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2013 Archives

SMU Experts:
What’s ahead for lawmakers

January 16, 2013

As the U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature reconvene, SMU experts weigh in on issues facing lawmakers. Contact SMU’s Office of News and Communications at 214-768-7650 or for interviews.

Looking for an expert on:


The President & Congress

Congress & Debt

The Economy


Faith & Health Care

Violence in the Media


Matthew WilsonMatthew Wilson is an SMU associate professor of political science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences who specializes in religion and politics, as well as public opinion, elections and political psychology.

Wilson on Congress:

“On the national level, discussion of fiscal and budgetary issues continues to be a depressing farce.  Neither party wants to wrestle in any serious way with the massive challenges that we face.  Republicans are more interested in preventing tax increases and Democrats are more interested in preventing entitlement cuts than either party is in actually making the country fiscally solvent. Given the disconnect from reality that exists in each party and that each party fosters in its base, it is almost impossible to imagine the kind of balanced, responsible, long-term budget agreement that would forestall the erosion of America's global economic position.”

Wilson on the Texas Legislature:

“We need to tap the breaks a little on talking about an "inevitable" Democratic majority in Texas.  Republicans still have huge majorities in the state legislature that they were able to shore up during redistricting. In politics, it's very dangerous to talk about the inevitability of events with a decade or more time horizon. Coalitions and voting patterns shift over time. What's clear, though, is that the Republican Party will need to expand its appeal to Latino voters to maintain its majority into the next decade.”

Cal JillsonCal Jillson is one of the nation’s foremost political experts. He regularly provides journalists thoughtful insight on U.S. and Texas politics. A professor of political science, he is the author of Lone Star Tarnished: A Critical Look at Texas Politics and Public Policy, which is an analysis of Texas public policy. Historically rich and data driven, Lone Star Tarnished presents a troubling picture of where the nation’s most populous red state stands today, what problems Texas faces going forward, and whether the state is addressing those problems effectively. He is a former member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

Dennis SimonDennis Simon, an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at SMU, is the co-author of Women & Congressional Elections: A Century of Change. The book combines a rich analytical narrative, data on nearly 40,000 candidates, and colorful stories from the campaign trail in the most thorough accounting of women's performance in House and Senate elections ever presented. He regularly teaches courses on congressional elections, the American Presidency, presidential elections, the politics of change in the United States, and the politics and legacies of the Civil Rights Movement.


The President and Congress

Jeffrey A. EngelJeffrey A. Engel is director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History and associate professor in the Clements Department of History in Dedman College.

“In no recent case has a President’s second term proven as fruitful, in terms of sweeping domestic legislation, as his first.  Given the current partisan divide in Washington we should expect Obama’s second term to be no different, producing in the end more vitriol than substance on the domestic front.  This is why Presidents typically turn their gaze abroad in their second terms.  After four-plus years at the center of international politics they are invariably considered statesmen of the first order, cheered abroad even as they are jeered at home.  After dealing with Congress, after all, and with this Congress in particular, issues of war and peace, terrorism and ecological disaster, each appear easy in comparison.

“Dealing with Congress is exhausting under the best of circumstances.  Five hundred thirty-five voices never sing in unison, no matter their party or ideological fervor.  Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to appease fiscal conservatives in his own party brought the Great Depression to new depths in 1937.  Lyndon Johnson knew most Senators personally and his party controlled the House, yet passage of his Great Society legislation proved trying and split the Democratic Party along regional lines.  Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each procured their singular domestic achievements in their first term, aided by their party’s dominance of Congress, yet in neither case did victory prove easy or without cost.” 


Congress and Debt

Dennis IppolitoDennis Ippolito, chair of SMU 's Department of Political Science in Dedman College, has just published Deficits, Debt, and the New Politics of Tax Policy through Cambridge University Press.  The timing is perfect as Congress prepares to wage war over the issue.   The book provides a comprehensive, historical account of how wars, changing perception of the domestic role of government and attitudes toward deficits and debts created the modern tax system in the United States. It then focuses on the causes and consequences of the partisan disconnect between spending and revenue policy.

Ippolito writes: “Restoring fiscal responsibility is …going to require an honest debate about the budget. For decades, both parties have indulged the public.  Democrats have pretended that costly domestic programs did not require higher taxes.  Republicans have offered a competing vision of tax cuts financed by pain-free spending cuts.  This bipartisan flight from reality began with the Johnson Administration’s assurance that the nation could afford the Vietnam War and the Great Society without a timely and permanent increase in taxes.  It was bookended 50 years later when the George W. Bush administration insisted that its version of “guns and butter” required even less sacrifice.”


The Economy

Bernard WeinsteinBernard Weinstein is the associate director of the SMU Maguire Energy Institute and adjunct professor of business economics at SMU Cox School of Business.

“Though the economy has pulled back from the ‘fiscal cliff,’ at least for a few months, the basic imbalances remain. The latest projections from the Office of Management and Budget show only modest drops in the nation’s budget deficits through 2019.  By 2020, the annual deficit will again exceed $1 trillion unless Congress can rein in the growth of federal spending, in particular entitlement programs.”



Caroline BrettellCaroline Brettell, is SMU Distinguished Professor in Cultural Anthropology in Dedman College who specializes in immigration.

“It is time for this country to get serious about immigration reform. On this and many other issues we need to be in a "finding solutions" mode rather than in a "drawing a line in the sand" mode.”

“The immigration system itself should be overhauled, and that includes re-evaluating the family reunification dimensions of the system. We need a smart set of laws regarding who is admitted to this country. And finally, we need a humanitarian refugee policy that continues to provide opportunities to the displaced people of the world.”


Faith and Health Care

William B. Lawrence, Dean of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist UniversityWilliam A. Lawrence is dean and professor of American church history at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology:

"A major issue for Texans of faith is health care. Texas is home to the nation’s largest number of people without health insurance (about 6.2 million, or 25 percent of the state’s population). It’s clear Gov. Perry doesn’t want us to participate in the Affordable Care Act, but if the state won’t have an exchange to help its citizens buy health insurance, what will be the alternatives?”

Women's access to health care is also important, Lawrence said. “Now that Texas has moved to deprive funding to any agencies that, even in some small way, assist doctors who perform abortions, how does the state propose women with other health care concerns get the care they need?”


Media Violence: A Thorny Constitutional Issue

Tony PedersonTony Pederson is professor and Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism at SMU’s Meadows School.  He is formerly the executive editor of the Houston Chronicle. 

“In the days after the school shootings in Connecticut, some commentators noted that media violence should also be addressed.  Even though it may well be a significant part of the overall problem, it is much less likely to be addressed by Congress for the simple reason that it involves even thornier constitutional and practical issues – and that’s a good thing.”

Read Pederson’s full Op-ed.


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