Kudos for MAPLight’s visualization of Congressional activity

In yesterday’s essay on my efforts to relate what our New Hampshire senators say about renewable energy to what they do or don’t do about it (and why), I left out a crucial step. It’s a nice illustration of the subtle and powerful data visualization provided by MAPLight.org.

I’d found references to a crucial NO vote cast by John Sununu, but was having trouble finding out for which bill, and for which step in its process, that vote was recorded. I thought the bill was H.R.6-110, and I was looking for a NO vote, cast by Sununu just before its Dec 13 passage, where the final tally was 59-40.

MAPLight’s use of a Timeline proved decisive. In this view of activity around H.R.6-110, scoped to Sununu, the circled region records two Sununu votes around that time. One red for NO, the other green for YES.

Mousing over the red NO vote got me very close to the answer:

This wasn’t quite right. Although the annotation shown in the screenshot reads Dec 07, the mouseover popup (which I couldn’t capture) says Dec 13, which turns out to be the date I was looking for.

It seems that this rendering of the timeline can’t accommodate the closely-spaced votes revealed in this details view:

December 07, 2007 Senate Motion to Invoke Cloture on… Fail 53 42
December 13, 2007 Senate Motion to Concur in the… Pass 86 8
December 13, 2007 Senate Motion to Invoke Cloture on… Fail 59 40
December 18, 2007 House On Agreeing to Senate Adt… Pass 314 100

But when I got to that view, and saw the 59-40 tally that had been reported, I knew I’d identified the crucial cloture vote.

Nicely done MAPLight!

While we’re on the subject, by the way, I wanted to pin down exactly what language was removed from HR 6 by the failure of that crucial vote. From a Congressional Research Service report entitled Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: A Summary of Major Provisions, by Fred Sissine et al., I found this clue:

The White House threatened to veto the House-passed bill mainly because of the presence of provisions for an RPS [renewable portfolio standard] and for the repeal of oil and gas tax subsidies.

On December 7, 2007, a Senate cloture vote on the House-passed version of H.R. 6 — with provisions for an RPS and for the repeal of oil and gas subsidies — failed (52-43). After stripping out the RPS and modifying the tax package, a cloture vote on S.Amdt. 3841 failed (59-40).

To visualize what was subtracted from S.Amdt 3841 to produce S.Admt 3850, I dropped 3841 into Wikipedia, replaced it with 3580, and compared those two versions.

Here’s where the two part ways:

And here, deep in the thickets of 3841, is my beloved pellet stove provision in the left column, matched only by emptiness in the right column:

Now this surely isn’t an appropriate use of Wikipedia, so I’ve withdrawn the page I made to compare these two versions. But it’s odd, don’t you think? Why can we readily analyze the differences between two versions of a fanciful article about the heavy metal umlaut, but not so readily analyze the differences between two versions of a major piece of legislation?

9 Comments

  1. “http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/07/why-congress-needs-a-version-c.html”

    Thanks for the reminder. I read that, but didn’t make the connection. Yes, absolutely, the version control technology that geeks take for granted is so desperately needed in other realms.

      1. Thanks. I thought it might be something like that.
        and yeah, I’ve been spidering old geocities bookmarks recently, before they disappear forever…

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