Winter Break

Gerrymandering

Thursday December 15, 2011 -Periods 1 & 3
Friday December 16, 2011 – Periods 4 & 6

  Today we ended our legislative unit with a test over chapter 12 and 14. After our test we discussed the current debate in Congress concerning the payroll tax cuts, extending unemployment benefits, Keystone oil pipeline, and the federal budget.

We watched “Gerry-Rigged,” a CNN Presents program on gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a way politicians draw boundary lines for legislative districts in ways designed to keep one party or the other in power in that particular district. In the last 10 years, 78% of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is almost four out of every five members of Congress, did not change party hands even once. In California, with 53 seats, the most in the nation, incumbents were kept so safe that only one of those seats changed party control in the past decade. David Wasserman, redistricting expert for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says only 20 races for Congress are expected to be tossups in the 2012 election. That’s only 20 out of the 435 seats in the House. “In general elections, it’s almost rigged,” he said. And that may be part of the reason why Congress is so polarized.

H.R. Floor Debate and Vote

Tuesday December 13, 2011 – Periods 1 & 3
Wednesday December 14, 2011 – Periods 4 & 6

  Today we reviewed how a bill passes through the House of Representatives. Then we continued our simulation on the House of Representatives. Members of each party gathered in their respective party groups for a meeting before the start of the H.R. bill floor debate and vote. During the party caucus, party leaders and members learned about changes, if any to the original bills debated and amended in committee. Party leaders then reviewed the upcoming bills and explained to their party members how they should vote on the current bills and what bills the party still supported. Party members had the opportunity to speak during a floor debate on each bill. A roll call vote was taken for each bill.

H.R. Committees

Friday December 9, 2011 – Periods 1 & 3
Monday December 12, 2011 – Periods 4 & 6

  Today we reviewed leadership positions for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Then we proceeded with our simulation on the House of Representatives.

Members of each party gathered in their respective party groups for a meeting before the start of the H.R. bill activity. During the party caucus, party leaders read notes to review the upcoming bills in each committee, and explained to their party members how they should vote on the current bills and what bills the party supported.

Party members then met in their respective committees and chose their committee chairperson and vice-chairperson. The chairperson must be from the majority party and is often the member with the most seniority. The chairs distributed copies of the proposed bill to committee members, and read the bill aloud. Committee members then read expert testimony silently or aloud in their committees in support and opposition to their proposed bill. Within their group, members are to draft two or more amendments that will make the bill more appealing to your constituents and party. You can delete language, change language, or add new language to the bill. Each amendment must be clear and easy to understand, be no more than 30 words, and include the name of the amendment’s main author or authors. The teacher will review each proposed amendment to make sure that it meets the criteria listed and make any necessary changes. The committee chair then reads the new, amended bill aloud. The chair then calls for a final vote on whether to report the bill favorably to the House floor. If the bill is approved, the chair prepares a copy of the approved bill, including amendments, and gave it to the teacher.

Budget Deficit

Wednesday 12/7 – Periods 1 & 3
Thursday 12/8 – Periods 4 & 6

  Today we learned that the national debt affects the distribution of income and transfers purchasing power from the private to the public sector. The persistent nature of the federal budget deficit and the way that deficit spending adds to the federal debt. Attempts to control the deficit have taken the form of mandated deficit targets and pay-as-you-go provisions. President Clinton’s Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 significantly reduced the federal budget deficit by introducing higher marginal tax brackets. Spending caps were introduced in the balanced budget agreement of 1997 in a further attempt to control the deficits. Finally, after 29 consecutive years of deficits, the federal budget was in surplus by 1998.

In our budget activity, students will create a mock House of Representatives to experience the steps of the legislative process. Students will take on the roles of newly elected or reelected members of the U.S. House of Representatives and will experience the process of trying to pass a series of bills. Each student will play the role of the congressperson described on his or her role card, even if the party affiliation on the card does not reflect the student’s own political beliefs. Students are to analyze the budget proposals to reduce the $300 billion budget deficit and create a spending plan to submit to the House floor for a vote.

Federal Budget

Monday December 5, 2011 – Periods 1 & 3
Tuesday December 6, 2011 – Periods 4 & 6

  Today we learned about the budget process. The federal budget expresses important political choices by the president’s administration. The law requires the president to propose to Congress the budget for the entire federal government each fiscal year. The actual preparation of the budget is the responsibility of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Each federal agency draws up a list of its own spending plans and sends these to the OMB. The president and his advisers study this preliminary budget and send the spending requests back to the agencies for fine-tuning. After a final presidential review, the budget is sent to Congress. Certain items in the budget cannot be changed, such as entitlements and the interest that must be paid on the national debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) carefully evaluates the president’s budget for the House and Senate. The House and Senate Budget Committees review the budget and reconcile differences between their two versions of the budget. After the budget is approved, the House passes an appropriations bill, officially setting aside money for expenditures.

There is a debate in Washington, DC. concerning the U.S. federal budget. Today’s simulation is designed to help students better understand what items make up the federal budget, what impact budget cuts might have on their lives, and what options might be pursued to balance the federal budget over the long term. Student will choose between a variety of options to cover a hypothetical budget gap of $300 billion. Some of the options were recommended last year by a bipartisan commission on reducing the deficit, and others proposed by budget analysts of different political backgrounds. After making your choices, add up the total of the funds noted next to your selections.