State Congressional Fragmentation Makes a Difference

These days, the way a state's congressional delegation behaves may have a lot to say about what comes out of Washington.

The issue is anything but trivial, given the tension between the federal government and states on everything from regulatory policies to grants-in-aid. It's exacerbated because of the differences in partisan make-up, which alone may leave a state's delegation divided over key policies. All of this points to one indisputable fact: the more a state's delegation is fractured, the less clout it is likely to have.

For instance, for years the state has successfully resisted oil drilling off the California coast because of a united congressional delegation where, whatever their other differences, Democrats and Republicans stood united against the idea. No drilling has been permitted since the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, this despite the pressure for more domestic production.

The opposite may be occurring in the case of high speed rail. a project that could provide more than 100,000 jobs. With the cost more than doubling according to the latest estimates, California has become all the more dependent upon the federal government to help shoulder more of the financial burden.

But the state's congressional delegation is hardly on the same page. While Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of Congress have fought for federal funds, Congressional Republicans from California have argued otherwise.

Just a few days ago, more than half of the state's Congressional Republicans, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy from Atascadero, asked the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office to conduct a review of the program and its cost. At a minimum, this request is likely to slow down, if not squash the project.

The reason is clear enough. More than ever, Congress, particularly the House Republican majority, is looking for areas to cut spending. Expensive, time-consuming infrastructure projects are at the top of the list. In those states with united Congressional delegations--such as the nation's populated northeast corridor--there is less reason for Congress to give a second look. Thus, with some of California's own elected officials raising questions, why should Congress send funds to a state with opposition?

The lesson here is simple: When delegations coalesce to move forward on a policy, they have a much better chance of achieving their objectives. When delegations are fractured, their hesitation can go far toward undermining any likelihood of success.

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