Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward







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We can’t curb the presidency without fixing Congress

David Frum writes:

The constitutional Presidency … has become the imperial Presidency.

The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. delivered that complaint in 1973, just ahead of a wave of reforms that sought to cut the presidency down to size. The War Powers Act of 1973, the Anti-Impoundment Act of 1974, the creation of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in the mid-1970s: These and other measures aimed to restrain the presidency and restore power to Congress.

Following the presidency of Donald Trump, some in Congress are ready for a new round of rebalancing. But any project of reform needs to take something into account: Congress is no bargain either as a representative institution.

Look what happened this past week with the proposal to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. The party that won the 2020 election campaigned on such a raise. The majority leadership in both the House and the Senate supported it. The president wants to sign it. Almost 60 percent of the public backs it.

Yet it will not happen as part of the COVID-19 relief bill. Plans have also collapsed to impose tax penalties on large companies that do not pay their employees at least $15.

If a raise in the federal minimum wage does not happen now, it will not happen soon. Despite the overall unpopularity of the post-Trump Republican Party, it is favored to retake the House of Representatives in 2022, because elections to the House systematically overrepresent Republican votes.

Here’s a way to dramatize how extreme the bias is. Compare the House elections of 2010 and 2020. In 2010, the Republicans won 51.7 percent of all votes cast; in 2020, the Democrats won 51.5 percent—almost exactly the same proportion. But in 2010, the Republican 51.7 percent converted into 242 seats, a decisive majority. In 2020, the Democratic 51.5 percent converted into 222 seats, a narrow margin.

Analysis of district-level voting patterns suggests that Republicans enjoy an inbuilt 2.1 percentage-point advantage in contests for the House majority. Joe Biden won the national vote by 4.6 points in 2020. He won the median House seat, Illinois’s Fourteenth Congressional District, by 2.5 points. The Republican advantage in the Senate is, of course, even more extreme. Not since the mid-1990s have Republican senators represented a majority of American voters. The 50 Democratic senators elected in 2020 represent nearly 42 million more Americans than the 50 Republicans. [Continue reading…]

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