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The Weeds: Are we counting poverty all wrong?

The United States is unusual among advanced democracies in that we generally let elected officials draw the maps that we use to conduct elections — in effect letting politicians choose their constituents rather than constituents choosing their politicians.

But how much difference does this really make in practice? Is gerrymandering a major driver of political polarization or congressional dysfunction? How much does it have to do with the GOP's grip on the US House of Representatives? In this week's episode of The Weeds we consider alternatives to the status quo, including independent commissions, multi-member districts, or even just giving districts names rather than numbers.

Also on this episode we dive into the details of the landmark budget accord reached between Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. Sarah Kliff explains the mind-bogglingly complex Medicare funding disaster it averted, and Ezra Klein explains the crucial but paradoxical role of presidential leadership — or lack of it — in making things happen in today's polarizing Congress.

Last but by no means least, for our paper of the week, we consider new research indicating that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or "food stamps") has done about twice as much to reduce poverty as we realized. This turns out to be just one of several domains in which the Census Bureau's survey-based accounts of household income differ greatly from administrative data from tax authorities or the administrators of spending programs, raising systematic questions about whether we are really measuring the economy appropriately.

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