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February 08, 2007

Who Won the Senate Debate?

Robert Novak's column today suggests Republicans suffered a "public relations fiasco" over the Senate debate on the Iraq resolutions. I don't think he is correct.

The broader public is detached from the inside baseball nature of the Senate debate, and they also more or less understand that at the end of the day we are talking about utterly toothless, non-binding resolutions on Iraq. Political partisans, on the other hand, in each of the parties' respective bases, however, are keenly aware of the Senate dynamics and the political and military message of a Congressional vote against the U.S. offensive now under away in Iraq.

Republican partisans who have been understandably depressed for the last six months (particularly since the election) finally had something to cheer in the GOP unity in not allowing the Senate Democrats to ram through an anti-surge resolution. The anti-war left partisans are frustrated by what they perceive as Harry Reid's capitulation toward the Warner position, and then after compromising, still not being able to deliver a rebuke to President Bush on the war.

Republican Senators who are scared about Iraq and the 2008 elections will have plenty of time and opportunities over the next year to jump off the President's Iraq policy if they feel that is in the their personal political interests. It is hard to imagine that voters are going to hold GOP Senators accountable in November 2008 for not allowing a vote on a Democratic, non-binding Iraq resolution in February 2007.

After last year's election debacle, the Senate Republicans' solidarity and the Democrats' obvious frustration in not being able to deliver the political embarrassment to the President easily outweighs a couple of days of news stories about how Republicans "blocked" debate on non-binding Iraq resolutions.

February 07, 2007

Burton Blasted

The Indianapolis Star editorial board takes Republican Congressman Dan Burton to task for missing votes to play in a celebrity golf tournament:

So here's the score: Burton would rather play golf than attend a hearing on Iraq. He shows up for work less often than a 20-year-old slacker who refuses to move out of his parents' basement. He has little shame when it comes to accepting expensive gifts. And he feels immune from voters' wrath because he's been handed a heavily gerrymandered district that might as well hang up "Democrats need not apply'' signs.

Sweet gig, Dan.

Just remember the good folks back home in Indiana when the pro-am season ends.

February 05, 2007

McConnell 1, Reid 0

Majority Leader Reid and Senate Democrats are learning that it is not always fun being in the majority, especially a majority that hangs by a single Joe Lieberman vote.

The debate over the non-binding resolutions on Iraq has turned into the first real skirmish of the new Congress and so far McConnell and the GOP minority are winning this battle. Harry Reid's frustration was evident in his closing statement before the cloture motion went down to defeat. (The vote failed by eleven votes 49-47. To my knowledge not a single Republican voted for cloture. UPDATE: The Senate website has the roll call and Norm Coleman and Susan Collins did vote for cloture. Interestingly Chuck Hagel and John Warner did not.)

Reid is going to slowly realize that very few Republican Senators are going to shed tears over his lamenting of "stalling tactics" by the minority, especially after the Democrats perfected those exact same stalling tactics under then Minority Leader Reid in the last Congress.

February 02, 2007

Spinning the Non-Binding Battle in the Senate

Washington Post - Senate Democrats Split on Measure Opposing Bush

Wall Street Journal - Bush Senate Allies to Seek Iraq Benchmarks

New York Times - Compromise Senate Measure Rebuffing Bush's Iraq Buildup Gathers Support

Washington Times - Majority in Senate Support 'Stay the Course' Resolution

The Washington Post and the WSJ headlines hit closest to describing what is really going on behind the scenes. The New York Times tries to spin the recent Democrat movement "toward GOP positions" - which is how the Washington Post reports recent development -- as (surprise) anti-Bush. The worst of the bunch is the Washington Times, which makes a laughable effort to spin the Senate as getting behind a "stay the course" resolution.

The real battle over these non-binding resolutions is between the Warner-Levin camp and the new McCain-Lieberman resolution as described in the WSJ story.

This entire debate in the Senate has always been purely a political exercise because all of these resolutions are non-binding and thus policy impotent. But the political advantages that the Democrats felt they were gaining through this exercise appear to be slipping away. Depending how the process continues to play out over the next week, the entire episode could ironically provide Senate Republicans and President Bush a much needed boost.

January 30, 2007

House Democrats' Unforced Error

The issue of voting rights in the House of Representatives for delegates from Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the Distinct of Columbia may seem like a small, unimportant issue -- and substantively it is -- but politically it is a sizable, unforced error on the part of the new Democratic majority in the House.

George Will eviscerated House Democrats in his Sunday column:

"The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states ...'' -- Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2.

"What's the Constitution between friends?'' -- Rep. Timothy Campbell, a Tammany Democrat, to Democratic President Grover Cleveland after Cleveland said that a bill Campbell favored was unconstitutional.

WASHINGTON -- There they go again. House Democrats should at least provide variety in their venality. Last Wednesday, fresh from legislating new ethics regarding relations with lobbyists, they demonstrated that there are worse forms of corruption than those involving martinis and money.....

What part of the words "several states'' do House Democrats not understand? Their cynical assumption is that "the people of the several states'' will not notice this dilution of their representation in the House.....

The 58,000 Samoans pay no federal income taxes, but their delegate will be able to participate in raising the taxes of, say, Montanans. Samoa's delegate will have virtually the same power as Rep. Denny Rehberg, who represents all 944,000 Montanans. Obviously the Democrats' reverence for the principle "one person, one vote'' is, well, situational.

January 1993 was the last time Democrats engaged in this cynical political alchemy, transmuting delegates from four island jurisdictions, and one from the seat of the federal government, into the functional equivalents of representatives selected by people of "the several states.'' In January 1993, two months after they lost 10 House seats, they counterfeited half that many votes -- even though they had an 82-seat majority. One year later, such arrogance contributed to the Democrats' loss of their House majority.

This is simply political malpractice on the part of House Democrats. The 2006 campaign demonstrated extraordinary discipline on the part of Democrats, and their 12 years in the political wilderness led many to suspect, including myself, that they would be extremely cautious and measured with their new power. But this decision - which was utterly unnecessary and will be effectively demagogued by Republicans - might be an early sign that the new Democratic majority, now in control and with Bush's poll numbers in the cellar, may be hard pressed to maintain the same political discipline that proved so successful in acquiring power in 2006.

January 23, 2007

The Politics of Filibustering Iraq Resolutions

On the Special Report roundtable last night, Brit Hume asked an interesting question on the politics of whether the Republicans should filibuster the various Iraq resolutions that may come up for a vote in the Senate:

Is it better for the Republicans to allow the vote to happen, with whatever embarrassment it may cause the president, and put these Democrats and others on record, including some of their own on record, resisting the president on this, or is it better not to have it?

The reaction from the panelists (or at least Mara Liasson) was that it was wiser for the GOP to allow a vote rather than filibuster. I don't know that I agree. Assuming these resolutions can be filibustered and assuming McConnell has the votes to sustain a filibuster, I think Republicans would be in a position to win politically from not allowing a toothless vote that, they could argue quite persuasively, would damage the morale of our troops and embolden the enemy.

The idea that Republicans gain from having the Democrats on record against the President's plan is silly. If the U.S.'s surge in Iraq is successful it will help President Bush and the GOP and hurt Democrats. If it isn't, the opposite will be true. These votes will not change that reality one iota.

Given these resolutions have no real power and are for show, it seems to me it would be hard for Democrats to make the case that somehow a filibuster was jeopardizing the nation. Republicans could defend the move by saying they would only allow at this time Iraq votes on actual measures that have real-life consequences, as opposed to show votes advanced to pursue political objectives that could damage troop morale in the process.

However, given the tone of Senator McConnell's article in The Hill today "Addressing U.S. priorities with a bipartisan spirit" this does not appear to the time that Senate Republicans want to ratchet up the political warfare.

January 21, 2007

Grading Congress

David Brooks grades the performance of the new Democratic Congress. The short version:

Ethics reform: A-
Energy policy: A-
Stem cells: B
Minimum wage: B-
Studen loans: C-
9/11 Recommendations: C-
Prescription Drugs: D

Brooks concludes:

In conclusion, if a wonky Mr. Chips were to step back and render a judgment on the new Congress so far, he'd note that it's not a terribly ambitious student. It hasn't tried anything big. It has a weakness for showy symbolism and middle-class subsidies. Still, at least it hasn't humiliated the nation the way the last Congress did, and it looks set to do some modest good.

January 04, 2007

Sour Grapes

Though I agree with much of the sentiment expressed in today's Wall Street Journal editorial on the newly arriving Demoocratic Congress, I can't help but detect a note of sour grapes in the last graf:

The country spoke loud and clear on behalf of Democrats last November, but we doubt this means it voted for everything on the party's partisan wish list. Attempting to shove these measures through the House without allowing votes on amendments or alternatives isn't the way a confident majority behaves. We guess this is why the Founders created the Senate.

Apparently the Republican House majority under Tom DeLay wasn't very confident either.....

November 16, 2006

More on Conservative Dems and the Election

The Hotline's Josh Kraushaar sent this follow-up to my post yesterday suggesting conservative Democratic candidates had very little to do with the 35 pickups in the House and Senate for the Democrats.

The point about conservatism not being the decisive factor in the Democrats' win is a dead-on point, and Morris misses the mark in his column.

Of the Democratic pickups only 5 max can it be said that the candidates' conservatism played any role in the victory. There's NC 11, where Shuler is well-positioned to hold the seat because of his "mountain values" talk. There's IN 09, where Baron Hill was helped as much by his past experience representing the CD as his conservatism. There's
PA 10, where Don Sherwood cost the GOP the seat as much as Chris Carney won it for them. (That said,
he ran a strong, values-centric campaign.) And IN 08, where Ellsworth was by far the strongest nominee
because of his conservatism... though, you are correct that a more moderate Dem could have held the seat
given the statewide and nat'l environment. You could also make the argument for Tim Mahoney in FL 16,
even though he won only because of Mark Foley's misconduct.

But there are 9 other seats where not only did the Dems' not emphasize their conservatism, but actively
advertised lefty viewpoints. Take Steve Kagen, for example. He won in a 57% Bush district despite taking
positions well to the left of his district on foreign policy and health care. Or Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes,
who ran on discontent to the Iraq war - not conservative positions at all. Zack Space isn't conservative, nor did he
actively advertise himself as such in OH 18. Neither did Nancy Boyda in her surprise KS 02 victory. Conservatism
played little to no role in Nick Lampson, Gabby Giffords or Harry Mitchell's victories as well. And if you count KY 03
(which is a 50-50 district), John Yarmuth embraced many liberal positions he took when writing for an alt-weekly paper.

So this by no means was a mandate for Dem conservatism..... in most cases, they took advantage of ballot blunders and other ethical snafus by Republicans, plus the uniquely favorable environment for Dems.

November 15, 2006

What Lott's Win May Foreshadow

Lott's win for the #2 GOP slot in the Senate was unexpected, though not entirely surprising. I suspect it is a triumph for Republicans in the Senate who want to take a considerably more aggressive posture with the new Democratic majority. Lott is in a far better position than Lamar Alexander to effectively use the wide array of Senate rules the minority has at its disposal to frustrate the majority, especially a one-vote majority.

The very brief post-election comity is ending - as well it should from the Republicans' standpoint. Democrats had great success by repeatedly frustrating Republican efforts to govern and relentlessly attacking President Bush, and now that they are in the majority the "can't we all just get along" schtick rings rather hollow to most Capitol Hill Republicans.

Lott's win can be read as a sign that Senate Republicans are gearing up to be an aggressive and effective minority, and his ascension back into the ranks of the leadership is probably a very smart tactical move by the GOP.

Conservative Dems Didn't Decide the Election

One piece of conventional wisdom making the rounds in Washington is that Democrats rode to power on the backs of moderate and conservative Democrats. In pre-election interviews, I regularly pointed to the Democrats' selection of candidates in many of these contested races as an example of how good of a campaign they had run. Dick Morris presses this point in his column today:

But how did Democrats achieve these majorities? It did so lifted by the wings of moderate, centrist Democrats who mastered their GOP opponents throughout the country. It was not liberals who defeated Republican incumbents in the House and Senate. It was moderates, future members of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

The only reason Pelosi is Speaker is that a fresh crop of moderate Democrats ousted Republican incumbents in the House.

Now that the election is over, however, I am wondering just how much of a difference these moderate Democratic candidates really made. I do think the Democrats' willingness to run relatively conservative candidates spoke to their discipline and commitment to winning and was important in setting the tone for how they conducted the entire campaign.

But looking at the conservative Democrats most prominently mentioned in the new Congress - outside of Jim Webb in Virginia where there is no question that Webb's conservatism was critical to his upset of George Allen - it is hard to find a specific race where it was the conservatism of the candidate that made the winning difference.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Bob Casey smashed Rick Santorum by an incredible 17 points. I suspect had Pennsylvania Democrats run almost any non-scandal tinged liberal they would have still won this race. Liberal Sherrod Brown's 12-point win in neighboring Ohio is a solid indication that the ideology of the Democratic challenger was not the driving force in this election. Brad Ellsworth's 22-point win in Indiana 8 is another example of where a more liberal candidate would likely have still won against John Hostettler, though probably with a margin more in line with the 4 and 8 point wins in IN-2 and IN-9.

Even in North Carolina 11 where Heath Shuler won by 8 points against the tainted Charles Taylor, I don't think it was Shuler's conservatism that was critical to his win. Shuler was not as strong a candidate locally as the national media assumed, and given the macro political winds and Taylor's problems I suspect a more liberal candidate would still have won this seat.

Finally, Jon Tester's win in Montana is often mistakenly cited as another example of where a conservative Democrat beat the Republican, except the race is actually proof of just the opposite. Tester - who is actually quite liberal - beat the more conservative Democrat John Morrison in the primary and held on to win the general by a squeaker.

The moderate or conservative bent of some Democratic candidates may have won the Democrats a couple of extra races they other wise would not have but it would be a mistake to suggest it was a critical factor in their big win. It was not. Obviously, the single seat in Virginia was significant in that it flipped control of the Senate, but of the 35 House and Senate seats Democrats picked up, the conservative bent of the Democratic challenger was not determinative in more than a few, at most. It is in 2008 where these more moderate and conservative members in the House will help Democrats as they try and hold on to their new majority.

November 14, 2006

House Republicans Should Delay Leadership Vote

House Republicans would be wise to follow the advice on the Washington Times editorial page to delay their leadership vote this Friday. From the Republicans' standpoint, there is no compelling reason to have a vote this week. The argument that they need leadership in place to be able to respond to the Democrats is just silly. House Republicans have had months and months of campaigning to respond to the Democrats.

Republicans would be better advised to take some time and reflect on what the voters said last Tuesday in throwing them out of power. They need to find a refocused vision and commitment to the limited-government agenda of 1994 that won them their majority in the first place. And they need to think long and hard about who the best leaders might be to take a new reenergized message to the American people.

Anything that smacks to the public of as business as usual displays an arrogance and contempt for the country's decision last week and is exactly the wrong message House Republicans should be sending if they are at all interested in winning back their majority.

August 30, 2006

Senator Porky

But of course. Senator Stevens may want to reconsider his comment that the Internet is "not a truck" because when bloggers get done with him I suspect he's going to feel like he was hit by one.

Who's the Pig in the Closet? - Larry Kudlow

God help the poor, piggy senator behind the "secret hold" on S.2590.

Whoever this Porky Pig lawmaker is, you can take it to the bank that he/she isn't getting much sleep these days. And, if this senator is sleeping (with the help of handfuls of Ambien no doubt), they're likely dreaming of a way out of the wretched mess they created for themselves.

Here's a question: Why in the world would any above-board lawmaker attempt to shelve this pork transparency legislation?

What's so scary about a little old website that would allow voters to see where their own hard-earned tax dollars are going? What the heck are they so afraid of?

It's great to see the power of the blogosphere on this one. Both sides have come together calling for an end to the earmark madness. As Martha is apt to saying, "This is a good thing."

From Glenn Reynolds of both Porkbusters and Instapundit (who deserves credit for spearheading this whole thing) to the fiscally responsible Club for Growth's Andy Roth, all the way across the political spectrum to the lefties over at Daily Kos, bloggers have spoken in one unified voice and have issued their edict: NO MORE PORK.

It isn't everyday that you see virtually unanimous agreement from the left and right. But, when you do, whenever both sides of our polarized, political divide rally together against an "as-yet" unidentified lawmaker; whenever red and blue voters join hands and turn purple in a common cause, well, you've just got to know that they're on to something.

After all, this is our money lawmakers are playing around with, not theirs. Much of Washington seems to have forgotten this fact, which is why cancerous pork-barrel earmarking skyrocketed to around 13,000 earmarks this year, costing taxpayers $64 billion dollars. It is also the reason why some shady senator sees fit to put a secret hold on valuable legislation that would help clean up this earmark nightmare.

When you consider the resounding success of President Bush's tax cuts, and all the money that's been pouring into the Treasury as a result, you've got to shake your head in disbelief and think: Had their been some fiscal accountability in Congress this year, some tightening of the budget belt, we'd be in a far better budgetary position.

God help this poor lawmaker. Porky may get roasted.

August 29, 2006

Dr. Frist is on the Case

Majority Leader Bill Frist presses the issue of the secret hold placed on S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. Frist writes on his blog:

It is deeply ironic that bipartisan legislation dedicated to transparency in government has been obstructed by the least transparent possible means. But I've not given up ... and neither has a united blogosphere.

Led by sites like PorkBusters, TPM Muckraker, and GOP Progress, online activists across the political spectrum have worked to clear away the obstruction against this bill through hard work and the process of elimination. While the count is still climbing, they have publicly received a response from 89 Senators regarding the secret hold - and I'm proud to say that members of my online grassroots organization, the iFrist Volunteers, have made a major contribution to this effort in calling Senators and securing their promise they have not held up the bill, nor will they hold up the bill. The growing success of this effort perfectly demonstrates the value of the database that S. 2590 would create ... because it proves that Americans with a passion for citizen journalism and empowered by technology can cooperate across party lines to make a real difference.

So, to get this bill passed, I am calling on all members, when asked by the blog community, to instruct their staff to answer whether or not they have a hold, honestly and transparently, so I can pass this bill. And I encourage Minority Leader Reid to do the same.

All I can say is that whoever is blocking this bill had better hope they're not up for reelection in November - assuming we find out who it is before then.

July 18, 2006

McCain Speaks - Part II

Yesterday I posted Part I of John McCain's remarks at the press conference with David McSweeney on Saturday. Here's the rest of what McCain had to say:

On what Republicans can do to improve their prospects for November: "I think this is going to be a very tough election, and what I think we Republicans need to do, maybe, is have the President veto a couple of these pork-barrel appropriations bills. I think we Republicans need to sit down together and resolve the immigration issue. We control the Presidency and both Houses of Congress we ought to be able to work out a reasonable program to enforce our borders, and to fix our broken immigration system. I think that progress in the war on Iraq is vital. We all know that the number one issue in every poll is the war in Iraq. By the way, I think the leadership the President will be showing in this present crisis [in the Middle East] will help him.

And I think we just need to overall show our base, our Republican base, that are very concerned about fiscal discipline, that we can get spending under control. I'm not worried about our base, which is concerned about fiscal discipline, to vote Democrat. But I am concerned that they might stay home because they're unhappy with our dramatically increased spending practices over the last six years."

On energy policy: "What I think we obviously need to do is expedite as much as possible progress on ethanol. I just came from Iowa, there are seven new ethanol refineries being built - they're already at 24 and they're building 7 more. Ethanol, when oil is $10 dollars a barrel, isn't that exciting. When oil is $70 or $80 a barrel it's very, very vital, and we're seeing a dramatic expansion of that.

I also believe that nuclear power is clean, is available, the technology is there, and we need to increase dramatically our nuclear power plants. I know that's controversial in some places. I would remind you that 80% of the electricity generated by the French is from nuclear power. The Japanese - everyone in the world is using nuclear power heavily, except for the United States of America.

We did close a bit of a loophole on CAFÉ standards - we may have to look at that some more. But I really believe that the two existing technologies right now are ethanol and nuclear power. Hydrogen is great. Many of these other new technologies are great, but when I get into the details of them they say, 'well, that's two, five, ten years away.'"

On whether Congress will pass an immigration bill before November: I really hope that we do. One major reason is, why shouldn't we be able to sit down together and work this out? We all are in agreement the system is broken. It's the product of 40 or 50 years of failed government policy - nobody understands that better than people from Arizona where we have terrible devastation associated with that issue.

But we should be able to sit down and discuss this. We've had several discussions with some of the House members. Congressman Pence from Indiana has had an idea that we've been discussing, Congressman LaHood has been in the meetings I have...

The President believes we need a comprehensive approach. I totally agree with the President. But once you accept that premise, it seems to me that everything is on the table as to how we could best enforce our borders, establish a temporary worker program of some sort, and dispense somehow with the problem of 11 million people who have been living in our country illegally. Some came yesterday; some have been here 60 or 70 years. So, if we can just have a dialog amongst us, it seems to me that we should be able to come to an agreement. I'm hopeful that we will.

From a pure political standpoint, shouldn't we be able to govern? Shouldn't we be able to sit down and address a major issue that is of major concern to the American people? I think the American people expect us to.

And again, I want to emphasize, we who support a comprehensive solution, as the President does, we're willing to discuss and compromise on almost every aspect of it. We're not locked in concrete on any specific aspect of it. So I hope we can, and I believe we can, and I'm guardedly optimistic."

On an immigration compromise that starts with a year of border enforcement before triggering other provisions of a comprehensive plan: "If tomorrow we said we're going to seal the border, and we're going to do whatever is necessary - and we are spending billions more now, we're hiring thousands and thousands of new border patrol, we've got the National Guard on the border, we're doing lots and lots of things - even if tomorrow we said we're going to set up a guest worker program...it would still take a couple of years. So you could be sealing the border and at the same time moving forward with all of the apparatus and bureaucracy associated with a program like that.

On the other hand, if you say you have to seal the borders, my friend, the Israelis just found out you can't "seal" a border. The only thing that's going to keep the Israelis safe from having people cross their border is to stop the threat. The only thing that going to keep people from coming across our border is to dry up the magnet, which is what attracts people, which is jobs.

And that's why if the only way you could work in America would be with be with a temporary worker visa - a tamper-proof visa - those people who are south of the border wouldn't want to come across illegally because there would be no job for them while they're here, because any employer who employed them without that document would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

On campaign finance reform: "We think that the McCain-Feingold bill has been largely successful. What hasn't been closed is the loophole concerning the 527's, which are a violation of the 1974 law. I don't mean to get too technical here, but right now we have the ability, because of this loophole the Federal Elections Commission will not close and should - and we're in court trying to get them to close it - people like George Soros, and wealthy billionaires are able to pour literally tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns. It's wrong. It needs to be fixed. The Federal Election Commission has to act.

The other provisions of the law have worked pretty well. But we really have a bad Federal Elections Commission. They are the ones who created the loopholes to start with, for soft money and others, and it's very regrettable."

April 25, 2006

What's Wrong With These People?

Lynn Sweet rips the lid off of what looks to be yet another example of malfeasance by a member of Congress, this time a questionable deal between Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and communications giant SBC (now AT&T):

An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation's largest phone companies.

The chief of a congressional watchdog group says Rush's ongoing association with the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation and his role in shaping telecommunications law as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a conflict of interest. Using charitable giving as a backdoor way to curry favor with lawmakers is coming under increasing scrutiny, figuring in controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was forced to temporarily step aside as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics panel.

On Wednesday, the energy and commerce panel on which Rush sits is set to vote on a controversial rewrite of telecommunications law co-sponsored by Rush and backed by major phone companies eager to compete with cable television companies.

Rush says he supports the bill because it encourages competition and will benefit low income areas in districts like his by driving down prices. Though that claim is disputed by some, it's certainly a reasonable position to hold and the bill was approved by a subcommittee vote of 24-7 with the support from 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The merit of the legislation, however, is beside the point.

Even if there isn't a quid-pro quo - and no one is alleging any such thing - what on earth would allow Rush to think it's acceptable for him to take a million dollars in charitable contributions from a company whose business he directly oversees from his perch on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet? Spare me the soliloquies about good intentions or what a difference the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation is making in the community, this should be a no-brainer conflict of interest. Let's not forget to throw in the fact that Rush's son works for the Rebirth of Englewood CDC and is, presumably, drawing a salary.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to have taken leave of their senses about what is and is not acceptable behavior for elected officials. As we've seen, Democratic cries of a "culture of corruption" are blatantly hypocritical, and Republicans are offering up a band-aid for a wound that requires a tourniquet.

April 10, 2006

What Republicans Can Learn From Phil Mickelson

Did you watch the final round of the Masters yesterday? It started out looking to be one of the most exciting in history with two past winners and five of the world's top golfers on the leaderboard. But slowly over the course of the day all the players vying to challenge Phil Mickelson fell victim to mistakes; poor shot execution, bad course management, lack of focus around the greens. In particular, Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, and Vijay Singh all putted themselves right out of contention. Mickelson won because he made the fewest mistakes, in fact he made hardly any mistakes at all shooting a final round 69 and winning by two strokes. By about the 16th hole there was hardly any suspense left in the tournament.

There's a lesson here for Republicans: execution matters. Right now, Republicans in Congress are compounding an already unfavorable election year atmosphere with a series of executional mistakes. John McIntyre points out the mess they've made trying to muddle through immigration reform, and John Fund notes they've equally bungled the budget and tax cuts. All three issues are vital to the GOP's core constituency. That doesn't mean they're easy to handle - especially an issue as complex as immigration - but that they do need to be handled with care. So far Republicans have done a poor job of executing on these issues to the benefit of the party.

Anyone who plays golf has heard the phrase, "drive for show but putt for dough." In other words, it doesn't matter how far you can hit the ball down the fairway, if you can't properly execute the task of putting the ball into the hole you're going to lose every time. In golf that means you'll end up losing money. In politics it means you'll end up losing elections.

April 06, 2006

McKinney Folds Her Hand

Here's the full text of Cynthia McKinney's statement today on the floor of the House:

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

I come before this body to personally express, again, my sincere regret about the encounter with the Capitol Hill Police. I appreciate my colleagues who are standing with me, who love this institution and who love this country. There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I have always supported law enforcement, and will be voting for H. Res. 756 expressing my gratitude and appreciation to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation. And I apologize.

The problem for McKinney is that sincerity is dictated more by actions than words. So while she clearly said all the right things in her apology, the fact that it came days after the incident and also after her shameful attempt to smear a Capitol police officer as racist makes it impossible to accept that McKinney feels "sincere regret." She lost, plain and simple.

Going back to Steve Lubet's poker analogy from the Chicago Tribune yesterday, McKinney could see her high stakes bluff was about to be called so she laid down her hand. By the way, even though the game looks to be over, here's an interesting email I received from a reader this morning that discusses Lubet's analogy in more detail:

One observation about the poker analogy, which is morally neutral. It's morally neutral to bluff, because it is within the 'ethics of poker.' We all sit down, knowing that bluffing is legal, expected, fair, etc. Properly done, we never know if the bluffer was bluffing, lest he not be able to pull it off in the future. We even admire it, sometimes.

What if the bluffer in a limitless game suddenly said 'I am betting my firstborn against yours. You have to either see me or fold.' You would say 'you cannot make me bet that much, even in a limitless game!' That would exceed/bust the 'ethics of the game.' If the bluffer could somehow make you continue to play in that game, instead of picking up all your chips and going home, you would certainly fold. But the other player would never be allowed into another game with anyone who knew about it.

There's the problem. McKinney, by completely flouting what appear to be the facts/truth, and even worse, bringing race into it, has simply exceeded the ethics of the game. It's not even politics' ethics she's breaking. This isn't political - it's not about splitting up the pie among competing interests, immigration, social security, Iraq. It's about McKinney, and she's willing to introduce the most damaging divider left in American society, charges of racism, to protect herself against a momentary misjudgment on her part.

Tom Sowell's piece two days ago on a recent trend of completely ignoring facts/reality comes to mind here. Damn the truth if it gets in my way. I won't let the truth stop me or slow me down. I'm hoping the Capitol Hill police have the guts and unity to call her, make her show her cards.

It looks like that's exactly what happened.

April 05, 2006

McKinney's Gambit

This quote from U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer in today's Washington Times should go without saying:

"I want to make it really clear: If [officers] are not sure who's walking in that door, I expect them to challenge that person. And the person who is challenged has no right to strike an officer."

Unfortunately, thanks to the shameful racial antics of Cynthia McKinney, Chief Gainer felt the need to reiterate what would otherwise be taken as plain old common sense.

I can think of few things more cowardly or despicable than McKinney's decision to try and smear a Capitol Police officer as a racist than offer a simple, straightforward apology for what seems to have been an inappropriate outburst on McKinney's part that clearly crossed the line.

Steve Lubet has an interesting non-judgemental, World Series of Poker take on the subject in today's Chicago Tribune (read the piece and you'll see what I mean) and Michelle Malkin argues that Congressional Democrats' silence on the episode is almost as reprehensible as McKinney's actions.

March 15, 2006

A Pathetic State of Affairs - By Larry Kudlow

The Senate budget resolution now in play has dropped Bush's entitlement savings according to Budget Chairman Judd Gregg. Plus, Republican senators are trying to front-load new pork into the resolution even though Gregg wants to hold the line (at least on that).

After all the GOP Congressional talk about newfound budget-cutting religion, including earmark transparency and reform, so far they have produced nothing.

People like Arlen Specter, and many others, are still trying to get their pet projects funded. So, what else is new?

Gregg has thrown in the towel on mandatory spending cuts because he says he doesn't have the votes. Well then, I don't think that the American people should "have the votes" to keep the Republicans in charge of the Senate--or the House for that matter.

This is a pathetic state of affairs.

- Larry Kudlow, Host of CNBC's Kudlow & Co.

March 09, 2006

Is The Dubai Rebellion Over?

It doesn't quite rank with some of the other great rebellions in American history, and it didn't involve taking up arms or spilling any blood. This was a political rebellion: a few lopsided polls, a near-unanimous vote by the House Appropriations Committee yesterday and a closed door talking to with the President of the United States today, and the Dubai Ports World deal looks to be dead with the company's announcement this afternoon that it will divest itself of all U.S. interests and ""transfer fully the operations of U.S. ports to a U.S. entity."

Will this be the end of it? I suspect so. Bush saves face and doesn't have to make good on a veto threat. A Republican-led Congrees looks good to its constituents (and feels good about itself) for flexing its muscle and derailing the deal. DPW loses, at least for the moment (The statement was notably vague, so we'll have to wait and see if a restructured deal, of which they may have some connection, emerges at some point after the election).

As with the Harriet Miers nomination, in a few weeks the DPW deal will probably be reduced to a footnote. The question is whether Bush's standing will rebound fully or whether the Dubai Rebellion will take a further chip out of the President's credibility with the Republican base that he won't ever be able to recover.

March 01, 2006

At Each Other's Throats

On Monday I mentioned the strained relations between Bush and Republicans in Congress:

The biggest problem, however, doesn't seem to be that the White House is in denial or detached from reality but that it has such a troubled relationship with Republicans in Congress.

Charles Hurt has more on the animosity between the two stirred up by the DPW deal:

"I was offended," Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said of Mr. Bush's threat last week to veto legislation aimed at stopping the transfer of port operations to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. He said Mr. Bush "threatened me before I even knew the details of what was involved or whether I was going to vote for the bill or not."

Mr. Lott said his immediate reaction was: "OK, big boy, I'll just vote to override your veto."

He called the White House, he said, to advise administration officials that they'd run afoul of some of their strongest allies in Congress.

"Don't threaten me like that again," said the former majority leader, recounting the conversation with an official he declined to name. "It doesn't make a difference if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Don't put your fist in my face. Where I'm from, we're willing to fight back."

There's obviously no love lost between Lott and the Bush White House, but from what I've seen and heard the sentiment is pretty widely shared. It looks like the White House is going to have to initiate a full blown rapproachement with the GOP Congressional caucus if it wants to turn its political fortunes around.

February 02, 2006

GOP Leadership Race: Is There An Upset Brewing?

The LA Times this morning writes “Blunt Likely to Capture House Post” and the NY Times adds “House Republicans Reject a Broad Shake Up.”

However, I wonder whether the 107 – 85 vote to open all seven leadership slots below Speaker Hastert to challenge is perhaps a warning of an upset brewing. While the status quo forces won yesterday, the 85 votes for change were considerably higher than expected and is an indication that the desire for new blood among House Republicans may be strong enough to deny Blunt a win on the first ballot. And if Blunt can’t get the 117 votes needed to win on the first ballot, he almost certainly will lose in the run-off.

Today’s WSJ editorial casts the race as a Republican Referendum and they are right. Republicans could do themselves a big favor by publicly making a statement that they are serious about more than just cosmetic changes.

January 25, 2006

Earmarks Shmearmarks

Allow me a brief but somewhat heretical observation. Yes, earmarks are bad news. Yes, they  "enable" more Congressional spending - often of the most frivolous kind. And yes, earmarks have ballooned - in both raw numbers and the amount of money spent - under Republican leadership in recent years. All bad things. And all reasons they should be sharply curtailed if not done away with altogether.

But, according to figures from the Wall Street Journal, earmarks accounted for $27 billion last year. Now, $27 billion isn't chump change, it is real money - our money - and if we can save it we should.  However, to put that number in perspective, earmarks accounted for only 3.3% of discretionary spending last year and about 1.06% of the total FY2005 budget of $2.55 trillion.

There's a tremendous amount of outrage and self-flagellation going on in GOP circles over $27 billion. That's all well and good. But Republicans in Congress have had it (and continue to have it) within their power to enact meaningful entitlement reform that would have a far more lasting impact on the budget - given that entitlements eat up more than $1.7 trillion per year (or 68% of our annual budget).  But they haven't. Instead, they've done just the opposite, passing the largest entitlement expansion in more than two generations. Now that's something worth being outraged about.

More on The Race For Majority Leader

Last night John posted a clip giving the current rundown on the race for Majority Leader. This morning, The Hill has more detail on the effort by Boehner and Shadegg to force a second ballot:

The prospect of a second ballot generates significant uncertainty for each team heading into the Feb. 2 election, but it creates a particularly difficult dynamic between Boehner and Shadegg because the two lawmakers must work together in forcing the second vote while trying to beat each other on the first.

With most members already committed to one of the three candidates, the race is stuck in a momentary lull. This question about a second ballot is just one of the many uncertainties lawmakers must confront when they return next week for the president’s State of the Union speech and an as-yet-undetermined number of leadership races.

Much further down you'll find the key graph in the article:

Blunt has already claimed enough support to win the election on the first ballot. Yet this race is unlike tough votes he has whipped over the years because the secret ballot will not allow him to see who, if anyone, has betrayed him. Blunt’s claim has solidified his position as front-runner, but it could damage him politically if the votes don’t back him up Feb. 2.

This continues to be a very intriguing, very important race for Republicans.

January 24, 2006

Update on the Majority Leader Race

Update on the race in the House to succeed Tom DeLay from the Evans-Novak Political Report. (via Rich Lowry)

Three candidates continue to scramble for their colleagues' votes for House Majority Leader.

1) Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has been claiming for nearly two weeks that he already has the 116 votes [actually, 117] he needs to win on the first ballot, but on Capitol Hill almost no one believes this, neither friend nor foe. If Blunt really does have the votes he needs to become majority leader, why hasn't he resigned from his whip position? Blunt is running what insiders call a "Rose Garden" campaign, refusing to debate his opponents or appear jointly with them on television.

2) Rep. John Boehner now claims roughly 90 supporters, and most people believe that his whip count is accurate. This makes Blunt's number even more difficult to believe, unless the third candidate, John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), really has only about 20 supporters. The consensus view is that there will be a second ballot.

3) Rep. Mike Pence (R), the conservative head of the Republican Study Committee, had hoped to wait until his group's upcoming retreat to wait on making an endorsement, but such a delay would have made the late endorsement ineffective. Unsurprisingly, Pence made his endorsement of former RSC chairman Shadegg, the most conservative congressman in the race. Pence's endorsement, like Shadegg's entry into the race, may have come too late, however.

4) Shadegg has had the conservative media on his side, and he got another boost with the endorsement of moderate Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). This confirms our prediction that some moderates would be attracted to the most conservative candidate, despite his ideology, just because of his commitment to reform. On the conservative side, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) has abandoned his earlier public support for Blunt and will be backing Shadegg. The question at this point is how many congressmen will do the same.

January 18, 2006

What's Wrong With The GOP

The problem confronting the GOP can be found in this statement by Speaker Denny Hastert:

"We need to reform the rules so that it is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is ethically acceptable."

Given the complexity of House rules and regulations I'm sure this is true in a technical sense. But in a very plain sense - in other words the way in which an average American voter might hear it -  the statement is woefully deficient.  Why on Earth do Republicans need rules to tell them what is 'ethically acceptable'? Shouldn't we be able to expect them to just intrinsically know this sort of thing?

Though the GOP leadership race is "inside baseball" to most Americans, the general outline between making a real change in leadership or continuing on with the status quo isn't. John Boehner may be perfectly honest and upright, but he's also been closely associated with K Street. Roy Blunt may be honest as well, but he's a loyal DeLay guy who is married to a tobacco lobbyist.

Irrespective of whether either of these two might prove to be a more effective Majority Leader, timing and circumstance weigh heavily in the favor of Shadegg. As the Abramoff investigation proceeds there is surely more pain coming for the GOP.  The best way to minimize the damage is for House Republicans to signify a clean, unequivocal break from "the Abramoff years." That involves taking a certain amount of risk and promoting a fresh face. Given the options, John Shadegg clearly looks like the best choice.

January 12, 2006

The Least Transparent Industry in America

Last Thursday Fegus Bordewich wrote a fascinating Abramoff-related piece in The Wall Street Journal about the absolute lack of oversight of Indian operated casinos:

Tribal gambling may be the least transparent large industry in the United States.  Constitutional protections reach only feebly onto Indian land, where tribal governments enjoy a degree of secrecy that would never be tolerated in any other American community.  Gigantic sums disappear from public view as soon as the leave tribal gaming tables. This money is shielded from outside regulation by the principle of tribal sovereignty, upheld by the Supreme Court, which regards tribes as autonomous "nations," enjoying self-regulation, immunity from lawsuits and independence from state laws. [snip]

Many Indians treat scrutiny of the tribal casino industry as an attack on tribal sovereignty, and racist, virtually by definition.  Tribal ideologues claim an absolute right to self-government without "interference" from state and federal governments, or any other outside institutions, such as the independent press.  This vision of sovereignty serves the self-interest of tribal officials and predators like Jack Abramoff much more than it does the welfare of rank-and-file tribal members, who are the most vulnerable victims of closed-door government and official corruption. Nor should any $19 billion industry enjoy a "sovereign" protection from regulatory laws that are mean to protect all Americans - including Native Americans.

The recurring theme with tribal gaming, lobbying in Washington, campaign finance, and good governance in general is not more regulation, but more transparency. Corruption, graft, kickbacks, payola, etc. are all vastly more difficult when everyone can easily see what you're doing - especially in the age of the Internet.

January 04, 2006

Congress Gets The Hives

Abramoff is now two for two. What a way to earn frequent flier miles. Meanwhile, Birnbaum and Balz report on the fallout in Washington from Abramoff's plea deal yesterday:

At a minimum, yesterday's developments put both sides of the lawmaker-lobbyist relationship on notice that some of the wilder customs of recent years -- lubricated with money, entertainment and access -- carry higher risks. In the post-Abramoff era, what once was accepted as business as usual may be seen as questionable or worse.

"In the short run, members of Congress will get allergic to lobbyists," said former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.), now a lobbyist for Clark & Weinstock. "They'll be nervous about taking calls and holding meetings, to say nothing of lavish trips to Scotland. Those will be out. For a period of time now, members of Congress will be concerned about even legitimate contact with the lobbying world."

Good. Members of Congress should be wary of dealing with lobbyists - and not just because the hammer is finally dropping on the behavior of one who, from the looks of things, went well beyond the bounds of the law.

There's a simple lesson here: if you don't change the culture in Washington, eventually the culture in Washington is going to change you.  That's why the K Street project was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Republicans had an opportunity to change the culture in Washington starting back in 1994, and for a while they did use the momentum from that election to make some important alterations in the way things worked inside the beltway. But as time went by and some Republicans became more entrenched and more comfortable with their hands on the levers of power in Washington, they let the nature of business as usual in Washington change them, instead of the other way around.

December 31, 2005

Bush and Congress: What Went Wrong?

Why did President Bush not do very well in Congress this year? Was it because he was politically inept? Was it because he offended members of his own party? Was it because they were afraid that sticking with him would kill any chance of reelection?

All of these are possibly correct. But I think that there is a more efficient answer -- and that is that the President, in dealing with Congress, simply bit off more than he could chew. He thought that there were consensus positions for reforming certain issues, but there were none. He misread the number of people willing to agree to any kind of tax cut extension, Social Security reform, immigration reform, or Patriot Act extension.

His fundamental mistake, I think, was that he failed to appreciate the nature of Congress. Congress is not the sort of body that passes lots of big pieces of reform legislation by small margins. Its structure is such that you usually have to find a very large consensus within the institution itself -- and this is very often hard to come by. At certain points in time and with certain types of issues, it is downright impossible.

This is the point that Stanford's Keith Krehbiel makes in his book Pivotal Politics. This is one of the few books I have read that tries to explain congressional activity in the broader context of the presidency. Krehbiel argues that the structure of Congress is very important. It creates roadblocks to getting what you want out of the institution. Think of all the different structural "pivots" in Congress:

1. Any bill must find a majority in both houses.

2. Any bill must, if it is opposed by the President, find a majority of 2/3rds.

3. Any bill must find a majority of 3/5ths in the Senate.

 

These structures explain, according to Krehbiel, why gridlock is the status quo in Congress and why, when it is broken, it is usually broken by large majorities. Think of it this way. Suppose you have a status quo policy that a bare majority of Congress wants to change to an alternative policy. Is this enough? No way. There are still two more "pivots". If a 2/5th minority of the Senate prefers the status quo to the majority's proposal, it will filibuster. If the President prefers the status quo to the majority's proposal, he will veto; his veto will be successful unless 2/3rds of Congress prefers the alternative to the status quo.

But, one might respond, what about political parties? Is it not easier to get big changes when the President and Congress are of the same party? According to this theory, not necessarily. This theory presumes that members of Congress and the President vote according to their own interests. If they prefer one position over another, they vote for their most preferred position. The party does not have the power to induce them to vote against their interests. From what we know about congressional parties, this is a very reasonable assumption. They are weak compared to European parties. Our legislative parties usually work by controlling what goes on the agenda, not by controlling members of Congress. Party leaders know that they can really do nothing to stop "mavericks".

As a practical matter, then, we will only see Congress and the President act to reform a situation when a very large majority prefers the policy proposal to the status quo.

This also explains why Bush had trouble this year. He tried to reform certain policies where there does not seem to be a large enough consensus on any given reform proposal. In other words, it was not just a matter of Bush refusing to give the other side what they want. It was a matter of impossibility: it was impossible to find any alternative to the status quo -- on Social Security, taxes, immigration, etc -- that Bush, any majority of the House, and any 3/5ths of the Senate would find acceptable. For instance, what would have happened if Bush had compromised with his Democratic opponents so much on immigration that they would have agreed with his proposal? His Republican supporters would have turned into his opponents!

Ultimately, it is impossible to reform certain issues at certain times in American history. Sometimes the size of the majority willing to go along with any given reform is too small.

So, maybe Bush's legislative mistake this year was not that he is stubborn and refuses to modify his positions. Maybe it was not that he did not sweet talk Congress enough. Maybe the mistake came last January when his White House decided what they were going to push for. They chose too many wrong things -- things that Congress could not possibly have agreed upon. In other words, Bush failed in Congress for the same reason he failed with the public -- he presumed that his election meant something more than it did. He misread his mandate. His election did not mean, for the public, that certain issues were settled. It did not mean, for the Congress, that a consensus position of sufficient size had emerged within the body. It only meant that he could keep his job for another four years.

December 30, 2005

The 109th Congress...So Far

The conventional wisdom about the 109th Congress, now at the end of its first session, has largely emphasized Republican division and a derailed agenda. This is an interesting theory -- and there are two ways one could look at it. On the one hand, one could examine start-of-session expectations and then examine end-of-session assessments of how Congress has met those expectations -- placing it in the context of the congressional soap opera. This is the usual method of assessing congressional performance.

There is, however, another way to evaluate congressional performance. One could compare this session with the average legislative output of other congressional sessions to see how the 109th thus far compares to congressional history. I have seen no attempts at this latter method. This is surely valuable, as it gets beyond the influence of start-of-year expectations, which are almost always unrealistic.

David Mayhew's Divided We Govern serves as a good starting point for this second line of analysis. Mayhew, examining end-of-year session write-ups in The New York Times and The Washington Post (in addition to miscellaneous supplementary material, and what he calls "retrospective judgments" written by experts at a future date) from 1946 to 1990, finds that, on average, when the same party controls the presidency and Congress, Congress produces 12.8 "major" acts per two-session Congress. That would work out to 6.4 acts per session under unified government. This gives us some perspective: if we find about six to seven major pieces of legislation, we can tentatively conclude that this session was average.

Actually, we might expect a little bit less than six to seven. As I mentioned, Mayhew uses newspaper write-ups as a "first sweep" to see what contemporary observers thought were important. He then examines retrospective judgments -- comments by policy experts who evaluated certain pieces of legislation -- to see if the journalists missed anything.

So, how does the first session of the 109th stack up? Fairly well, as it turns out. Looking at the The New York Times' assessment of what Congress did, there seem to be six major pieces of legislation Congress has passed. Quoting Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

ENERGY -- The first comprehensive energy bill in years sets rules to increase the reliability of electrical supplies, encourage construction of nuclear power plants and finance research into alternative energy sources.

CENTRAL AMERICA FREE TRADE -- Most trade barriers between the United States and six small Central American countries are removed.

HIGHWAY SAFETY -- More stringent safety measures are instituted, including the first performance standards intended to reduce rollovers. States can now receive additional federal money if they enact laws allowing the police to pull over drivers for not wearing a seat belt.

BANKRUPTCY OVERHAUL -- The first major overhaul of bankruptcy laws in 27 years disqualifies many families from erasing their debts and getting a ''fresh start.'' Significant new costs are imposed on those seeking bankruptcy protection, and lenders and businesses get new legal tools for recovering debts.

CLASS ACTION LAWSUITS -- The ability of people to file class-action lawsuits against companies is sharply limited, and many such cases will now be transferred to federal courts from state ones.

TORTURE -- Cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody is banned in a bill sponsored by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a former prisoner of war, that was originally opposed by the White House.

This is just a rough estimate -- as Mayhew has sources other than the NY Times write-up on one session of a given Congress (and the write-ups in the period he studied were more elaborate than the 2005 write-up I found). This does not amount to a repetition of Mayhew's method, by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, I had to estimate that several of the pieces of legislation mentioned by Stolberg, e.g. $3.9 billion to prepare for bird flu, would not find their way into the kind of write-ups Mayhew found, and therefore would not count as an "important" piece of legislation. But it seems, as rough as this data is, that this session has not been unproductive. The average session produces six to seven pieces of important legislation, and this session seems to have produced six.

Unfortunately, this method does not evaluate the extent to which the President led Congress. Obviously, Bush did not get everything he wanted -- notably Social Security reform and an extension of the Patriot Act. Further, the torture law was something he had to compromise upon. So, it seems fair to say that Bush's presence was not felt as strongly as it could have been in this session (though it is difficult to judge how Bush stacks up against other presidents who enjoyed a Congress of the same party).

However, this should not detract from the fact that the 109th is, thus far, on par with previous Congresses. So, when pundits are discussing how unproductive this legislative session has been, they are not really doing so with much historical perspective. For a Congress that is controlled by the same party as the President, this session seems to have been normal.