Tag Archive for 'House of Representatives'

America and health care

In the light of the recent passage by the U.S. House of Represenatives of the Senate’s version of healthcare reform and the ensuing wailing, gnashing of teeth and smearing of soot in the hair by opponents of said reform, let me give my view – as an outsider – on the matter:

It’s a question of morality.

It astounds me — and, frankly, every other non-American USA-watcher in the developed world — that the richest nation on earth, whose very constitution proclaims the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness to be it’s highest ideals, whose citizenry so loudly profess to live by Christian virtues, would not guarantee that some form of basic, minimum healthcare be available to all of its citizens independently of their ability to pay.  It utterly astounds me.  If I were American, it would disgust me that this had not happened 50 years ago.

If my income and my wealth is above average for my society, I have an ethical duty to subsidise the health care of those who are, for whatever reason, at the lower end of the spectrum.  Yes, there are issues of free riders and of personal responsibility, but they simply do not matter when answering the basic question.  The government of a country, acting on behalf of that country’s people, has a moral imperative to provide a minimum level of care to all of its citizens.

I am not saying this as a screaming socialist.  I freaking hate socialism.  I love the market (when it’s allowed to function properly with full transparancy).  I support (at least partially, and possibly fully) privitised social security.  I like the idea of small government.  I rage against the nanny-state in Australia and in the UK.  I worry about encouraging dependency and a sence of entitlement in those people assisted by the government.  But those concerns take a back seat on this issue.

So, yes, the second question (a two-for) is to ask what the minimum level should be and how to pay for it.  But first question should have been a no-brainer.

If all the country can afford is a polio shot and a packet of aspirin, then that’s what they should provide (hopefully a charity or two might help out, too).  But if the country is the richest in the history of the planet, they should be able to stump up for a bit more.

And, yes, for the next criticism, this particular reform by the U.S. Congress is nominally promising more than it will reallly provide when it comes to the fiscal deficit.  Yes, again, given America’s political structure, U.S. government spending won’t be truely corrected until there is a real crisis approaching (as opposed to the make-believe crises being proclaimed by people opposed to the bailouts and stimulus package(s)).

I don’t care.  The child of an unemployed, drug-taking high-school dropout should not be deprived of basic access to a doctor just because we’re angry at their parents.  Nor should their parents, come to that.

History of US Legislative and Executive power (again)

Ages ago, I wrote briefly about the history of US legislative and executive power.  I thought I’d update it now that the latest election has (pretty much) settled.  Between 1901 and 2010, the Democratic Party will have been in power in the House of Representatives 65.5% of the time, in the Senate 58.2% of the time and had the presidency 50% of the time.

Much more interestingly, Americans seem to prefer having the same party control all three branches of US government at the same time.  While pure chance would put such an occurrence at 25% (i.e. two out of eight possible configurations), it actually occurred over 61% of the time (33 congresses out of 54).  Of those 33, 21 were all-Democrat and 12 were all-Republican.

Click on the image below to go through to an excel spreadsheet with the details:

History of US legislative and executive power (1901-2010)

Non-geographic constituencies

The Australian House of Representatives has 150 members for a resident population of 21,268,746 (10 April 2008), or almost 142,000 people per representative. The US House of Representatives has 435 members for a resident population of 303,817,103 (10 April 2008), or almost 670,000 people per representative. The UK House of Commons has 646 members for a resident population of 60,587,000 (mid-2006), or almost 94,000 people per representative. The Canadian House of Commons has 308 members for a resident population of 33,231,725 (10 April 2008), or almost 108,000 people per representative.

Traditionally, which is to say always, the constituency of each representative or member of parliament has been defined geographically. That’s simple enough, but now that communication and identification technology has advanced to where it is today, they no longer need to be.

Members of the various lower houses of parliament/congress are meant to be representatives of their constituents, speaking on their behalf and seeking to act in their best interest. Before anybody mentions it, the Edmund Burke argument, that members of parliament ought to focus on the well-being of the nation as a whole, carries more strength in a unicameral parliament than it does in the constitutional arrangements of Australia, Canada and the USA where an upper-house exists with members sitting for longer terms so as – in principal, at least – to focus more on the issues more than the politics. It also seems to me that within her role as a member of parliament thinking of the good of the nation, a representative has a duty to pass on to the parliament the democratically valid views of her constituents, even if she ultimately votes in another direction.

By having electoral districts be geographically defined, we remove from the people the right to self-organise and they instead become passive receivers of groupings that are set down upon them. Unless you have an independent body to determine electoral boundaries, you therefore run the risk of gerrymandering (although whether that necessary causes polarisation is apparently debatable). Even if gerrymandering does not cause polarisation, the relevance of a geographically-defined groups is becoming less relevant as communication and transportation technologies improve. In a more globalised world where the economic fortunes of people are less tied to those of their neighbours, the issues of concern that people share will be less likely to be spatially concentrated.

My question, then, is this: What if 150,000 Australians were to voluntarily opt out of their resident electoral districts and form a non-geographically defined constituency with their own seat in the House of Representatives?

  • Individuals would only be permitted to be a member of one electoral constituency.
  • Everyone would be a part of a geographic district by default, but could change to a non-geographic grouping if they chose.
  • Even then, people would retain a geographical link to the legislature through the Senate.
  • The election of representatives from non-geographic constituencies would proceed just like any other seat in a general election; all of the various political parties would be free to offer candidates and to campaign in whatever way they saw fit.
  • By coming together around a common topic of concern, constituents guarantee that candidates will need to address that concern in their campaigns and that the winner will truly be their representative in parliament.

The idea isn’t entirely novel. Several countries allow for an expatriate electoral role so that non-resident citizens can still vote. These are usually tied back to a geographic district within the home country, but there’s no reason they have to be.

At a first glance, this might seem like a finely grained version of proportional representation. I guess that to a point it is, but since each constituency would still have elections, all parties would be able to put forward candidates and the decision process within each constituency would still be the same as within geographic districts (preferential voting in Australia, first-past-the-post in the UK and USA), it’s not.

It might also seem like this would just be formalised lobbying. To that I can only say: “Yes. So?” People are entitled to their views and in a democracy those views ought to be granted equal rights to be heard. Lobbyists are treated with such scorn today because they seek to obtain political influence beyond their individual vote. They exist, in part, because people do not have any real connection to their representatives.

History of US Legislative and Executive power

Following the recent (midterm) US elections and looking at this article over at the Economist, I was fascinated by the graphic they provided at the bottom detailing periods of Democrat and Republican control over the House of Representatives and the Senate. The obvious missing information was on presidential control, so I did one up myself. You can grab it (as an Excel spreadsheet) here.

It’s interesting to note that since 1901, the Democrats have generally been dominant in the House of Representatives (64.8% of overall control) and the Senate (57.4%), but the Republicans have maintained a slight upper hand in the Presidency (48.1% Democrat).

Americans do seem to prefer having just one party in control at a time (59.3% of the time all three are under the control of the same party rather than the 25% that would have been expected by pure chance).

Update: I have redone this following the 2008 election here.