Archives for posts with tag: congress

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.

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