TIME 2014 Election

Fact Checking Group Slams New Democratic Ad for ‘Deception’

Tom MacArthur
In this Thursday, April 24, 2014 photograph, candidate in New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District, Tom MacArthur answers a question in Brick Township, N.J. Mel Evans—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Factcheck.org comes down on the DCCC but the Democratic group stands by the ad

The political fact checking site FactCheck.org slammed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Thursday over an ad the group described as deceptive, a characterization the DCCC disputes.

The ad was released by the DCCC in the New Jersey race between Republican Tom MacArthur and Aimee Belgard. It accuses MacArthur of “cheating disaster victims” while a CEO of a risk management company. MacArthur and Belgard are competing to fill the congressional seat being left open by GOP Rep. Jon Runyan, who is not seeking reelection.

Factcheck.org’s primary objection to the ad is that MacArthur was never personally cited for wrongdoing, but rather that his company was sued—twice—for mishandling insurance claims of Hurricane Ike and the 2008 Syre Fire in California, while MacArthur was chairman and CEO. Factcheck objects chiefly to a visual that placed MacArthur’s name above the quote “accused of cheating disaster victims.” The audio of the ad does say that MacArthur ran the insurance company, not that he was personally accused.

In a statement to TIME, the DCCC stood by the ad and criticized FactCheck.org for not contacting the group for comment before running it’s critique.

“If factcheck.org had called us before running their item, we would have happily shared the reality: that this ad clearly and accurately communicates to voters that under Tom MacArthur’s leadership, his company was accused of cheating disaster victims and he profited,” said DCCC spokesperson Emily Bittner.

 

TIME 2014 Election

Immigration Not Top Election Issue on Arizona-Mexico Border

Martha McSally
Republican candidate for Arizona Congressional District 2, Martha McSally talks at a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Even on the southern border, economic concerns reign supreme

From a distance, freshman Rep. Ron Barber’s seat in southeastern Arizona, which sits along a long stretch of the Mexican border with Latinos making up over 25% of the population, seems like it would be ground zero in the midterm election battle over immigration. The race is one of the tightest in the country, with Barber likely facing retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, a Republican who came within one percent of beating Barber two years ago.

But if you look up close, immigration is not exactly the issue of the day in Arizona’s 2nd District. In interviews with TIME, Arizona Democratic and Republican donors and activists said that economic issues were eclipsing immigration in the battleground. “Immigration I think is a piece of it, [but] I don’t think it’s a determining factor,” says Edmund Marquez, a senior member of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who supports McSally based upon her “strong” personality. “I think it’s more economy, more jobs, more fiscal responsibility.”

Arizona Democrats counter that Barber is best suited on economic issues, particularly on how to save the Davis-Monthan Air Force base—a top-three employer in Tucson, the largest city in the district—from potential cuts, despite McSally’s military background. The Administration requested in its budget for fiscal year 2015 to retire the A-10 aircraft, the main plane flown out of the base. “Congressman Barber has been working hard for several years with many of the civilian and military groups to protect the A-10 squadron,” says Dr. Don Jorgensen, the Chairman of the Pima County Democrats. “It’s Ron Barber who’s gotten the attention for the work he has done in essentially saving that investment.”

The local Democratic chair said local voter concern over immigration has actually faded in recent years. “Immigration is still there, just not the same level of intensity of two years ago…when it was front and center,” says Bill Roe, the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Outside groups have poured money into the race at unprecedented levels, but not on immigration issues. During the Administration’s fumbled rollout of the online health care exchange HealthCare.gov, conservative outside group Americans for Prosperity slammed Barber over the President’s “if you like the [health care] plan you have, you can keep it” line. The Democratic House Majority PAC, in turn, has hit at the ads funded in part by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, charging that McSally is tied to an anti-Social Security, minimum wage and Medicare agenda. Both campaigns refute the negative attacks.

The McSally and Barber campaigns have so far spent their money on positive ads that distance themselves from a historically unpopular Congress. In McSally’s only 2014 campaign video on her website, pictures of her in uniform—she was the first American woman to fly a fighter aircraft in combat (the A-10) and command a squadron—are interspersed with broad attacks on Washington. Barber’s first ad, “Home,” portrays himself as a longtime local businessman who was the fourth most likely Congressman to vote independent of his or her party. The ad does present securing the border as an issue, as well as blocking congressional pay raises, protecting Medicare and saving the A-10. According to Elizabeth Wilner, the senior political vice president for campaign ad tracker Kantar Media Intelligence, no ad in the race has focused on the border crisis.

There have been recent signs that McSally is willing to go after Barber on the issue of immigration. She released a statement bashing Barber for opposing the $694 million border bill that passed the House with Republican support two weeks ago. “Congressman Barber failed Southern Arizonans by voting against a bill to help secure our border and provide badly needed resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis,” she wrote. “Either he doesn’t understand how important this issue is or is more concerned with following his party’s wishes.”

In a statement to TIME, Barber said the vote was “essentially political theater,” since the House legislation has no chance of passing the Senate. He said the bill “did not provide the resources needed to secure the border or address the humanitarian crisis.” Barber added that he supported a recent proposal by Arizona Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, which never got off the ground. That proposal would make legal changes to speed the deportation of undocumented children, added funding for more judges and increased the number of refugee visas that Central Americans could apply for from their home countries.

TIME Congress

What Members Of Congress Pay Their Employees May Surprise You

Public records show that different members of Congress reward their employees in different ways

Long hours, stressful work environments, and low-pay make the turnover rate among Congressional staffers extremely high.

Turnover is so high, in fact, that 46%of staffers would look for a new job within a year due to a “desire to earn more money,” according to a study cited by The Hill. That’s understandable considering that the median pay for staff assistants—the most common position in the House’s workforce—is $30,000 per year, according to The Washington Times.

But new data collected by research engine FindTheBest shows that while many House members often have the budget to raise salaries, they choose not to, likely funneling their personnel allowances into funding for other expenses instead. The personnel allowance is part of the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), which the Committee on House Administration appropriates every year. It is exactly the same amount for every member, and was $944,671 in 2013.

Beyond a few restrictions—the maximum number of people any member can employee is 18 full-time and 4-part-time workers—there are few regulations for the way a member may spend his or her funds. So to determine how members spend their personnel allowances, FindTheBest analyzed data on personnel expenditures from the Statement of Disbursements of the House for the four most recent quarters of congressional reporting—April 2013 to March 2014.

What they found is that some members of the House channel the entirety of their personnel allowance into their staff, while others have tens of thousands leftover to spend elsewhere.

First, let’s look at the 10 members of Congress by average salary for their staff members, who commit all or most of their personnel allowance into exactly that, their personnel.

A glance at the numbers above shows that salaries for congressional staffers are not always in the common $30,000 to $50,000 range. The member with the highest average salary for his employees, Rep. Rob Bishop, pays his staff an average of $81,000. And of the ten members above, none pays an average salary of less than $69,000. But not all reps compensate their staff so generously. Of the 30 reps who pay their staff the least, none exceeds an average of $41,000.

It’s important to take the graph above with a grain of salt because it reflects an average of all the salaries for employees of a representative, summed up over the past four quarters. This means that members of the House with a high volume of new staff—new staff who have not received a year of compensation yet—will reflect lower averages.

Additionally, the average salaries for Rep. David Jolly (R-FL), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Rep. Marshall Sanford (R-SC), are artificially low because they recently assumed office in special elections. Like representatives who have many new hires, representatives who are new to the House have a whole fleet of staffers who have been employed for less than a year.

But there are still insights to be gleaned, particularly among members who did not experience high turnover rates. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), for example, pays his employees an average of $41,000, and spent only $783,000 on his staff in the previous four quarters. Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, pays his employees an average of $39,000 and committed only $715,000 of his personnel allowance to staff during the past four quarters.

Assuming that personnel allowance did not change from 2013 to 2014, the two spent about $162,000 and $230,000 less on their staffs in the span of a year respectively, than they had funds for. So before congressional staffers leave their posts, they may want to do some digging. Their boss may not be paying as much as that other Representative down the hall of the Capitol.

To do your own research, you can see a full accounting of congressional staff salaries on FindTheBest, here. To see how much House members spend on personnel per quarter, click here.

TIME Congress

Two Charts That Show How Women Leaders Trail Men At Ballot Box

Tulsi Gabbard
Hawaii House candidate Tulsi Gabbard is applauded by women House members at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Lynne Sladky—AP

Women make up a majority of voters in national elections, but far from a majority of those elected to serve

Many people believe that we live in a new era in which glass ceilings are being broken and in which women are gaining more say and power. But are women getting a large enough say in our country’s political decisions?

Research engine FindTheBest compiled data on all 538 current members of Congress and calculated the percentage of women serving in Congress by state.

The only state with complete female representation is New Hampshire, with all four delegates (two in the House and two in the Senate). Hawaii comes in second with 75% women (out of four) and then Maine, where the congressional representatives are half women and half men. The following 47 states all have less than 50% women representing their citizens in Congress.

Of the 16 states that have no women serving in Congress, Georgia has the most Congressional seats at 16, followed by Virginia and New Jersey, which both have 13.

Among the bigger states with most Congressional seats, Texas has three female delegates (7%) and 35 male (92%)—a much wider gap than California’s 20 women (36%) and 35 men (63%).

FindTheBest also collected data on all current members of state legislatures.

Although both genders are at least represented in all 50 states, not a single state has a legislature that is at least half female. Colorado has the highest percentage of women serving the state, comprising 41 percent. Vermont takes the second highest spot, with a legislative body is that 40% female and 59% male, and Arizona, which is 35% female and 64% male.

Among the states with the lowest percentage of women serving the state legislature is Louisiana (11% female and 88% male) and South Carolina (12% female and 87% male).

TIME Congress

Republican and Democratic Congressmen Bond Amid Canyons and Grouse

Jason Chaffetz
Elijah Cummings, left, walks around Utah’s red rock Window Arches with Jason Chaffetz. Jason Chaffetz—Flickr

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) head to the rivers and red rocks of Utah to change the tone of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, a 63-year-old black Baptist congressman from Baltimore, spent Monday in Utah, looking through the soaring red rock Window Arches surrounded by desert. He was still digesting the “excellent” barbecue chicken from a Dutch-oven the night before, when he rode a flatbed boat on the Colorado river in Canyonlands National Park. And he still wanted to talk about his weekend trip in the King Air twin-propeller plane used by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his chance to meet a state county commissioner whose wife had been recently treated for cancer. “That was so significant to me,” Cummings told TIME, who has called his vote for the Administration’s signature healthcare law the most important of his 18-year career. “Cancer is a big factor in my family and in my district.”

All along this voyage of discovery, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a 47-year-old Mormon who opposed Obamacare, was by Cummings side, and neither would have had it any other way. The two-night Chaffetz-Cummings trip was designed to deepen a bond first forged in June, when Chaffetz went to Baltimore to better understand the seniors, former convicts and AIDS patients in Cummings’ district. Now Cummings, his black Under Armour t-shirt poking out underneath his polo, trekked west to learn about the consequences of putting the Gunnison Sage-Grouse on the endangered species list and economic impacts of designating 1.8 million acres around Canyonlands as a national park. Chaffetz, whose mother died from cancer, said their talk about the disease was “a reminder to [Cummings] that we have a lot in common.”

Commonality matters because Chaffetz and Cummings may soon control one of the most bitterly partisan and dysfunctional bodies in the U.S. Congress, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The current chairman, Republican Darrell Issa of California, will be stepping down in January because of term limits, ending a tenure that has been marked by ceremonial shout fests, banging gavels and few measurable accomplishments. Democrats have attacked Issa for exploiting partisan outrage and forging few legislative responses to legitimate scandals, including the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking sting, the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of political groups. Some Republicans have also, more quietly, expressed dismay at the committee’s lack of accomplishments. In March, committee decorum hit a new low-point when Issa shut off Cummings’ microphone during an IRS hearing, which Issa quickly then adjourned before later apologizing.

Few can imagine Cummings ever choosing to spend recreational time with Issa. But with Chaffetz, whose reputation is both conservative and cordial, the two men seem to have hit it off. Cummings says Chaffetz would not wield the gavel like Issa if chosen as the next chairman, even though the two Republicans are close on the political scale. “Although we have disagreements, I have always found him to be non-disagreeable,” says Cummings. Like a twin, or at least a congressman used to sharing the stage, Chaffetz agreed almost word-for-word with Cummings in a separate phone interview. “We’re going to disagree on most issues,” Chaffetz told TIME. “I just don’t want to be disagreeable.”

On Tuesday, the two men showed up together on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to show a united front. “I want a relationship which will allow us to get things done,” said Cummings. “I actually want to get some stuff done,” said Chaffetz.

In interviews, the two men brought that same level of comity in their descriptions of each others districts, which lie on opposite ends of the political spectrum. “They wanted to preserve their environment but at the same time they wanted to be able to use their land,” said Cummings, who noted that some ranchers he met were their families’ seventh generation working the land. “I thought I would hear from folks who were just one-sided. But I felt that they were trying to reach some kind of balance.”

“We’ve got some issues in Utah that are uniquely western,” said Chaffetz, who wore jeans and brown leather cowboy boots around Canyonlands. “You can’t truly appreciate that until you feel and see it. The same is true in Baltimore. They’re dealing with a ton of issues such as food deserts [neighborhoods lacking in healthy food options] that I’ve never heard before.”

Chaffetz and Cummings may even start to dress alike. Waiting for Cummings in his Capitol Hill office is a gift, a brown, felt cowboy hat from Burns Saddlery, “a real one,” says Chaffetz, who owns a black version.

“I don’t know that I’d recommend he wear his hat in his district, but if he comes out West again he’ll look right at home,” Chaffetz said. “And I’m not wearing a cowboy hat in Baltimore unless I want to get my butt kicked.”

TIME White House

Obama’s Approval Rating at All-Time Low in New Poll

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama signs "H.J. Res. 76," a bill that provides an additional $225 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Washington. Evan Vucci—AP

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows even lower support for congressional Republicans

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have dipped to a new low—40%—according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was conducted by a Democratic pollster and a Republican pollster working together, has Obama’s favorability at 40% positive and 47% negative. NBC News reports that the decline in Obama’s polling numbers stems chiefly from a decline in support among Democrats and African Americans.

The President’s approval rating for his handling of foreign policy is particularly low, at 36%.

The approval rating for Congress is far worse, crouching down at 14%, a level where it has been for several years, but disapproval in Congress isn’t split evenly across the aisle. Americans view congressional Democrats (31%) more favorably than they do congressional Republicans (19%).

The President’s dismal numbers heading into a midterm spell trouble for the Democrats but not necessarily a tidal wave like in 2006 or 2010 — enthusiasm, pollsters said, is particularly low all around this campaign season.

The NBC/WSJ survey polled 1,000 adults between July 30 and Aug. 3 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

[NBC News]

 

MONEY College

Why Veterans Will Soon Save Thousands on College

War veterans & co-eds taking notes during classroom lecture at crowded University of Iowa
The latest change to the GI Bill will help fill college classrooms for less. Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE P—Getty Images

A bill heading to the president's desk grants veterans and their families automatic in-state status at all public colleges, potentially saving them time and money.

Great news for college-bound veterans and their families: Starting next year—the fall of 2015—veterans and their dependents will be able to pay low in-state tuition at any public university in the country.

A bill granting veterans automatic in-state status at the nation’s public colleges got final bipartisan approval by Congress last Thursday, and President Obama has said he will sign it into law.

While public colleges are concerned that the new bill will cost them money, veteran’s organizations are thrilled. “We’re really excited,” says William Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the Student Veterans of America, which estimates there are 550,000 veterans currently in higher education.

Because members of the military often spend long periods overseas, many don’t maintain residency in any U.S. state. So servicemen and women often can’t find an affordable college when they return home to start civilian life, Hubbard says.

Twenty-four states have passed state laws giving vets in-state status at their public colleges, but many veterans live or want to live in states that haven’t done so, such as California or North Carolina, he says. At the University of North Carolina, for example, in-state residents are charged tuition and fees of about $6,400 this year; out-of-state students pay roughly $31,800.

The bill could save families tens of thousands of dollars, since the automatic in-state status will also be granted to veterans’ spouses and children.

Because veterans won’t have to wait to establish residency in a state to pay the lower tuition, the new law will also save time and speed the transition to civilian life, says Ryan Tomlinson, education program coordinator of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “I’m happy for the vets,” he says. “This increases their access to good colleges.”

Public colleges and universities, while sympathetic to the veterans’ plight, expressed concern that Congress was forcing them to take on extra expenses. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities, notes that states have been cutting the budgets of public colleges for years. This new law, by reducing their tuition revenues, “would add further financial strain to these institutions,” he warned.

Learn more about Money’s Best Colleges 2014-2015

TIME Congress

No More Hearings, No More Bills, Congress Is Headed Out for Summer

The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington.
The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

Here's why Congress calls it quits every August

Updated on August 4, 2014 at 2 p.m.

Every August, the city of Washington, D.C. virtually shuts down. Beginning late Friday night, Congress has left town for five weeks, and there will be no hearings in session. Some may be wondering why exactly Congress is packing up and heading out of town.

The straight answer? It’s the law. In 1970, Congress enacted a mandatory five-week break for itself beginning the first week of August and extending past Labor Day weekend, all as part of the Legislative Reorganization Act. When the law passed, there were many younger lawmakers with children coming into Congress who wanted a more predictable legislative schedule and designated vacation times.

Over the years, legislative sessions had gotten longer and longer. From 1789 up through the 1930s, Congress convened in December and stayed in session for only five or six months. In fact, until the 20th century, the position was not full time and lawmakers could work other jobs in the half of the year they weren’t in session — a member also trained as a butcher could, theoretically make laws and sausage. By the 1950s, sessions were extending well into July, and by the 1960s Congress wasn’t adjourning until autumn. Sessions hit a record length in 1963 when Senate convened in January and adjourned in December — at that point, three-day weekends were the members’ only breaks.

So, largely under the leadership of Sen. Gale McGee who championed the idea of August recess as a way to “modernize Congress,” junior members lobbied senior members to install a recess in the schedule. The first official August recess began on August 6, 1971.

But just because it’s called a recess doesn’t mean Congressional leaders are taking a break. “Business still goes on,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie said. “There’s just no action on the floor during that period.”

Especially because this is an election year, many members will be campaigning, visiting offices and town halls in their home states and holding town meetings. Offices will stay open to receive mail and calls from constituents. Members who aren’t up for reelection might enjoy family time or a vacation, or they can take on a Congressional delegation, Ritchie said. Really, it’s entirely up to the member to decide what he or she wants to do during August recess.

However, should lawmakers decide they want to wrap up some work before vacationing, they have the option to do so. Members can push the August recess back by passing an extension resolution. There have also been instances where Congress has had to return mid-recess. In 2004, Congress came back to hold hearings in light of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. In 2005, Congress returned to pass legislation to aid Hurricane Katrina victims. This year, the start of the recess was delayed slightly on Friday, as lawmakers worked on changes to two immigration bills.

“There are a lot of people who think they shouldn’t take time off. Some think the more time they’re away the better,” Ritchie said. “Every needs some vacation, though.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that it was published after Congressional passage of recent highway funding and immigration bills.

TIME language

Congress and Its Do-Nothing Code Words

Nothing doing—ever: House Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with his stalled caucus on border legislation
Nothing doing—ever: House Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with his stalled caucus on border legislation Alex Wong; Getty Images

Conditional phrasing is the red flag of uselessness. Congress no longer talks about the things it "will" do; only the things it "would" or "could do"

Time was, reading news stories about NASA was a thrilling experience. What helped make it that way was something most people didn’t even consider: the verbs. Even before the hardware had been built and the people had been launched, the space agency knew where it was going. And so the press releases and the reporters’ stories were filled with promises that “the Gemini program will allow astronauts to walk in space,” and “the Apollo program will achieve the first lunar landing before 1970.” In early 1969, NASA even issued a “Neil Armstrong to Be First Man on Moon” press release.

As history notes, the Gemini and Apollo programs did just as they promised and Neil Armstrong was indeed the first man on the moon, and the only reason NASA didn’t get called on its hubris was because — as baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, the subject of TIME’s April 15, 1935 cover, famously put it — it ain’t bragging if you can do it.

But then the Apollo program ended, the manned space program started to drift, and slowly the declaratives gave way to the conditionals. So reports trickled out about a new spaceplane NASA was building that would take off and land like a jet, and the new Mars program the agency was planning that could have humans on the Red Planet by 2019, and the return-to-the-moon Constellation program that should be ready to go by 2020. But the space plane never flew and the Mars and Constellation missions were scrapped and, in its defense, NASA could at least say, well, we never lied to you.

Now, as NASA finally, slowly rebounds, an entire branch of government — Congress — has descended to the land of the conditionals. Increasingly, lawmaking in Washington has been reduced to little more than a pantomime, with both parties retreating to their bicameral would-sheds, cranking out a lot of doomed, never-gonna-happen bills — base-pleasing legislation that could or would do a lot of things, but never actually will.

Google the phrase “the bill would,” along with the words “House” and “Senate” and you get 59.8 million hits. That’s an admittedly imprecise way to go about things, not least because it gathers in a lot of similarly partisan behavior in state legislatures — though all that may indicate is that the celebrated laboratories of democracy have begin working with the same inert chemicals the federal legislature has.

Still, there are more than enough examples of Congress taking the lead—introducing a river of proposed legislation that would defund Obamacare (50 times), or reform the immigration system, or turn Medicare into a voucher program, or raise taxes on the 1%, or lower taxes on the 1%, or require background checks for gun purchases, or streamline the tax code, or raise the minimum wage, but that never actually will do any of those things. On Friday, the GOP majority in the House moved toward approving a bill that would at last address the unfolding border crisis, but only at the cost of deporting the 500,000 so-called Dreamers, people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The move faces a certain death in the Senate or White House veto but allows the legislators to go home to campaign, claiming that at least they tried something. President Obama — who has proposed plenty of his own dead-on-arrival legislation — dismissed the bill as “the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere.”

Showpiece legislation designed more to make a point than anything else is a part of every parliamentary body, and in the U.S. it has always been a bipartisan form of mischief — even if in the 112th and current 113th Congresses, the Republicans have been guiltier than the Dems. Both parties learned a powerful lesson in the uses of legislative vaporware 20 years ago, with the Republicans’ sweep of the House and Senate in the 1994 midterms.

The GOP surfed to power that year thanks in part to New Gingrich’s and Dick Armey’s celebrated Contract With America, an ingenious campaign gimmick that promised House action within 100 days of a Republican takeover on 10 bills dear to party stalwarts, including a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and capital-gains tax cuts. Every one of the proposals did come to a vote and cleared the House. And virtually none of them went anywhere — nor were they expected to, given a balky Senate and a Democratic president with a veto pen. But the strategy worked — at least insofar as shifting the balance of power in Washington — and that did not go unnoticed by strategists in either party.

Nobody at this point expects a return to the dew-kissed days of Ronnie and Tip and Lyndon and Everett, when politicians would maul one another for show, then quietly worked out deals for real. Even then, members of both parties would often take care to describe their bills humbly, hedging with the conditional would. But the will was usually implicit, because passing legislation was what they’d been sent to Washington to do.

That, however, no longer seems possible. The members of the current Congress are increasingly content to produce only hollow bills that benefit no one but themselves—and why not? It’s easy, it costs nothing, and it gets them re-elected. Voters — eventually — will catch wise and punish them for that behavior. History, surely, will pillory them for it — and on that last point, there is nothing conditional at all.

TIME Congress

After Border Bill Passage, Conservatives Crow About New House Leadership

House Republicans Hold Closed Party Conference
U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (R) and House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (2nd R) arrive at a House Republican Conference meeting August 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The new House Republican leadership woos the party of 'Hell No'

By 10:15 p.m. local time Friday night, the gavel was struck and the House Republican celebration over, the chamber silent after hours of backslapping, hugging and cries of “Have a happy August!” The House had passed two bills to address the border crisis and conservatives crowed that their leadership had finally heard them.

“From the time I’ve ever been here … I’ve never seen them as responsive to the, I would call them the ‘No votes,’” said Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), who calls himself “very, very conservative” but “not always categorically a ‘No.’”

“Right now it looks really good,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), of conservatives’ relationship with its leadership. “We’ve got a lot of very smart people in our conference and when you sit down and work with them and you unleash that talent you end up with a better product. And you end up with people who have ownership that want to promote it, rather than those that feel essentially asked to go along.”

When asked if that is a change from the past, King replied, “It feels like that now.”

On Thursday—the day House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stepped down from his post—House Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Whip Steve Scalise had to pull their original bill from the floor and regroup under a backlash from the right. Later that night, around 7 p.m. ET, Scalise and his chief deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), called a meeting and went point by point through the legislation with around 20 “Hell No” members, according to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

“What I saw in the last 24 hours is nothing short of remarkable,” said Bachmann. “I couldn’t believe it. Leadership was like [point] one is reasonable, number two is reasonable. It gutted the bill, changed the bill.”

“In a very short time we saw everyone drop off their haunches and meld together on this issue,” Bachmann added. “Conservatives were willing to go home without a bill. So we needed the moderates to say, ‘We’re not going home.’ We needed the conservatives to say ‘This is what we need to make the bill better.’”

The leadership’s proposal, set to cost around $1.5 billion as of last week, shrank to $694 million by Friday morning in response to conservative spending complaints. On Thursday night, leadership tightened up language regarding the adjudication process for unaccompanied minors. Many Republicans argue that to fix the backlogged immigration courts, Border Patrol has to treat the thousands of unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador the same way it treats Mexican minors, who are more quickly screened and deported. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate oppose this policy change.

The leadership also granted conservatives a separate vote aimed at blocking an expected move by President Barack Obama to expand deportation relief to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The changes paid off and on Friday night, the border bill vote passed 223 to 189 with only four Republicans voting in opposition; the second vote passed 216 to 192 with 11 Republican noes. (Neither vote needed 218 to pass because 20, then 23 Congressmen didn’t vote.)

“I thought it was important the way that our entire team came together and said we’re not going to leave until we got our job done,” said Scalise after the votes. “I don’t think anybody would have predicted 223 votes in favor of this bill.”

Democrats saw the tally and steps to the right and argued that the hardline conservatives had taken over the new leadership—same as the old.

“They lost control of their own caucus again,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “It’s not new. That’s what has been going on for the last four years … this is the crowd that shut down the government against the wishes of leadership.”

Democrats also charged that the votes mattered more in a political sense than a practical one. The Senate won’t pick up the House bill; indeed members are now back home for a five-week recess, as the Senate left the Capitol after failing to pass its own $2.7 billion border proposal. Scalise’s whip operation showed that it could pass something with almost the full support of the House Republican conference, but it remains to be seen whether or not it can pass legislation that goes through the Senate and onto the President’s desk.

The shift to the right could also hurt Republicans’ image within the Hispanic community. According to Democrats and even some Republicans, the second vote, limiting the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program granting two years of deportation relief to qualifying illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as a minor, could resonate more deeply with the Hispanic community than the border bill.

On the House floor, Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-Ill.) asked the Republicans, “Is there no one in your conference who can stand up and talk sensibly when others in your party want to demonize children at the border and deport the DREAMers?”

“You are so frozen in fear of your own voters—so frozen in fear of your own colleagues—and the nation needs you to be courageous,” Guiterrez added. “Only cowards scapegoat children, and only those who are ashamed of themselves do it after hours on a Friday night.”

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) acknowledged that DACA is popular, but says that the program, created through an Obama Administration executive order, has been “abused” and has helped incentivize child migrants to come to the U.S.

“We’ll see what happens with the DACA,” Stivers said. “It’s really a question of what kind of incentive it created for this crisis at the border … Hopefully folks will be understanding that there was a crisis that was created by incentives that were pushed a little too far by the Administration. We’re compassionate but at the same time, when something’s helping create a crisis and fuel a crisis, we have to figure out how to address it. And I think temporarily freezing it is the answer.”

With Congress at home, the Administration will be left to redirect funds within the budget to aid the cash-strapped Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Administration expects to apprehend as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors by the end of September, an increase of more than threefold compared to last year.

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