as the ability to show/hide labels and the network graph. I’m still having some performance issues when collision is enabled, particularly with Firefox. I also added the ability to capture an image of the current state of the graphic. I felt that it was necessary to add a time element at the top of the canvas to automatically place each captured image in a temporal context.  Currently it uses the user’s computer’s time, but I will probably make it standard Eastern time eventually.  I haven’t implemented any new filtering options yet, but that leads me into the next section

What’s To Come

First, let’s talk filters. I plan on cleaning up the interface, making each element buttons instead of form checkboxes.  This will be my first big change.  Then I plan on adding more filters. Lots more. So many I’ll need to divide them up accordion style. First I want to add some flexible sliding-bar filters for the derived attributes: the partisanship score and the leader-follower score.  I also want to add some sliding bars for experience in years as a legislator and for age. I’d also love to add income or wealth at some point, but that will require implementation of a new API, so this is likely a long-term goal. Finally, I’d like the ability to filter out all but those connected to the current revealed network.

Now, the largest feature I HAVE to implement is the ability to view changes through time. As one of the few people who check the view on a daily basis, the evolution over the past few months has been astonishing. Basically, the Republicans legislative stonewalling has forced the entire House more and more to the right, with a large number of Democrats now crossing the center partisanship line, some dramatically so. Being able to view these changes fluidly over time will have an incredible impact on the strength of the application, while at the same time creating a complete 365 image/year archive! Yes, I’m excited about this one. You should be too!  I hope to complete this by the end of the summer, maybe sooner if I get someone to help me out!

Finally

I plan on blogging regularly starting today, likely linking an image from Clear Congress Project to a something I’ve read or some relevant news story.  Just a head’s up.

Well, it’s one month later, and I’ve finished strong.  The defense of the project went well, and I got some great feedback.  Carl DiSalvo considered my ideology methodology a good first pass and suggested expanding upon it.  I hope to do this in the future, but part of the problem was that the ideology axis was actually more a measure of partisanship.  So I’ve changed that axis to partisanship.  I also changed my methodology for determining partisanship slightly but will discuss this in the soon to come Methodology section.

I’ve added a lot more viewing options, the ability to show or hide the network.  But I’ve realized that I need to reconsider the collision algorithm or just abandon it all together.  It just causes too large of performance hit, especially if you’re also drawing an extensive network and labels.  I’m going to instead consider a “jitter” function, which wound add some noise to each circle’s location with each button press.

But overall, the project has a very solid base.  In the next week, I will be migrating the project to it’s new home at clearcongressproject.com.  Posting might be limited this week, but look for the Methodology section and other updates to the structure of the blog.

A final thanks to my advisors on the project, Ian Bogost, Carl DiSalvo and Jannet Murray.  My experience in the DM program has been life altering and was good to have access to such great minds throughout this sometimes rocky process.

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