The Clock Keeps Ticking

(Revised 27 October 2015, it looks as if a deal is in the works to settle all the issues discussed below in one fell swoop. Also, graph updated to show some of the members of the House.)

The United States Government seems to be careening towards multiple crises that include a Government shutdown, a shutdown of the Railroad system, and a Debt Ceiling bill that appears to be in jeopardy. First, the current Continuing Resolution runs out on December 11. Second, the debt ceiling must be raised by 3 November. Third, Congress has failed to pass a Transportation Bill that includes a delay the Positive Train Control mandate. This must be passed soon because the railroads cannot operate without the delay and they will begin the process of shutting down their systems in November. Fourth, given President Obama’s certain veto of the Defense Authorization Bill, that bill will have to re-worked quickly given conditions in the Middle East.

So, given all these urgent matters what does the House do this week? It passes a Reconciliation Bill to de-fund the Affordable Care Act knowing that President Obama will veto it. The problem is that the Republican Caucus in the House is badly split between the 40-45 members of the Freedom Caucus and the remaining 200 or so Republicans. Using our Weekly Common Space DW-NOMINATE Scores, below we show smoothed histograms of the Democrats and the two Republican Parties in the House. Note that the area under the curves adds to 1.
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The House Freedom Caucus is concentrated on the far Right of the Republican Party and has enough votes to prevent the Republicans from passing bills with 218 votes without assistance from the Democrats. Speaker Boehner was forced out by this group because he was willing to violate the “Hastert Rule” — that is, put bills on the floor that a majority of Republicans oppose. The House Freedom Caucus is demanding that the Hastert Rule be enforced by Paul Ryan. In effect this will lead to gridlock and give the HFC veto power over controversial legislation (many Republicans are afraid to challenge the far Right for fear of Primary challenges, hence the veto power).

Speaker Boehner threw some red meat to the HFC by passing a Reconciliation bill that defunds most of the Affordable Care Act. This vote is shown below:

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This is a pointless exercise because, even if it gets through the Senate, President Obama will veto the bill. Indeed, Senators Rubio, Cruz, and Lee will vote against the bill in the Senate because they feel it does not go far enough in the defunding of the ACA.

The current state of affairs in Congress is such that it risks a true train-wreck both literally and figuratively. Unless Speaker Boehner can pull some rabbits out of his hat before he leaves at the end of this coming week these unresolved bills could produce the most serious crisis since 2011.

Alpha-NOMINATE Applied to the 113th Senate

While we await for the Republicans to decide who will be their candidate for Speaker, it is instructive to look back at the 113th Senate with our new alpha-NOMINATE procedure. Recall that Alpha-NOMINATE is a new form of NOMINATE that is fully Bayesian and is meant to replace W-NOMINATE which is now about 32 years old (the multidimensional version, written by Nolan McCarty and Keith Poole is 24 years old). NOMINATE was designed by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal during 1982-1983. It used a random utility model with a Gaussian deterministic utility function (see pages 14 – 15 of the linked 1983 paper) and logistic error (random draws from the log of the inverse exponential). The Gaussian deterministic utility function is able to capture non-voting due to indifference and alienation.

Alpha-NOMINATE is a mixture model in which legislators’ utility functions are allowed to be a mixture of the two most commonly assumed utility functions: the quadratic function and the Gaussian function assumed by NOMINATE. The “Alpha” is a parameter estimated by Alpha-NOMINATE that varies from 0 (Quadratic Utility) to 1 (Gaussian Utility). Hence, in one dimension with Alpha = 0, Alpha-NOMINATE is identical to the popular IRT model. Thus Alpha-NOMINATE can actually test whether or not legislators’ utility functions are Quadratic or Gaussian.

Below we apply Alpha-NOMINATE to the 113th Senate. There were 657 total votes in the 113th of which 552 are scalable (at least 2.5% in the minority; that is, votes that are 97-3 to 50-50). We used the R version of Alpha-NOMINATE to perform the analysis. We used 3000 samples from a slice sampler in one dimension with a burn-in of 1000. The first graph shows the Trace and Density plots for alpha.


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The mean of Alpha is 0.9981 with a standard deviation of 0.0018 strongly indicating that the Senators’ utility functions were Gaussian.

The next plot shows the estimated ideal points for the 105 Senators who served during the 113th along with their 95% Credible Intervals. On the left, Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is located at -2.74 off the left edge of the plot. Near the right end are Presidential candidates Ted Cruz (R-TX) at 1.608 Rand Paul (R-KY) at 1.453. Lindsey Graham is near the left edge of the Republican Party at 1.011.

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There were very few moderates in the 113th Senate. Only Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are between the two parties. Moderation is in short supply in both the Senate and the House. No wonder Republicans are finding it difficult to find someone to be Speaker.

Defense Authorization, the Sequester, and Guantanamo

This week the Senate passed the Defense Authorization Bill by a vote of 70 – 27. The bill earlier passed the House by a vote of 270 -156. Normally the Military Authorization bill is not a serious bone of contention between the parties and Congress versus the President. This time may be different. The bill contains a number of provisions that in less polarized times would be very popular: a pay raise for military personnel, reforms to the weapons acquisition systems, and better protections for sexual assault victims. But the bill also increases the budget by $38 billion by placing those funds in “overseas contingency funds”. These contingency funds are not counted against the budget caps thereby avoiding the Sequester limits. President Obama has threatened a veto over this because he wants the caps lifted on domestic spending as well. Complicating matters further, President Obama wants to close the Guantanamo Bay Prison. But the Defense Authorization bill has a rider that
prohibits the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Prison and the transfer of the detainees to the United States homeland.

Below we show, using our Weekly Constant Space DW-NOMINATE scores, the vote in the Senate on the Defense Authorization bill:

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The two Republicans who voted No are Cruz (R-TX) and Paul (R-TX) both of who are running for President.

Even though 70 votes in the Senate is enough to override a veto not all of the Senate Democrats will vote to override and President Obama’s veto will be sustained.

The votes do not exist in the House to override a veto in any event. Although the bill passed in the House by a vote of 270 – 156 there are not enough Democrats who will vote with the Republicans to override the President.

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So, yet again, we have yet another funding “crisis” looming. The temporary Continuing Resolution runs out on December 11. With the turmoil within the Republican Caucus things could get very ugly within weeks.

In addition, the doomsday clock continues to tick down: PTC Countdown Clock.

Speaker Paul Ryan?

Below we update a previous post in light of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) decision to drop out of the race for Speaker. We use Common Space DW-NOMINATE scores (updated weekly here) to plot the ideological positions of current and past House Republicans. Common Space DW-NOMINATE scores provide a summary measure of legislators’ liberal-conservative locations based on their entire roll call voting records, and allow for direct ideological comparisons between members of Congress across time.

The plot below shows McCarthy is actually slightly less conservative than both Speaker Boehner and former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who was defeated last year in a primary challenge. Republicans such as Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) (who was set to run for House Majority Leader before McCarthy’s announcement) appear to be more ideologically in tune with the current House Republican caucus. Other Republicans who are considering running for the Speaker post—such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)—have bonafide conservative positions, but are probably too far to the right to attract much support outside of the Freedom Caucus.

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House and Senate Votes on the Iran Agreement

This past week the House and Senate considered the nuclear deal President Obama negotiated with Iran. The deal was essentially done when the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to lift the sanctions placed on Iran. By prior agreement with President Obama, Congress could vote to disapprove the deal but it would take a two-thirds majority in both chambers to over ride the President’s veto. However, in the Senate, Republicans were unable to muster 60 votes to overcome a filibuster by the Democrats to prevent a vote on the deal itself. We use our Weekly Constant-Space DW-NOMINATE Scores to do the vote plots. The vote on cloture is shown below:

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Only Cardin (D-MD), Manchin (D-WV), Menendez (D-NJ), and Schumer (D-NY) voted with the Republicans in favor of cloture. All except Manchin are to the interior of the caucus so the vote does not fit the spatial model that well with a PRE of only 0.14.

In the House there were three votes. The first was on whether or not the President had fully disclosed all the side deals of the agreement. This was essentially a straight party-line vote:

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The second vote was to Approve the Agreement. On this vote 25 Democrats in the Center and the Center-Right of the Caucus voted with the Republicans against the agreement. The vote had a respectable PRE of 0.77:

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Finally, the House voted on a resolution “To suspend until January 21, 2017, the authority of the President to waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions pursuant to an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran.” This was another party-line vote:

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Given the outcome of these votes the issue is essentially settled. No doubt there will be attempts made by the Republicans to claim that the “period for review” had not started because the President had not fully disclosed all the side agreements (e.g., IAEA with Iran). But because of the Security Council action there is little Congress can do. What is likely to happen is the Congress with President Obama’s support will transfer more advanced weaponry to Israel.

Alpha-NOMINATE Applied to the 113th House

Following up on our previous posts, below we apply Alpha-NOMINATE to the 113th House. There were 1,202 total votes in the of which 1,021 are scalable (at least 2.5% in the minority). We used the R version of Alpha-NOMINATE to perform the analysis. We used 2000 samples from a slice sampler in one dimension with a burn-in of 1000. The first graph shows the Trace and Density plots for alpha.


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The mean of alpha was 0.99033 with a standard deviation of 0.001125 strongly indicating that the Representatives’ utility functions were Gaussian.

The next five plots show the estimated ideal points for the 443 scalable Representatives (Emerson (R-MO) only voted 11 times) and President Obama (using CQ Presidential Support votes his location is at -1.41) along with their 95% Credible Intervals. On the left, Representative Schakowsky (D-IL) is located at -2.262. Her 95% credible interval runs from -2.460 to -2.077. The five Republicans on the right end are Massie (R-KY) at 3.93 (3.77 – 4.09), Broun (R-GA) at 3.94 (3.80 – 4.10), Amash (R-MI) at 4.00 (3.85 – 4.14), Duncan (R-TN) at 4.08 (3.89 – 4.26), and all by himself, Jones (R-NC) at 9.16 (8.59 – 9.80).

Walter Jones is also the most extreme member of the 114th as of the August recess. Indeed, many of the more extreme members of the Republican caucus continued into the 114th. With the volatile issue of Planned Parenthood funding on the table there will be attempts to attach defunding language to many must-pass bills. Neither President Obama nor the Republican leaders want another shutdown but with the number of intense conservatives in the House Caucus it will be a tricky row to hoe.

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Leaving out Jones (R-NC):

The Median of the Democratic Party is -1.317 with a standard deviation of 0.0166 and the Median of the Republican Party is 0.993 with a standard deviation of 0.0166. The probabilities for the median Representative are 0.083 for Gerlach (R-PA) located at 0.455, 0.079 for Wolf (R-VA) at 0.449, 0.073 for Frelinghuysen (R-NY) at 0.478, 0.073 for Meehan (R-PA) at 0.451, and 0.071 for Dent (R-PA) at 0.433. Given the large number of Republicans concentrated around 0.45 these probabilities are no surprise.

Senate Medians 1789 – 2014

Jeff Lewis and Keith Poole, 24 August 2015

Below we show the Senate Chamber and Party Medians on the first DW-NOMINATE dimension for the first 113 Congresses with 95 percent credible intervals based upon 250 parametric bootstrap trials. (The Working Paper was later published in Political Analysis, 17(3):261-275, 2009).

The graph below shows the Senate Median from 1789 to 2014 (Senates 1 – 113). During the three stable two-party periods in American history the Senate Median will be in the majority party. For example, in the very early period when the Federalists dominated the Jeffersonians, the Senate Median was to the right. The changes in the Senate Median over time follow the historical analysis of Poole and Rosenthal in Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting, chapters 4 and 5.

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The graph below shows the Party Medians and 95 percent credible intervals for the Federalist-Jeffersonian Republican Party System (1789 – 1811). The movement to the right by the Federalists should not be over interpreted since they only had seven seats in the 11th (1811-12) Senate. The opposition of the Federalists to the War of 1812 resulted in the collapse of the Party during The Era of Good Feelings.

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The graph below shows the Party Medians and 95 percent credible intervals for the Whig-Democrat Party System (1827 – 1848). The Democrats were the dominate party through this period but the second dimension split the two parties along North vs. South lines. The conflict over Slavery and its extension to the territories caused the collapse of the Whig Party after the Compromise of 1850 and despite the efforts of Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) the admission of more states during the 1850s did not settle the North-South divide within the Democratic Party.

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Finally, the graph below shows the Party Medians and 95 percent credible intervals for the Republican-Democrat Post-Reconstruction Party System (1879 – 2014). The trend to greater polarization in the modern era is clearly evident at the end of the series.

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Alpha-NOMINATE Applied to the 114th House

Following up on our previous post, below we apply Alpha-NOMINATE to the 114th House. There have been 489 total votes in the House as of the August recess of which 435 are scalable (at least 2.5% in the minority). We used the R version of Alpha-NOMINATE to perform the analysis. We used 2000 samples from a slice sampler in one dimension with a burn-in of 1000. The first graph shows the Trace and Density plots for alpha.


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The mean was 0.99965 with a standard deviation of 0.0003347 strongly indicating that the Representatives’ utility functions were Gaussian.

The next four plots show the estimated ideal points for the 434 scalable Representatives along with their 95% Credible Intervals. On the left, Representative Grijalva (D-AZ) is located at -2.266. His 95% credible interval runs from -2.751 to -1.87. The five Republicans on the right end are Huelskamp (R-KS) at 2.62 (1.79 – 3.34), Sanford (R-SC) at 4.35 (4.06 – 4.61), Massie (R-KY) at 4.43 (4.20 – 4.66), Amash (R-MI) at 4.48 (4.27 – 4.70), and Jones (R-NC) at 5.27 (5.06 – 5.50).
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The Median of the Democratic Party is -1.310 with a standard deviation of 0.0284 and the Median of the Republican Party is 0.9490 with a standard deviation of 0.0224. The probabilities for the median Representative are 0.068 for Thompson (R-PA), 0.065 for Upton (R-MI), 0.060 for Young (R-AK), 0.059 for Reed (R-NY), 0.058 for Valadao (R-CA), and 0.057 for Turner (R-OH). Assuming that the Republicans vote as a bloc (highly unlikely!), the probabilities for the Filibuster Pivot are 0.049 for Rice (D-NY), 0.042 for Keating (D-MA), 0.039 for Connolly (D-VA), and 0.038 for Gabbard (D-HI), Carney (D-DE), and Delbene (D-WA). Again, President Obama will likely have the votes to prevent a veto override of his nuclear deal with Iran.

Alpha-NOMINATE Applied to the 114th Senate

Updated: 17 August 2015

Alpha-NOMINATE is a new form of NOMINATE that is fully Bayesian and is meant to replace W-NOMINATE which is now about 32 years old (the multidimensional version, written by Nolan McCarty and Keith Poole is 24 years old). NOMINATE was designed by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal during 1982-1983. It used a random utility model with a Gaussian deterministic utility function (see pages 14 – 15 of the linked 1983 paper) and logistic error (random draws from the log of the inverse exponential). The Gaussian deterministic utility function is able to capture non-voting due to indifference and alienation.

Alpha-NOMINATE is a mixture model in which legislators’ utility functions are allowed to be a mixture of the two most commonly assumed utility functions: the quadratic function and the Gaussian function assumed by NOMINATE. The “Alpha” is a parameter estimated by Alpha-NOMINATE that varies from 0 (Quadratic Utility) to 1 (Gaussian Utility). Hence, in one dimension with Alpha = 0, Alpha-NOMINATE is identical to the popular IRT model. Thus Alpha-NOMINATE can actually test whether or not legislators’ utility functions are Quadratic or Gaussian.

Below we apply Alpha-NOMINATE to the 114th Senate. There have been 262 total votes in the Senate as of the August recess of which 220 are scalable (at least 2.5% in the minority; that is, votes that are 97-3 to 50-50). We used the R version of Alpha-NOMINATE to perform the analysis. We used 2000 samples from a slice sampler in one dimension with a burn-in of 1000. The first graph shows the Trace and Density plots for alpha.


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The mean was 0.9916 strongly indicating that the Senators’ utility functions were Gaussian.

The next plot shows the estimated ideal points for the 100 Senators along with their 95% Credible Intervals. On the left, Senator Sanders (I-VT) is located at -2.74 just off the left edge of the plot. His credible interval runs from about -3.31 to -1.89. Off the right end and not visible are Senator Cruz (R-TX) at 3.84 with a credible interval that runs all the way from 0.958 to 5.398 and Senator Paul (R-KY) at 5.175 with a credible interval that ranges from 4.766 to 5.750.
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The median of the Republican Party is 0.7562 with a standard deviation of 0.0331 and the median of the Democratic Party is -0.9318 with a standard deviation of 0.0583. The probabilities for the median Senator are 0.575 for Murkowski (R-AK), 0.158 for Graham (R-SC), and 0.128 for Heller (R-NV). Assuming that the Republicans vote as a bloc, the probabilities for the the Filibuster Pivot are 0.251 for King (I-ME), 0.218 for Tester (D-MT), 0.197 for Bennet (D-CO), and 0.154 for Warner (D-VA). Again, assuming that the Republicans vote as a bloc, the probabilities for the Veto Override Pivot are 0.174 for Nelson (D-FL), 0.130 for Coons (D-DE), 0.125 for Feinstein (D-CA), and 0.115 for Shaheen (D-NH). President Obama will likely have the votes to prevent a veto override of his nuclear deal with Iran.

An Update on the Presidential Square Wave (July 2015)

Below we plot the first dimension DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores—which are now updated weekly—of the presidents in the post-war period, which we refer to as the “presidential square wave” due to its shape. An ideological score is estimated for each president throughout the entirety of their tenure in office by scaling their “votes” on a subset of roll call on which they announce a position (measured using CQ Presidential Support Votes). Negative DW-NOMINATE scores indicate greater liberalism and positive scores indicate greater conservatism. The presidential scores are directly comparable across time and with members of Congress.

These presidential DW-NOMINATE scores are estimated using all available CQ presidential support roll calls through 2013. CQ does not issue all of its presidential support roll calls until the print version of its congressional roll call guide comes out, and so only a fraction of the 2015 votes are available.

President Obama fits the spatial model estimated by DW-NOMINATE extremely well, with over 95% of his “votes” correctly classified. Obama has moved slightly back towards the center (-0.343) from the last presidential square wave. He is now the second most moderate Democratic president of the post-war era, coming in just to the left of LBJ (-0.337). President Eisenhower is the most moderate president (0.293) of the post-war era.

Our results differ from those of organizations like InsideGov and OnTheIssues, which code presidential issue statements on liberal-conservative scales and place Obama much further left. We suspect that our method, which uses declared presidential positions on roll calls before Congress to place both sets of actors in the same ideological space, accounts for widespread (though not universal) Republican support on votes concerning judicial appointments, national security, and trade.

Among members of the 114th Congress, President Obama is ideologically closest to Representatives David Price (D-NC) [-0.34], Ted Lieu (D-CA) [-0.339], Bill Keating (D-MA) [-0.345], and Adam Schiff (D-CA) [-0.345] in the House; and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) [-0.344], Ben Cardin (D-MD) [-0.333], and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) [-0.353] in the Senate.

Note: K7moa.com and the Voteview Blog were hacked and destroyed in early March, which resulted in the loss of most of the old blog posts. We will be continually restoring and updating some of the old posts. Please send an email if there is a specific post that you would like to see restored. Thanks.

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