Saturday, February 26, 2011
Barack Obama 2012: US Congress Secrets. Mikhail Kryzhanovsky, KGB
U.S. Congress secrets
1. A Congressional session is nothing else but a waste of federal time and money — you don’t need debates because Congressional staffers can do all the technical work and they can negotiate between themselves and balance positions. Senators and Congressmen don’t even have to come to Washington — they can vote from their local offices. So these people can spend their time helping thousands of constituents, most of whom never saw their Senator alive.
2. The President is dependent on Congressional cooperation to carry out the executive responsibilities of the Office because Congress has to authorize government programs, establish administrative agencies to implement the problems and funds to finance them.
3. It’s important if President belongs to the party with a majority in the House and Senate. But if your party loses the majority in Congress, you have to work out new political strategy yourself. And you know what? Go to the polls right away and ask voters why they supported the other party. What happened?
4. President’s prestige (popular support or political capital) affects Congressional response to his politics.
5. Influence in Congress is courted only for long periods of service; a Senator with 30 years in office (like Edward Kennedy) has considerably more power than a Senator in his first or second term.This causes the electorate to increasingly favor incumbents, as dislodging one’s Congressman or Senator after 30 years, even if the candidate or his party have become unpopular, can be viewd as hurting one’s district financially. It is often thought that a freshman would be less able to bring home federal money for his state or district.
6. For most Senators, the Senate is a platform for Presidential election campaign. Senators who openly express presidential ambitions are better able to gain media exposure and to establish careers as spokespersons for large national constituencies.
7. The first act of a newly elected Representative is to maneuver for election to the Senate. Why? First, they enjoy their position, power and money for six years non-stop. Second, there are only a hundred Senators and the publicity is much, much greater. But…Representatives have a much better chance to be re-elected.
8. Congress rejects two thirds of President’s proposals.
9. Senators are always looking for a BBD (bigger, better deal) and often shift from one committee to another (a good choice is those dealing with taxes, budget, energy, commerce).
10. Bills to benefit big business move smoothly. (Congress doesn’t like the poor — they don’t contribute; sorry). To gain majority support for big business legislation members have a special trick — log rolling, when factions combine efforts.
11. Senators don’t depend on the people — they depend on the media.
12. If a certain Senator is blocking the President’s proposal, appointment or plan, that means he wants to get the President’s attention.
13. When Senators want to bury issues without resolving them, they create committees.
14. The Senate is a relatively small structure and personal relations between Senators are extremely important.
15. Senators have no incentive to study the details of most pieces of legislation and their decision is simplified by quickly checking how key colleagues have voted or intend to vote.
16.To have power a Senator has to object: much of the Senate work is done by unanimous consent and if you object you’ll be approached for sure by some influential people including other Senators, Secretaries, President’s aides or the President himself. They’ll try to press, blackmail or buy you — and that means you’ve got a piece of the power pie.
17. Senators avoid responsibility and their legitimate functions and roles, especially in economic policy.
18. Congress doesn’t like it when any government agency grows, but these people love the military because military contracts are very lucrative for Congressional districts.
19. Senior Senators teach “newcomers” to vote against any reform which is a threat to their stability.
20. A Senator has real influence on legislation only if he has professional staff in charge of the projects.
21. Senators are afraid to vote against a defense budget increase because then they may be accused of a lack of patriotism (the Pentagon gives jobs in their states too).
22. Republicans and Democrats are not really enemies, here, though both sides are always looking for a “traitor” or “insider” in the other camp.
23. You must have “insiders” in the Senate yourself, because the other party could prepare secretly and then launch officially some investigation against you or the members of your Administration.
24. A legislator does exactly what his voters want him to do — stealing federal money from other states and districts, because for him the most important thing is numbers — polls in his state showing how many people approve his activity. His donors watch these numbers too and estimate their investment and the necessity to support re-election.
25. Every member of Congress has a so-called “split personality” — a “Hill style” while working on Capitol Hill and a “home style” while back in the state or district with the voters.
26. A Senator makes a decision only after thinking about what it means in terms of the re-election money that will come to him or to his opponents. His voting decisions depend on his party membership, constituency pressures, state and regional loyalty ideology, interest groups’ influence. His stubbornness comes from the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen by his constituents as a “rubber stamp” for President’s decisions, especially when the bill in question benefits a Senator’s state. (And the hidden problem is — you want to move fast, especially during the first year while your personal popularity is high — but for the Congress speed is not important).
27. Sooner or later every member of Congress starts playing the “pork barrel” game. It’s nothing else but a diversion of federal funds to projects and places not out of national need but to enhance a member’s chances of re-election in his district (military projects, federal buildings, highways construction projects). So be ready for a “Christmas gift” when these fellows add pork barrel amendments to appropriations bills you are about to sign. They often wait until late in each session to pass critical spending bills, which narrows your range of possible responses because a veto may not be feasible if Congress has adjourned and the funds needed to run the federal government are contained in the legislation.
28. In Congress a small percentage of bills (about 500 out of 10,000) actually become law because many bills are introduced merely to get favorable press. The strategy is especially effective if the legislation is “tied” to the headlines of the day (mass murders, natural disasters, ethnic riots etc.).
29. In the Senate it’s easier for a minority to block the bill than for a majority to pass it: a 60-vote majority is needed to force a final vote on the bill, while only 41 votes are needed to continue debate and delay a vote.
30. The minority can hold the majority responsible as the party in power for whatever legislation does or does not emerge from the Senate. But both parties prefer to be the party in power in the Senate - all Senate legislation begins in the committees, whose membership and chairmanship are controlled by the party in power. Besides, each chairman has power in terms of controlling the committee budgets and deciding which hearings will be held and which legislation he will allow to be released to the Senate floor for a vote. He can also “lock up the bill” in committee until it dies. Perfect!
How to Control Congress
The President can propose legislation, but Congress is not required to pass any of the administration’s bills. But you know already that Senators and Representatives need re-election more than anything else. So you can go with indirect influence through appeals to the public; this is a confrontation and direct challenge to Congressional authority. You can also enlist the support of interest groups or direct influence through favors and personal involvement in the legislative process. (Get public support for a proposal before it’s discussed with the Congress.) And don’t hesitate to start a national debate — you have enough media attention for that.
You also have an independent tool, presidential power in the form of an executive order. You can give favors directly to members of Congress or to influential people in their constituency, or the favor may be of benefit to the constituency itself:
- appointments with the President and other high-ranking officials
- federal grants to recipients in the constituency, government contracts with local companies, the deposit of federal funds in banks, grants to local government and educational institutions
- support of projects (military installations, research and administrative facilities, public works such as buildings, dams and navigational improvements to rivers and harbors, etc.)
- recommendations for the US district court judges, attorneys, marshals, etc.
- campaign assistance (cash contributions from the party’s national committee invitations to bill-signing ceremonies, White House parties or to accompany President on trips
- bargaining and arm-twisting (pressure and threats to lose the projects).