Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Do You Know Who Will Win the Presidential Election in 2012?

On July 26th I had the opportunity to talk to middle and high school government teachers from around the country at the Dirksen Center’s “Congress in the Classroom” event.  The conference was in glamorous Peoria, Illinois which gave me an opportunity to use the phrase “if it plays in Peoria…” in a sentence.  For the uninitiated, that phrase was used in the vaudeville era (and probably others) to suggest that if a show did well in the ultimate Midwestern town of Peoria, it would do well anywhere.  I’m pleased to say that I had a great time talking to the teachers in Peoria, so I’m hoping effective advocacy will play everywhere.

Frank Mackaman, the Director of the Dirksen Center, ran one of the most intriguing sessions of the program entitled “I Know Who Will Win the Presidential Election in 2012” – and he did!  Frank presented an adaptation of Allan J. Litchman’s “The Keys to the White House” article, which appeared in Social Education in 2008.  In that article, Litchman outlines 13 propositions that have accurately predicted every presidential election BUT ONE since, well I didn’t write down the exact date, but it was the late-1800’s.  To clarify, Litchman hasn’t LIVED since the late 1800’s.  He tested his theory by retroactively applying these questions to previous elections – and they held up!  The only one that the test failed on?  Gore/Bush in 2000, and some argue that it accurately predicted the popular vote, just not as reflected through the electoral college.

Presented as “true/false” questions, the propositions include pretty straightforward statements like “there is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination” and “the economy is not in recession during the election campaign.”  There are also more subjective statements like “there is no sustained social unrest during the term” and “the incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal” (both determined by Litchman as “false” as they apply to the Obama Administration).  So long as eight or more of these propositions are true, the incumbent party wins.  Yes, some of them are very subjective so you can take all this with a grain of salt, but I know you’re dying to know -- the test results (after consultation with Litchman on the subjective questions) predict that Obama will win.  They don’t say how MUCH he might win by, so stay tuned – as if you could avoid it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lobby Day Training

Last Tuesday, I attended a Lobby Day event with Kaytee and Stephanie. A national group came together to lobby Congress for a few days and hired Advocacy Associates and the Advocacy Guru to help their day run smoothly from start to finish. For most of the day, I sat with Kaytee at the front desk and helped hand out schedules and information packets. Everyone was excited to have arrived in DC and made it to the festivities. The room buzzed with energy as everyone in the group discussed the issues they wanted to bring up in their Congressional meetings. I thought back to my own Lobby Day experience last March at the Bike Summit and the fond memories I made there. 
The group that came together last Tuesday, like the “bike people” (who I affectionately refer to as “my people”), really believe in their cause. It is their livelihood and their passion. They are willing to use their time, energy, and money to make the trip to DC and visit their representatives. They know their industry in and out, and they travel to DC to share their knowledge and expertise with those who make legislative decisions that impact their industry. 

Their industry is not one that I had ever given much thought to, which made me realize just how important forming advocacy groups is. Something that may seem trivial to some can mean so much to others. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t care about bicycle lanes and recreation trails (though I imagine they are hanging out with the people who hate puppies and those who enjoy drinking orange juice after brushing their teeth). By getting out and being active in bicycle-related issues, I can help raise awareness, just like the group on Tuesday introduced me to a whole new industry.  
There are few things that inspire me more than seeing individuals from across America come together to advocate for a shared cause. Throughout my time in DC, I've been reminded again and again of the importance of taking part in government. In a world filled with injustice, having the right to vote and take part in government action should never be trivialized or wasted. 

Whatever the cause, go forth and advocate!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Congressional Office Visit

After lunch on Friday, I trekked over to Congressman Blumenauer’s office to meet his staff and see the inner workings of a congressional office. I arrived a few minutes early, which gave me some time to quietly observe the office. I studied the maps on the wall and tried to soak in the general atmosphere of the office. I was impressed with the awards and certificates of thanks that were given to Congressman Blumenauer from bicycle advocacy groups. My parents own a bicycle shop in Augusta, Georgia, and contribute a great deal of their time and resources to local, state, and national bicycle advocacy, whether it be helping with the construction of a new trail system or lobbying for specific funding grants. It is a great feeling to know that someone on the Hill is also very involved in a cause that is important to me.

When Stephanie arrived, she introduced me to everyone in the office. We all chatted about recent bills and policy initiatives, and we laughed at legislation jokes I wouldn’t have understood a few weeks ago. Everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy his or her job. No one seemed uptight or strict about anything. Janine, his Chief of Staff, even joked that I should go sit at his desk. (I did!)

It was great to see a congressional office in an informal way. It made me more comfortable and confident in approaching staffers on the Hill. I am very grateful for the experience and hope to stay in touch with my new friends on the Hill in the future.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

House to Begin Work on the Farm Bill Next Week

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed its most recent activities report for the third quarter of 2012. Additionally, the Agriculture appropriations bill was scheduled to get floor time but the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill and the Highway reauthorization bill took up most of the floor time last week. This is a missed opportunity as the debates during the Agriculture appropriations bill would have given us a glimpse of potential issues to be raised during the Farm bill reauthorization.

Although Congress is in recess this week, the House Agriculture committee will release the draft version of the Farm bill by the end of the week, most likely Thursday. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, House leadership has scheduled a symbolic repeal vote of the Affordable Care Act on the same day as the Farm bill markup. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has made it clear that he will be moving forward with the July 11 Farm bill markup.

The House Farm bill will contain some similarities to the Senate version and will look to spend around $900 billion. There will be significant differences that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking member Pat Roberts (R-KS) anticipate will be worked out during conference. Differences include:

1.      SNAP- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be an issue in conference as the House will make significantly larger cuts from this program than the Senate bill has made.
2.      Southern Commodity- A National Journal article does a great job describing the conflict between regional farmers in the Farm bill. To paraphrase, Southern peanut and rice growers complain that they are being treated unfairly in the Senate Farm Bill in regards to commodity pricing and crop insurance. The House will likely add a provision that will help to address crop insurance and commodity prices for these farmers by allowing the government to set price floors. This is very different from the Senate Bill as it bases prices on the market.
3.      Fiscal Restraint- Deficit hawks in the House will be looking to make major cuts in the House bill. Things like conservation, nutritional programs, and rural development initiatives may all be in danger of funding cuts in the House Farm bill.

Even with these differences, both Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas are committed to passing the Farm Bill this year. Most sources I have spoken to agree that the Farm bill will take up most of the summer.

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