Government Reform

How Personality Explains Lawmaker Behavior

Adam Ramey: “Using every floor speech by every member of the U.S. Congress since 1996, we use some recent methods in computer science to generate the first estimates of legislator personality over time. For each member, we estimate their positions on the Big Five personality dimensions – Openness to new experiences, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (or OCEAN, for short). We find that each of these dimensions helps us to explain lots of different behaviors that legislators engage in, even after accounting for ideology.”

“Intriguingly, it turns out that personality traits help us to tell a nuanced story of what is going on in Washington. Specifically, it’s not just liberals behaving differently than conservatives. Rather, most of the dysfunction we observe in Congress today is a product of both ideology and changing personality demographics.”

“Our findings show that personality dimensions explain the kinds of bills legislators propose, how often they buck the party line, how they use press releases and Twitter to disseminate information, and more. All together, this leads to a simple but profound conclusion: personality is more than a feeling. It’s a driving force behind partisan, polarizing tactics and it’s reshaping how Washington works.”

There Are No Moderates Left in Congress

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.32.57 AM

The Fix: “In the last three decades, the number of members in the middle in the House dropped from 344 (79 percent of the House) in 1982  to four (.9 percent of the House) in 2013.  As the slide suggests, redistricting — the decennial redrawing of the nation’s congressional lines — plays a major role in that decline. The last two nationwide redraws have largely been incumbent-protection efforts, making Republican districts more Republican and Democratic districts more Democratic.”

Mississippi Has The Worst Elections

National Journal looks at the latest Pew Elections Performance Index — “based on 17 factors (some of which include voting-wait time, turnout, registration rate, the robustness of the state’s election data, availability of online voting information, and use of provisional ballots)… Taken together, they provide a ground to compare states, which have varying election laws and practices.”

“The average score of all states increased from 2008 to 2012, and voting-wait times nationally actually decreased by about three minutes. But Mississippi had the lowest EPI average in all three years measured by the index: 2008, 2010, and 2012.”

Deciphiring ‘Patent Trolls’

Susan Decker explains that “nobody likes ‘patent trolls,’ even if they’re not quite sure what they are.”

“It’s a term without clear definition and yet it’s being used to push Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court right now to curb abusive litigation without damaging a centuries-old system designed to promote advances in science and industry.”

The [Internet Association] group cites studies putting litigation expenses at $29 billion a year and estimating that complaints from non-manufacturers make up two-thirds of complaints filed. It included litigation from all ‘non-practicing entities.'”

“By contrast, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year only counted ‘patent monetization entities,’ companies buying patents to profit from royalties or lawsuits. Such suits made up 19 percent of the complaints filed between 2007 and 2011, GAO said.”

“Some lawmakers are getting wise to the distinctions, and say legislation should target behavior and not ownership.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is working on a bill that “would require more disclosure of patent ownership, expand the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s review process for issued patents and have losers pay some of the winner’s fees.”

“The House in December approved legislation requiring patent owners to provide more data on their inventions and limiting pre-trial information that can be sought from accused patent violators.”

If You’re Poor, Don’t Call In Sick

The Atlantic highlights a new Institute for Women’s Policy Research report that found “in 2012 it was primarily poor, Hispanic workers who were most likely to go without paid sick days.”

76 percent of food service workers, who are responsible for handling food, currently aren’t offered paid sick days.

“Ten states have passed laws prohibiting local governments from establishing sick-leave laws.”

“Small-business advocacy groups are staunchly opposed to sick-day legislation, arguing it would cause a drop-off in hiring. But other research reports show that after California’s leave law was established, most employers saw either no effect or a positive impact.”

How Lawmakers Made Your Commute Worse

Eric Jaffe shows how lawmakers’ recent decision to break parity on subsidized commuter benefits hurts all commuters.

“The decision is terrible for both sides — transit riders obviously lose, but so do drivers, since the incentive for a single-occupancy commute will increase traffic … In fact the few brief years of benefit equality were the exception, not the rule:”

“Here’s why subsidized benefits, in particular, are so important.” There’s no incentive for employers to make up the shortfall:

“So if the goal is to relieve pressure from urban transportation networks, federal commuter-benefit policy is failing our cities. And network pressure is indeed at stake. Transit benefits can account for 5 to 25 percent of system ridership and 5 to 40 percent of revenue.”

Virginia and New Jersey Aren’t the Only Corrupt States

Source: Center for Public Integrity

Washington Post: “It’s not an accident that some states manage to escape corruption: States such as Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Utah, Nebraska and New Hampshire consistently show up near the bottom of the corruption lists. Generally speaking, those states have stronger ethics boards, tighter rules on lobbyist and vendor gifts and more transparent reporting systems for political contributions.”

Obama’s NSA Reforms: Just Cosmetic?

President Obama plans to unveil his intelligence reform plan on Friday. Early reports indicate that the president will shy away from implementing the more comprehensive policy proposals of his surveillance review group in favor of a watered down reform of the nation’s intelligence framework.

Wall Street Journal: “Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is also attempting to pose as a ‘reformer’ without doing as much damage as the true reformers would prefer. Thus some of his changes are merely cosmetic. Others are more appropriate for peacetime in a fantasy world without terror and other overseas threats.”

Julian Sanchez: “Americans could be forgiven for wondering whether there was any point to appointing a group of experts to conduct such an extensive analysis if the president is going to ignore their advice, except when it matches what he’d already decided to do.”

Peter Baker: Obama, “the onetime constitutional lawyer is now the commander in chief presiding over a surveillance state that some of his own advisers think has once again gotten out of control.”

Volcker Rule Test Imminent

With the final version of the Volcker Rule due out on Tuesday, the focus is on whether it will be tough enough.

Bloomberg View: Although “Volcker’s simple concept has prevailed … in other areas, the regulators have compromised. The rule probably won’t stop banks from designating some proprietary trades as ‘market-making’.”

“Perhaps the best gauge will be how much trading migrates from the largest firms to independent brokerages, hedge funds and other institutions that have been squeezed out of the business … The Volcker rule, along with higher capital requirements, will minimize … subsidies [for big banks], which should make trading less profitable for banks and create opportunities for nonbank rivals.”

The Washington Post outlines areas to pay attention to:

  • Portfolio hedging. Early leaks suggest that portfolio hedging won’t be allowed under the final version of reform.
  • Market-making. Keep an eye on which agency will actually enforce these rules for which part of the bank, and how the agencies will coordinate that.
  • Implementation. The rule will point to actual concrete things we can look at in six months to see if the rule is having an effect [and] we should expect to see the people focused on [market making and client services] thrive.

Tougher Restrictions for Banks Under 'Volcker Rule'

According to The Wall Street Journal, “federal regulators are expected next week to approve a toughened version of the so-called Volcker rule, ending years of wrangling over the controversial provision of the Dodd-Frank law and opening a new phase of stricter oversight for Wall Street.”

“The 11th-hour talks are expected to result in tougher restrictions on hedging—beyond what regulators had agreed to just a few weeks ago.”

The tougher restrictions are endorsed by CFTC Chairman, Gary Gensler, and SEC Commissioner, Kara Stein, who argued   that “the rule gave banks too much leeway in how they were allowed to tie hedges to other positions at the bank.”

“The worry: Banks could enter trades loosely tied to those positions that were actually designed to post a profit, giving them a back-end way to continue engaging in proprietary trading. To reduce that risk, the two officials pushed for requirements that hedges are specifically tied to the risk of losses.”

“The rule is expected to require banks to tie hedges to specific risks, such as interest-rate, currency or foreign-exchange risk.”

113th Congress is Least Productive Ever

The New York Times reports that “the 113th Congress has passed all of 55 laws so far this year, seven fewer at this point than the 112th Congress — the least productive Congress ever.”

The reason: “Many Republicans believe they are getting such good traction from their attacks on President Obama’s stumbling health care law that they feel less compelled to produce results. Any public fight over legislative compromises could take away from the focus Republicans have kept on the health care law.”

“Major bills passed by the Senate with bipartisan majorities to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, update farm programs, allow states to collect sales taxes from online retailers and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination have been blocked from votes in the House — where members of both parties say they could pass.”

“Lawmakers and aides from both parties say a modest budget deal is possible [but] the farm bill is a more difficult lift.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.): “If they want my vote, they ought to stop beating up on poor people … I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a farm bill that doesn’t increase hunger in America.”