Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Numbers Game

Patrick Ruffini provides some interesting analysis of partisan affiliation numbers for Massachusetts. This analysis puts an optimistic spin on Scott Brown's chances in the January 19 special Senate election:

Then there is a bit of recent electoral history. It's true that Massachusetts has deserved the mantle of the most Democratic state in its recent history. But that Democratic loyalty is not quite as strong as it was. Massachusetts is now within two points of California in Presidential partisanship, handing Obama a 26-point win to California's 24 points. In California, a larger and more diverse state, we are talking about a possibly competitive Senate race with a recent history of electing Republican governors. Let's also remember that Massachusetts Democrats are not Obama Democrats. Despite the blessing of Kennedy and Kerry, Obama lost the state by 10 points on Super Tuesday. In October 2007, Republican Jim Ogonowski came within 6 points of beating Niki Tsongas in the MA-5 special, and that was in a bad political climate for Republicans. And a final point that bears remembering: Massachusetts has a Cook PVI of D+12. In a strange low-turnout election scheduled during the winter months, Joseph Cao won LA-2 in a D+25 district. Martha Coakley may not be stashing cash in the freezer, but weird things happen in special elections (as NY-23 also showed us). And an extra, final point: in a sleepy, low-turnout special election in CA-10, that no one believed Republican David Harmer could win and which attracted minimal support from national Republicans and the blogosphere as everyone was focused on Doug Hoffman, we came within 10 points. The Cook PVI rating of that district was D+11. That could have been a lot closer with extra resources and political capital spent.

All in all, taking a calculated risk in MA-SEN is worth it. Nobody doubts this is an uphill fight, but I don't want to be the guy who decided not to take a stand only to find out that we lost by 6 on election night when everyone assumed the Democrat would win running away and didn't fight.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Raising the Volume

MA GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown is ratcheting up his attacks on Obamacare and his Democratic opponent's support of those policies.

With Democrats in Congress now using their narrow majority to write a final health care compromise, Brown called a press conference to say he would relish the chance to block the bill, asserting the current proposals would raise costs for Massachusetts residents and businesses without providing any benefits.

“I could be the 41st senator that could stop the Obama proposal that’s being pushed right now through Congress,’’ Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, told reporters at state GOP headquarters in downtown Boston.

Over at NRO, Jim Geraghty is skeptical about the fate of Republican Scott Brown in the MA special election for Ted Kennedy's seat. A few emailers try to convince Geraghty to look on the bright side for the GOP. Here's the rallying cry from one correspondent:
This election is about GOTV and turnout.

The GOP raises millions every cycle from Massachusetts. We realize we're not target #1. But is spending a few hundred thousand on a GOTV effort targeting Registered R's and Independents who vote R to much to ask? Is Mailing an Absentee Ballot Application to R's and R-Leaning U's (Unenrolleds, as in "not enrolled in a party" as in "independents") that has been done to great effect in the past to much to ask?

Is $30,000 to call every GOP household to remind them to vote to much to ask?

Steele said the RNC was going to help us compete in the Northeast. Where is even the TOKEN help?
Another emailer notes:

The real king makers in Massachusetts are the independents. The special election is expected to be low turnout. The independents in NJ and VA broke two thirds for the Republicans last month. It is not inconceivable Mass' independents could move the same way....If Brown loses a close race, the national Republican committees will rue the day they shortchanged this special election in the bluest of blue states.
With all that could be riding on this race, the national Republican leadership could indeed feel more than a slight sting of disappointment.

See also Ed Morrissey on the national GOP's (lack of) spending on Brown's behalf.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Longest Shot

Following up on this suggestion from Ace and Bill Kristol and an correspondent of Kristol, it really does seem like the Republican challenger for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat, state senator Scott Brown, might stand to gain a lot if he runs as the anti-Obamacare candidate. If Brown were to win, he could become the 41st vote to stop Obamacare. Since, as Kristol notes, the Senate would not be able to vote on the final version of Obamacare after the MA special election on January 19th, Brown's election could be a pivotal turning point. Opponents of Obamacare might find a very high rate of return in investing time and money in Brown. Kristol's email correspondent suggests that the GOP should have "certain Senatorial election committee to pay attention to the race or send money or have actual prominent Republican types come to the state to campaign for the very telegenic State Sen. Scott Brown." All good suggestions. The odds of succeeding may be slimmish, but the benefits of success would be huge.

Moreover, it would be so much in Brown's favor to run as the anti-Obamacare candidate. What his campaign needs the most is oxygen. After all, consider this narrative: Republican reformer, who has won elections in a Democrat-friendly district, takes on an ossified Democratic machine headed by a wildly unpopular Democratic governor. In a low turnout election, the intensity of opposition to an increasingly unpopular president's plans could help tip the scale in his favor. This narrative of success could become a reality, if Brown can make this election more than a ho-hum, off-year, predetermined Democratic "safe seat" faux-contest. Running under the radar will not help his campaign.

Instead, he needs to make it a newsworthy campaign. Independents are a key voting block for either party in Massachusetts, but they are especially crucial for a Republican. Brown needs to get their attention, whip up Republican support, and persuade skeptical Democrats that things in the Capitol have gone too far. Health-care is a perfect issue to pull the spotlight in Brown's direction. With independent support for Obamacare sinking lower and lower, health-care could be a catalyzing issue. This attention could provide Brown with much-needed donations and publicity.

The public polls have been few and far between for this election, an indication of how "safe" many firms view this contest. But there are some interesting ancillary numbers. The current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, who was resoundingly elected in 2006, has had a collapse in his approval rating. His approval numbers now stand in the mid-30's (if not in the teens). Independent disapproval of Obama in places like California and Oregon is in the mid-40's and climbing towards 50%. In New York, hardly a bastion of rock-ribbed conservatives, 53% of independents now disapprove of Obama. So states that have been friendly to Obama are witnessing a crumbling of support, especially among independents. There are no polls that I can find asking Massachusetts voters about Obamacare, but, based on national polls (which show a clear majority disapproving of the Democrats' current flavor of health-care reform), one would not be surprised to find a significant level of opposition. Massachusetts can elect Republicans for statewide offices (they elected GOP governors for four terms in a row), and, in special elections, they have come very close in the recent past to picking up Congressional seats (Republican Jim Ogonowski ran 45-51 against Democrat Niki Tsongas for Marty Meehan's House seat in 2007).

By making his senatorial campaign a national one, Brown could transform the playing field into one that favors him. Portraying himself as the de facto last hope for a brake on Obamacare could make good political and electoral sense for Brown. The growing resentment at a Congressional majority bent on forcing through ever-more unpopular legislation could catapult Brown to the Senate chamber. The road to victory for Brown could begin with stepping up to the podium and saying, "I'm Scott Brown, and I'm here to save your health-care."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Late-Night Tactics

Though many are pessimistic about the chances of stopping the Senate's version of the health-care bill, here are a few points to keep in mind for the Congressional GOP in the weeks ahead for the health-care fight:
  • Undercut the myth of inevitability. The aura of inevitability right now only helps the backers of Obamacare; few Democrats would want to risk angering the (often irritable) White House in a failed attempt at rebellion. In politics nothing is inevitable. All it takes is one Democratic Senate waverer to stop this thing in its tracks and force a more substantive debate on the bill. Even passage of a bill from the Senate in no way guarantees the passage of the bill as a whole. Does every Senate Democrat want to get stuck with supporting an unpopular failed bill?
  • Work across party lines. Even if Congressional Democratic leadership has turned its back on Republicans, Republicans need to reach out to Democrats in both the House and Senate. Appeal to concerns about cost, care for the elderly, abortion, effective medical care, legislative due process, electoral concerns---anything. Republicans must forge a bipartisan coalition of interests and values; that's perhaps their only hope of changing the course of this legislation.
  • Keep emphasizing the facts. Democrats are obviously afraid of the facts of this bill. That's why they're trying to rush it through. This morning's Face the Nation witnessed the spectacle of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) parrying focused criticisms of the text of the bill with invective against insurance companies. That level of vitriol shows how politically uncomfortable the Democratic position can be. Time---and transparency---is on the side of critics of misguided reform.
  • Keep appealing to the public. As a corollary to the preceding point, one of Obamacare skeptics' best resources is the court of public appeal, as "Henry Clay" suggested months ago. This bill, unlike Medicare when it was first introduced, is deeply unpopular. Skeptics need to use this unpopularity to their utmost advantage. Let wavering Democrats know the price they're going to pay at the polls if this measure passes; use public appeals to increase this potential price.
  • Find a sane middle ground for reform. There is a sensible, incremental territory to be found for reform. Republicans should propose and support amendments that push the current reform in that direction. Appeals to positive change can help provide another lever for maneuvering public opposition to the bill.
Republican and Democratic skeptics of Obamacare have considerable institutional forces aligned against them. But the battle is not over yet. The history of the debate about health-care reform in 2009 has been loud predictions of success for Obamacare followed by delays and increasing levels of public opposition. There is no reason why the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 should not continue in that tradition.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Courage is not holding out for the best subsidy deal for your home state or rushing something through for the sake of doing something. Courage is standing up to the winds of one’s Congressional leadership and president. It is being willing to put the brakes on what has been described as the legislative process at its very worst, when a massive, potentially revolutionary bill is shoved through in a matter of a few days from its unveiling due to a calculated political urgency for the sake of partisan pageantry. It is fighting for transparency and deliberation in what is meant to be a deliberative body.

The controversy of this bill—not public need or universal acclaim—motivates this rush towards passage. Precisely because it is so influential, this bill requires time for debate and analysis. A poorly written rush job could have implications neither its defenders or opponents foresee. The founders intended the Senate to cool public passions through sustained interrogation of legislative matters. Today, in an Alice-in-Wonderland transmogrification of original intent, we see the Senate on the verge of ramming a bill through in the dead of night on the eve of a holiday in order to avoid public scrutiny. Perhaps due to similarities between the two, legislating has become confused with trophy-hunting.

With a winter storm descending upon the Capitol, the search for that man or woman of courage continues.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Filibuster Psychology

Right now, the leadership has to keep the potential Democratic filibusterers isolated. Being the 41st vote to stop Obama/Reid/Pelosicare would be a very uncomfortable position for any Democrat. Being isolated makes each potential filibusterer more vulnerable to party wrath. On the other hand, being part of a group (albeit a small group) of filibusterers could offer considerable protection. Leadership might be able to turn against one of you; it would have a harder time turning against four or five.

So we see this weird dance going on, in which would-be filibusterers can hide in a fog of other potential filibusterers. It's in the moderates' best partisan interest to look out for each other and offer potential objections and suggest that they may filibuster. Meanwhile, the leadership is trying to pick off each of these moderates and make all of the moderates feel insecure about the intentions of the others to filibuster. Leadership may be succeeding in this attempt. If the moderates are serious about bringing a real reform to this bill, keeping a united front (and being certain of the willingness of the other senators to filibuster) could be a key tool in forcing real changes in the bill.

Shifting Lines in the Sand

Ben Nelson today after the failure of his amendment to limit the availability of abortion coverage under the new health-care proposal:
"I want to continue to work on this," he said, not ruling out his support, at least "not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the project we're working on... This makes it harder right now [to support the bill]. We'll have to see if they can make it easier."
[Nelson] he did not reiterate his pledge to filibuster the bill.

"We'll just have to see what develops," Nelson told reporters. "I have no plan B."

That allows him substantial wiggle room, if he ultimately decides not to defect from the health care bill, and indeed, after the vote Nelson returned to private negotiations with liberals and other conservative Democrats over the public option.

He's not a firm no vote just yet.

"Not at this point in time. I want to continue to work on the [public option compromise] to see if that can improve the bill from my perspective."

Ben Nelson on December 3, 2009:
"It is Stupak language [limiting abortion coverage]," Nelson said. "I've said at the end of the day if it doesn't have Stupak language on abortion in it I won't vote to move it off the floor."

Asked whether that meant he was intent on stalling the bill, Nelson said: "I just said that, didn't I? This isn't anything new, I've said this for a long time and people are finally hearing it."
Was he just bluffing about this threat?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Measures of Controversy

In 2009, health-care reform remains far more controversial and and unpopular than initiating military operations in Iraq was in 2002. Here are some sample Gallup numbers from the run-up to the vote on and the vote itself on the Iraq War Resolution. (The numbers are approve/disapprove/not sure.)
Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?

2002 Nov 8-10




2002 Oct 21-22




2002 Oct 14-17




2002 Oct 3-6




2002 Sep 20-22




2002 Sep 13-16




2002 Sep 5-8




2002 Sep 2-4




On the whole, that's about a twenty-point spread in favor of going into Iraq.

Current Gallup numbers on health-care reform? 37% in favor. That's about twenty approval points lower. By the standards of the 2002 Iraq debate, the current health-care reform "package" (even when there isn't really a comprehensive single plan, yet) is wildly controversial without a tremendous base of public support.

These numbers also show that the current Democrat-backed vision of health-care reform falls far short of the level of support for Medicare in the 1965 (as Mickey Kaus points out, Gallup found 63% in favor of Medicare back then). Granted, popularity is not the best metric for judging whether a given policy would be effective or not, but these numbers reveal one aspect of the public-debate dynamic on this issue.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trouble for Reid

This new poll could give some hope to Nevada Republicans:

The poll by Denver-based Vitale & Associates was conducted July 29-30 and showed that 48 percent of respondents favored [Nevada GOP chairperson Sue] Lowden to 42 percent for Reid. Ten percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Of the 510 poll respondents, 44 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 38 percent as Republicans, 15 percent as independent or non-partisan, and 3 percent declined to state an affiliation.

42% is a rough number for an incumbent. His favorability rating is under 40% in this poll. Another rough number. Two questions: Will Lowden run? How would other GOP candidates fare?

Details, Details

From today's New York Times article on the reform of the White House's health-care rhetoric:
“We all had a good sense that some of this was going to take place,” said Brad Woodhouse, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. “To be fair, I think we were probably a little surprised — just a little — at the use of swastikas and the comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich that even Rush Limbaugh has fanned the flames on. And we were a little surprised at the mob mentality.” (Mr. Woodhouse’s use of the phrase “mob mentality” was itself part of the Democratic effort to paint opponents speaking out against the plan as part of an unruly but organized effort.)
This use of "mob mentality" also seems to tie into a wider effort to paint criticisms of the plan as illegitimate and a threat to deliberative democracy. Hence, the calling of these opponents members of a "fifth column," the weird almost-comparison of opponents to the Ku Klux Klan, the suggestion that these protests are somehow un-American.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Civil Poison

Steven Pearlstein has an at least somewhat understandable expression of sentiment here:
Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off.
It seems to me one of the key components of debate in a civil society is a kind of openness, honesty, and tolerance, especially in discussing important issues.

So what to make of the rest of Pearlstein's raging Washington Post, in which he attacks Republicans as "political terrorists"?

The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.

Again, Barney Frank, Jan Schakowsky, and a host of others have said many times that a so-called "public option" would be a vehicle to get to single-payer health-care system. The president wants to work toward a single-payer system; many of the architects of the Democratic proposals on health-care want a single-payer system and support a public option. Are they lying in order to scare the public and stop political conversation?

Controlling all or nearly all of the health-care financing for the nation (as could be very likely under a single-payer system) would certainly give the government a huge amount of control over the US's health-care system. That's one of the premises of Orszagism: centralized bureaucrats could determine the most efficient modes of treatment, cutting costs and improving care.

To raise doubts about the means and ends of a given public policy, to urge citizens to get involved in the debate about policy---that is terrorism? Calling people "political terrorists" for advancing this argument (for daring to repeat the words of supporters of a public option) poisons the well of public debate. That kind of rhetorical venom eats away at the foundation necessary for the maintenance of a civil society.

Over on the left, Brendan Nyhan has sharp rebuke for Pearlstein:

These are ugly words. Pearlstein is right to decry the misinformation that has been directed at the President's health care plan, but the GOP's efforts to defeat the plan are in no way disloyal or equivalent to terrorism. Party competition -- which often produces various forms of ugly behavior -- is an intrinsic feature of democratic politics in a free society. Opposition parties are in no way obligated to help the country reach a consensus on health care or any other issue. If Pearlstein wishes to condemn the tactics used by Republicans, there are variety of more constructive ways to do so.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

5 Reasons Why the GOP Should Beg Mike Castle to Run for US Senate

Delaware's only House member, Mike Castle (R), served two terms as governor and has represented his state in Congress since 1993. Castle is now involved in an extended will-he-or-won't-he dance about whether he'll run for Joe Biden's old Senate seat in 2010. Though Castle has been regarded as one of the most "moderate" members of the House GOP (for example, he was one of the few Republican representatives to vote in favor of the cap-and-trade bill), here are five reasons (in no particular order) why Republican leadership and even grassroots members of the right should be wishing and hoping that Castle runs for US Senate:
1. He can win: Polls show Castle with 20+-point lead over likely Democratic challenger Beau Biden. No poll shows any other Republican candidate with numbers like that; indeed, most polls don't even bother polling on another Republican name---Castle is far and away the most prominent member of the Delaware GOP.

2. He has won before: Castle has been winning statewide races in Delaware since 1981. He is the epitome of a proven candidate. If the people of Delaware are comfortable enough with Castle to keep electing him to the US House (since Delaware has only a single representative, the US House race is statewide), they are surely open to electing him to the Senate.

3. It's a long way to 51: Senate Republicans are down to 40 seats. 2010 looks like there will be some challenging races for seats currently held by Republicans. In order to regain their filibustering power, Republicans need not only to defend all their presently-held seats but also score some pick-ups. If they want to inch back to majority status, Republicans need all the help they can get. Now is not the time for ideological purity.

4. Republicans should stay a national brand: Republicans currently hold 0 of the 14 Senate seats available in the Mid-Atlantic region; they hold only 3 of the 12 seats available in New England. If it wants to maintain its long-term viability, the Republican party cannot afford to write off whole regions of the country. Electing Castle to the Senate would be one step toward reducing that regional deficit.

5. Castle brings numerous political advantages: Castle has a reputation for being a competent, clean-government kind of guy. This is exactly the kind of public image that Republicans need to cultivate. On matters of policy, Castle would certainly be more congenial to the right than a leftish Democrat would be, even if Castle's record on a number of issues is fairly checkered. For example, Castle did vote against the stimulus bill (unlike Arlen Specter), and he has raised doubts about the implications of many of President Obama's policies.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cost Challenges

One of the Obama administration's biggest selling points for a centralization of health-care resources is the claim that such measures would limit the growth of health-care costs; the argument goes that the US system of health-care has led to rocketing costs, ones that more government-managed systems have been able to avoid.

However, as these pieces by David Gratzer and this Andrew Biggs post argue, American health-care costs may not be increasing at a rate beyond those of the rest of the industrialized world. Here's some data from Gratzer:

But health care has changed, and costs are rising worldwide without regard to each nation's health insurance model. In 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation used OECD data to show that the growth of American health care spending slowed considerably in recent years. Between 1990 and 2003, America's per capita health care inflation was 3.6% (less than in the 1980s). America's "spiraling health costs" were in fact comparable to growth in France and Iceland, and even lower than many countries, including Australia, Belgium and Britain.

OECD data confirms that the trend continues through this decade, with American health spending increases being about the average for OECD countries (see below). And public systems continue to spill red ink; even with pharmaceutical price controls and rationing, limited access to technology, and minimal capital investments, Ontario's health budget is projected to grow by 16.5% over the next three years. Quebec's annual health inflation rate is almost 6%. In Britain, the NHS reports a 60-year average increase of 3% over inflation. Ireland's single-payer system has experienced constant price turbulence. Despite 4.7% deflation this May, Irish health costs still grew at an annualized rate of 3.5%.

By Gratzer's calculations, the US has experienced a health-care spending growth rate of 4.95% between 2000 and 2006, while the OECD (an organization mostly comprised of industrialized nations) experienced a growth rate of 4.9%. Yes, there's a difference there, but it is not exactly collossal.

Biggs used another method to estimate the growth of the health-care sector, and this one shows similar results:

Using OECD data, I calculated the rate of “excess cost growth” for 23 countries over the period 1990-2006. Excess cost growth is the rate at which per capita health costs grow “in excess” economy-wide expansion. When excess cost growth is positive, healthcare costs increase relative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As it happens, the United States rate of excess healthcare cost growth from 1990-2006 is right about average among developed countries. U.S. health costs grew an average of 1.66 percent faster than the economy from 1990-2006, while the OECD average was 1.62 percent. Clearly, the U.S. has not had unusually fast health care cost growth over the last decade and a half.

Moreover, countries with far more government control over healthcare have had just as much difficulty controlling costs as the U.S. The UK, for instance, in which doctors and hospitals are directly controlled by the government, saw costs rise 2.08 percent faster than GDP.

These numbers seem to indicate that a centralized command-control approach to health-care need not reduce health-care costs. Indeed, some of the most centralized health-care systems (e.g., the UK) can be less effective in controlling costs than the slightly more market-oriented American one.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Target: Health-Care Waverers

Even as the Blue Dogs start barking about the House's proposed health-care reform bill, the Obama machine is getting itself geared up for a fight. According to this AP story, President Obama's political organization will be running ads in support of health-care in the following states: Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio. So those look like some of the areas where he feels he could use some more support. He may especially be trying to apply some pressure to the states' various senators.
ARKANSAS: Pryor (D) and Lincoln (D)
INDIANA: Lugar(R) and Bayh (D)
FLORIDA: Nelson (D) and Martinez (R)
LOUISIANA: Landreiu (D) and Vitter (R)
MAINE: Snowe (R) and Collins (R)
NORTH DAKOTA: Conrad (D) and Dorgan (D)
NEBRASKA: Nelson (D) and Johanns (R)
OHIO: Voinovich (R) and Brown (D)
A number of the Republicans on this list are probably skeptical about some of the health-care nationalization message (Snowe and Collins are probably perceived as the Republican senators most open to Obama's vision for health-care reform), and a lot of the Democrats, like Bill Nelson, are concerned about the costs of this health-care measure and also about its implications for the private market.

Obama's organizing machine is also creating "house parties" in many of these states. His forces are beginning to increase the pressure---and trying to drum up workers for $11-16 an hour.

The Democrats listed above aren't the only possible Democratic skeptics "Obamacare" may be facing in the Senate (Joe Lieberman, for example, has voiced some doubts about the "public plan"), but it does seem as though the White House is concerned about them.

In the days ahead, we'll no doubt see more of where the undecided votes stand. Skeptics of this flavor of reform could do worse than contacting some of these undecided members of Congress, both in the House and in the Senate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Losing It?

A Diageo/Hotline poll (as noted by Hot Air) shows Obama's approval rating dropping nine points from June to July---from 65% to 56%. His disapproval rating has climbed to 38%. Only 42% of those polled would vote to reelect President Obama; 39% would vote for someone else (this number jumped nine points from June). His support number from independents have fallen over 15 points in a month; now only 48% of independents approve of his performance. I don't know if pushing through a partisan health-care plan is exactly going to woo those independents over to Obama...Karl has some more thoughts on the Obama administration's psychology of passing a health-care bill. In any case, these falling number may provide even more incentive for the administration to try to get a quick vote on a health-care reform bill.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Use It Before You Lose It

How could these two headlines be connected: "Obama Open to Partisan Vote on Health-Care Overhaul" and "Obama: Unemployment Likely to Keep Ticking Up"?

Many have noted Barack Obama's falling poll numbers, and it may be plausible to suggest that the faster his numbers fall, and the less likely his administration thinks it is for the economy to turn around in the near future, the harder he will push for things like health-care and cap-and-trade to be done---like NOW.

As The Washington Post reports, Obama has begun lobbying Congress with a vengeance on health-care. Democrats are talking about wanting to have a health-care bill passed by the time of the August recess, though many are doubtful that this deadline will be met. Part of this urgency is due, no doubt, to the fact that members of the left have been dreaming for decades about some kind of "universal health-care" (or at least a nationalized system of delivering health-care, which is different from universal health-care). But part of it may be motivated by an anxiety that the Obama administration and, if they're not careful, Congressional Democrats may be on a trip to the negative side of public opinion polling.

Consider this CBS poll, which may oversample Democrats, that shows Obama dropping six points over the past month, from 63% approval to 57%. CBS polling also showed Obama dropping five points from May to June (from 68% to 63%). So that's an 11-point drop over two months. CBS is not an outlier in this; other polls have also noticed declines in support for Obama, especially among independents. Those polled also seem to have lost a significant amount of trust in Obama's handling of the economy.

Fast forward to the middle of early part of September, when Congress returns to work. Say the economic situation continues to worsen. Say the exploding national debt begins to weigh more heavily on the minds of Americans. Say other controversies gnaw away at the administration's public appeal. We could be seeing Obama's approval numbers in the mid-40s (57-11=46). At that point, he could have significantly less leverage to apply to recalcitrant members of Congress.

Therefore, Obama and his team may want to use what popularity he has now in order to push through bills. The faster his numbers decline, the greater the imperative to fight at this instant.

There are two implications of this dynamic. One is that in politics, as in other endeavors, a bird in the hand can be more valued than two or none in the bush.

The other is that those Democrats and Republicans Obama wishes to sway may be offered checks with uncertain political capital behind them. George Bush's support for a Republican officeholder may have seemed priceless in January 2005---by October 2006, not so much. The prospect of evaporating public support would add to the urgency of the Obama administration's push for "change," but this evaporation also makes that present public support that much more ephemeral and unstable. The renewed urgency of the administration on health-care may not be a sign of strength but instead may be motivated, in part, by a fear of growing weakness.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

The Politico highlights some potential good news for talent recruitment for the GOP in 2010 Senate races:
To me, the GOP Senate recruitment efforts in three other states – Illinois, New Hampshire and Delaware – is a telling indicator for how optimistic Republicans should be about their Senate prospects in 2010...

In Illinois, it was Congressman Mark Kirk, who had a knack of winning re-election in a suburban Chicago district – even when President Obama publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent (as he did last year). In Delaware, it’s Congressman Mike Castle, a moderate who has already won statewide elections to his at-large House seat for over the past decade.

And in New Hampshire, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is expected to run in the mold of politically successful New England Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Ayotte, who never held elective office, is far from a proven candidate and faces the likelihood of a tough primary. But she holds the highest approval ratings of any Republican in the state, and led Democrat Paul Hodes in a recent poll.

This week, Senate Republicans landed two of those top-tier recruits (Kirk and Ayotte), and have a shot at running the table if they can persuade Castle to run for the Senate. By putting two Democratic-held seats in play, and having a chance at holding onto one of their most vulnerable open seats, Republicans can now credibly argue they have an opportunity to pick up seats next election cycle.
These poll numbers suggest that Ayotte and former Congressman Charlie Bass would both be competitive running against Rep. Paul Hodes for Judd Gregg's Senate seat. In Delaware, Castle has a huge advantage over likely Democratic candidate Beau Biden; according to a recent poll, he leads Biden by 21 points---55-34.

A number of Republicans and conservatives are angry with Kirk and Castle for supporting cap-and-trade legislation in the House. Will disgruntled members of the right swallow their wrath and support these candidates (and other candidates like them)?

See also this Hill story on candidate recruitment in Virginia, where Republicans took a pounding in 2008.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independents in the Balance

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Obama's approval numbers falling in Ohio. Other statewide polls perhaps reveal some quiet shifts happening in Obama's approval rating. SurveyUSA has a number of statewide approval polls up (the most recent being dated from the middle to later part of June). Let's see what some of them are telling us.

In New York, Obama's approval rating seems a healthy 65%, though that number does represent a falling off from a 72% approval rating in May. The approval of independents, though, shows a more extreme decline. In May, Obama enjoyed a 64% approval rating from them. It's now fallen to a 48-48 split.

In New Mexico, Obama is at a 53-44 approval rating (down from 62-35 in May). A clear majority of New Mexico independents now disapprove of his performance on the job.

The other state polls, in places like Minnesota, Missouri (where Obama's approval has fallen to 51%), Oregon, and Virginia, tell a similar story for the most part: a falling approval rating for Obama with majorities or pluralities of independents disapproving. (The numbers are even worse for him in a deep "red" state like Alabama.) The loss of independents, particularly in swingier states, could be a sign of increasing public skepticism about the Obama administration's policies, one with possible electoral consequences.

UPDATE: This new PPP poll shows Obama at 38-52 among independents in Virginia; his overall approval rating is at 48-46. PPP has more results for independent voters in various states here; the independent approval numbers are all below 50%, and, for many states and the nation as a whole, Obama has more independents disapproving than approving.

UPDATE (x2): Welcome Hot Air and Michael Barone and Ace and Campaign Spot readers! Those of you with a taste for polling might engjoy this health-care polling analysis. Some other goodies include this essay on Mark Antony's political rhetoric and its relevance for today and this piece on why the political right should care about economic inequality.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Lever

In the face of polls showing significant public support for some kind of government-run "public" plan for health-care, what's a skeptic about the market-disrupting implications of such a plan to do? Dig a little deeper into the polling.

Aside from the distorting partisan numbers from this recent NYT poll (in which only 25% of respondents voted for McCain), this Washington Post-ABC News poll shows somewhat broad support for some kind of public option. At first blush, 62% of those polled support some kind of public plan. However, only 21% would support such a plan being run by the government (41% would prefer it to be run by some independent organization); those numbers already don't bode too well for supporters of government-run health-care.

And this level of support falls precipitously when respondents are asked to consider the hypothetical situation of this public plan driving many private insurers out of business, which many of the supporters of the public plan say it would do. Under that situation, public support plummets, from 62% to 37%. Opposition to the public plan climbs from 33% to 58%. That's a clear majority opposed to it.

The WP-ABC poll is not an outlier in this respect. This Kaiser poll from April 2009 shows a 67% majority in favor of some public option. But, "public option" supporters jumped ship when they were told that this plan could give the government "an unfair advantage over insurance companies." Support for the plan falls to 32%, and opposition to it doubles to 59%. While many Americans seem at first inclined to support some kind of "public option," they do not want this option to disrupt the free market of health insurance.

The advocates for the "public option," as they have declared again and again and again and again, have an endgame in mind, one for which the "public option" is a key vehicle: the destruction of much of the private insurance industry. Unfortunately for them, a clear majority of Americans do not support this goal. They want the private system of medical reformed, it seems, but not destroyed.

These poll results suggest that "public option" skeptics could be able to leverage popular support by drawing the public's attention to some of the very likely consequences of a market-distorting, government-subsidized "public option." If the "public option" would decimate private insurers, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) says, the public could very well turn against it. Making the public knowledgeable about the consequences of a badly designed public option could be a lever to pry away certain segments support for the option.

That said, there are other threats to competition in the health-care marketplace beyond certain variants of a "public option." The quasi-monopoly status of health-care coverage that seems to hold sway in many areas of the country (and the system of regulations that allows or encourages this result) offers another opportunity for reform in order to ensure that there is authentic market competition.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Antony Gambit

An essay on a literary theme

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.
---Mark Antony,
Julius Caesar III.ii

Rome: The Forum, shortly after the death of Caesar. Restless and uncertain, troubled by the suggestion of civil chaos, a crowd has gathered. Brutus, one of the chiefs among the conspirators, speaks from the pulpit in defense of their actions. He says the conspirators killed Caesar in order to preserve the republic of Rome---that Caesar was too ambitious, that he would become a king. The crowd is pleased and would make Brutus, too, king. This, he refuses. Stepping down, ending his workmanlike speech, he leaves them with Mark Antony. Antony has begged a chance to eulogize his fallen friend, and the conspirators, in an act of calculated beneficence, have allowed this.

Turning to the crowd, Antony says he comes to bury Caesar. But what does he raise in Caesar's place! Cutting, quick, eloquent, not needing instruction from any rules, Antony knows what to do: pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. With withering irony, he begins to assail the conspirators, those honorable men (so honorable they would plot to murder a man). His lugubrious attention to the body of Caesar complements his attacks upon the conspirators. He dwells on the bloody remains of the fallen dictator with an intensity that would make any local news station proud. Here is Caesar's mantle, here is the rent made by Casca, here the one made by Brutus ("the most unkindest cut of all"). The sympathy for the dead, the great narrative of betrayal, becomes the catalyst for Antony's domination of the crowd.

"Freedom" is not a word on Antony's lips. He does not speak to the crowd of the future preservation of republican liberty. He turns them backward, praises Caesar's great generosity (even if that generosity is purchased with Roman sweat and blood) to them, the bequests of his will: seventy-five drachmas to each citizen and orchards and arbors for the public enjoyment. Brutus spoke of liberty and a commonwealth, poor substitutes for the hard facts of coins and trees.

So Antony speaks, and it is the seeming voice of renewal with a sentiment of violence at its core. Antony does not seek to calm. He does not seek to clarify. He seeks to feed the rage of the people, to inflame their fears, to stoke their avarice. Antony aims to bring the assembled crowd to a white-hot wrath, and to pour that furious liquid into the molds of a sword and of a crown.

Creating a vast sense of longing and sorrow in his listeners, bringing them to the peak of emotion, Antony pushes them over the cliff into terror. The crowd spreads through Rome in seething wrath. Mobs run wild, destroying property and killing men. The tide has turned against the conspirators. Now, they must flee.

The whirlwind of that polarization and radicalization will engulf Rome once more in war. And this war is not for republican liberty or civic defense or even civic profit; it is a war for the gratification of the ambition of would-be princes. Antony and Octavius, Caesar's heir, defeat the conspirators in battle. A new triumvirate is formed to rule over Rome; like earlier triumvirates, this one falls, leaving Octavius the sole ruler. Octavius's ascent to the title of Augustus and toppler of the republic begins with this speech.

So for seventy-five drachmas would the citizens of Rome become handmaidens to tyranny. What is freedom compared to an orchard by the Tiber?

The sentiments and rhetorical techniques Antony used in his invective against the conspirators have a long history with the decline of republican liberty. It is fitting that Antony spoke in the penultimate minute of Rome's long republican twilight (an instant perhaps far too late for even the most idealistic efforts of any democratic Brutus or Cicero to reverse the course of). As democracy corrodes, public enthusiasm is used as a substitute for public rationality. Vengeance takes the place of hope (even as the placard of "hope" may be lifted high). Wrath takes the place of reason.

In such a time of decline, the people come to look upon government---and, as time goes on, the particular officers of government---as a force for mere provision. Instead of seeing the republic as a common enterprise that requires a common effort for its maintenance, the citizens come to view it as a sort of vague deity, which rewards supplication and submission with daily bread and circuses (it's no wonder many of the Roman emperors were deified). The people would accept the at-first comfortable fetters of servitude, whose velvet veneer soon rubs away in the toiling years ahead. But, once the locks have closed, they are so hard to open. The vase of the free republic, once shattered, remains a fragmented challenge for recovery.

Let us beware those post-modern Antonys, who enrage the public in order to enslave them, for whom the flash of anger is the sole light down the dark and twisted ways of the world. They use rage as a way of disabling critical thought and make scorn a substitute for analysis. Antony may have shown himself to be a master of political hardball, but, at a certain point, this hardball becomes an aggravating symptom of republican decay.

Those Antonys can be faced with a spirit of cheerful rationality and a dogged pursuit of the truth. Their mellifluousness may need to be countered with an eloquence of another kind---one that speaks to the highest principles, that cracks the strangling false dogmas of a moment to open the mind's vistas, that seeks to use passion not to enslave a man but as a way of opening his eyes to freedom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Keep an eye on Delaware?

In addition to Pennsylvania and New York, things might be looking up for GOP fortunes in Delaware's 2010 Senate race. Rep. Mike Castle (R) leads possible Democratic opponent Beau Biden by over twenty points, according to one poll:
Poll respondents chose Castle by a margin of 21% with the incumbent congressman polling 55% to Biden’s 34%. Only 8% of respondents indicated that they are undecided. Among Republicans, Castle leads Biden by a margin of 82% to 12% and among Independents he leads Biden 55% to 28%. Biden leads among Democrats only by a 52% - 36% margin, however.
The Weekly Standard has more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Change in the Northeast?

2010's a while away, but recent polls from Pennsylvania and New York show an electoral picture that may be getting more complicated. Quinnipiac says that former PA governor Tom Ridge may be in striking distance of Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter. Specter holds off former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey, however.
Newly-minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter would whip old Republican rival Pat Toomey 53 - 33 percent if the 2010 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race were held today, but if popular former Gov. Tom Ridge becomes the Republican candidate, he trails Specter by just 46 - 43 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Independent voters, who back Sen. Specter over Toomey 45 - 36 percent, switch to Ridge 47 - 37 percent if he becomes a candidate. The former Republican Governor also gets 14 percent of the Democratic vote, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

In the Specter-Toomey matchup, Republicans back Toomey 74 - 18 percent while Democrats go with their new convert 85 - 4 percent. Men back Specter 47 - 41 percent, as do women 59 - 26 percent. Union households go Democratic 62 - 27 percent.

In a Specter-Ridge face-off, Republicans go with Ridge 82 - 10 percent, while Specter takes Democrats 78 - 14 percent. Men shift to Ridge 50 - 41 percent, while women remain Democratic 51 - 37 percent. Union households back Specter 57 - 34 percent.

46% is probably not a very good number for an incumbent to be at, but that percentage may also reflect voter uncertainty/hostility about his recent party switch.

Meanwhile, things are looking dicey for New York's junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D). According to The Marist Poll, New York voters are still plagued with uncertainty about her. And it looks as though she's losing support for 2010. She now trails former NY governor George Pataki (R) by 8 points (38-46). Though she still leads current Republican Rep. Pete King 42-31, she's lost ground against him, too. Gillibrand is fighting hard to win the Democratic primary as well; she maintains a 5-point lead over Dem. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, though many Democratic voters are unsure either way.

2009 may be shaping up to be a positive year for former GOP governors from the Northeast. In addition to these numbers for Ridge and Pataki, Mitt Romney's star seems to have risen in Massachusetts; current Democratic governor Deval Patrick is suffering from low approval ratings (57% of voters say they intend to vote against him in 2010), and a plurality approaching a clear majority (49%-32%) say that Romney did a better job of governing the state than Patrick has.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From the Department of Self-Promotion...

For those interested, I have an essay up at on inequality and why Republicans should care about it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reconciliation Conference?

Via The Hill, here are the members of the House-Senate budget conference, which will decide whether to put in place reconciliation instructions for health-care:
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.)
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.)
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.)
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)
Conrad is an opponent of using reconciliation, but he's feeling a lot of heat from the Democrats in the House and the White House. Certain members of the Senate leadership are now strongly pressing for reconciliation as well:
Conrad told reporters that he doesn't want to use reconciliation rules to pass healthcare reform but that he is feeling pressure to include the option in the budget resolution from House members and the Obama administration.

There are "three prongs that are involved in any budget discussion -- Senate, House and the White House," Conrad said. "And the White House and the House are insisting on [reconciliation]."

Asked if it was impossible to resist them, Conrad said, "We'll see."

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also called for reconciliation rules for healthcare on Thursday, the first time he has done so publicly.

When asked by the New York Times whether reconciliation instructions would be included, Reid replied, "I hope so, but it's up to the conferees."
The use of reconciliation would allow health-care reform to avoid the possibility of a filibuster so that it would only need a bare majority to pass. Back in the day (meaning 2005, when Democrats were out of power in the Senate), Sen. Murray issued a ringing defense of the filibuster:

We had an election this past year, and it's true that Republicans ended up with the majority in this body. But that does not mean that half the country lost its voice. That does not mean that tens of millions of Americans have no say in our democracy...Mr. President, in reality, this [the proposed "nuclear option" to end filibusters for judicial appointments] isn’t about judges. This isn't about a Senate procedural change. This is, plain and simply, a power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created.

Without that system, the U.S. Senate would become a rubber stamp for the president.

Will she stand by that principle now?

It might already be too late, but those who would defend the filibuster for health-care reform and ensure that such reform, if passed, requires a broader majority might want to raise their voices now and contact their representatives/House-Senate conferees (especially Conrad, Murray, and maybe Boyd). Certainly, the Democratic conferees are feeling a lot of pressure to use reconciliation in order to force health-care reform, and the White House is pushing for swift action (possibly as early as Monday for a budget package and Tuesday/Wednesday for votes on it).

(For more 2005 Democratic defenses of the filibuster, see here.)

UPDATE: Well, it looks as though a deal for reconciliation has been reached, according to Jonathan Cohn:

The final budget resolution will include a "reconciliation instruction" for health care. That means the Democrats can pass health care reform with just fifty votes, instead of the sixty it takes to break a filibuster...

The reonciliation instruction specifies a date. That date, according to one congressional staffer, is October 15. (The original House reconciliation instruction had a late September deadline.)

In other words, the House and Senate each have until that day to pass health care legislation.

If they haven't, then both houses will consider health care under the reconciliation process, which is relevant primarily for the way it affects the Senate. There will be a limit on the time of debate. Republicans won't be able to filibuster it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Colorado Change?

April 2009 is probably too early to be reading too much into polls for an election in November 2010, but, that caveat aside, here are some numbers from a Public Policy Polling poll that might be give the GOP some (even if very small) hope:
Three months into his appointment as a Senator, Michael Bennet [D] isn’t making a strong positive impression on Colorado voters.
41% say they disapprove of his job performance so far, with 34% approving. 25% don’t have an opinion one way or the other. He is meeting with approval from 59% of Democrats but only 11% of Republicans, and his overall reviews from independents are negative as well, with 32% approving but 43% disapproving.
Bennet's numbers suggest that there could be some opening for a Republican pickup here, a sorely needed commodity for the GOP at the moment. However, Bennet leads a number of his possible Republican challengers in this poll; beating Bennet 43-42 in this poll, former Congressman Bob Beauprez is the only Republican candidate who leads Bennet. But Bennet's re-election numbers in these hypothetical head-to-heads linger in the low 40's and high 30's, so it certainly seems as though Colorado voters are open to voting for somebody else.

Talent recruitment could be incredibly important in a race like this one. If the GOP runs a strong candidate, it looks like it would have a real chance of taking this seat back (Ben Nighthorse Campell, a Democrat-turned-Republican, held this seat before Ken Salazar won it in 2004). Polls continuing to show Bennet as vulnerable would probably encourage challengers to enter the race. With tough poll numbers for some Republican incumbents looming overhead, the GOP and John Cornyn, who's heading the National Republican Senatorial Committee, might find a super-thin ray of hope in Colorado.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reconciliation Coming?

Word on some of the lefty and newsy blogs is that budget "reconciliation" could be a real possibility for the Senate on health-care. This "reconciliation" process would prevent anyone from filibustering the health funding provisions. Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes:

Some well-placed sources on Capitol Hill* are saying it's likely that the final budget resolution will include "reconciliation instructions" for health care, effectively making it impossible for Republicans to filibuster reform...

...And while the outcome of those negotiations isn't certain--even some Democratic senators have spoken out against using reconciliation--it appears likely that the House will get its way. "I think reconciliation survives," says one senior House staffer, although the adviser noted it would probably take some pressure from the White House.

A senior Senate staffer agreed with that assessment. And, curiously, it's a staffer who just a week ago told me the outcome was very much in doubt.

I'm not yet sure what changed in the last few days. Nor can I be certain the confidence is well-placed. Another senior Senate staffer was more cautious, suggesting the inclusion of reconciliation is hardly a done deal.

One thing to keep in mind: Even if reconciliation is part of the final budget agreement, that doesn't mean Congress will necessarily use that option. The instructions will might stipulate that reconciliation only comes into play if, by September, the Congress has not yet passed a bill. That gives reformers several months to work out a bipartisan compromise, which is what most of the key players--including the Obama administration--have said they prefer.

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic has heard something similar:

This column can say with good confidence that a betting man would wager heavily on the Senate including reconciliation for health care and education funding in the final budget agreement.... cap-n-trade...not so much.

For more "progressive" strategizing, see Ezra Klein's discussion of reconciliation options.

Will the sentiments of Democrats in 2005 prevail? Would Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) call this move "a
power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created"?

Speaking of health-care reform, check out this passage from Reihan Salam's interesting piece in Forbes (emphasis added):

Earlier this month, The New Republic Web site hosted a thoughtful and informed discussion of the Massachusetts health reform that has covered 85% of the state's previously uninsured residents. One of the participants, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, was unusually frank. An architect of the reform, Gruber acknowledged that the costs have skyrocketed as coverage has increased--but Gruber sees this as part of its "genius."

"For decades," Gruber writes, "efforts to move towards universal coverage have always floundered on the shoals of cost control." But once universal coverage was achieved, or almost achieved, pressure groups rallied behind cost control efforts in order to preserve the gains for the uninsured.

As a political strategy, this is very clever indeed. It does, however, raise a number of pressing questions. What exactly constitutes an effective cost control effort? Assuming cost control efforts only go so far, will voters accept sharp tax increases? By deferring these questions, we make coverage expansion look very attractive--just as George W. Bush made his tax cuts look very attractive by deferring the question of how we'd pay for them in the years to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Then and Now

Even as some Democrats are now expressing their possible openness to using the budget reconciliation process to bypass a filibuster on health-care reform, a number of them were very critical of the so-called "nuclear option" of 2005, which would have ended the use of filibusters for judicial confirmations.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee and a possible member of this year's House-Senate budget conference, now says that "everything's on the table." Sen. Murray came out strongly against the "nuclear option" in 2005. Back then, she warned that the destruction of the filibuster would weaken the institutional power of the Senate and betray some of the Senate's key aims, especially the protection of minority rights:

But what's so concerning about this recent rhetorical assault is that it's being backed by action – action that has nothing to do with judges and everything to do with increasing Republican power at the expense of the Constitution.

Republicans are trying to increase their power by ignoring rules dating to our country's founding. They want to push through radical judicial nominees who will serve a lifetime on the bench by eliminating a two-hundred-year-old American rule allowing each of us in the Senate to speak on behalf our constituents and fight for the ideals we hold dear.

We had an election this past year, and it's true that Republicans ended up with the majority in this body. But that does not mean that half the country lost its voice. That does not mean that tens of millions of Americans have no say in our democracy...Mr. President, in reality, this isn’t about judges. This isn't about a Senate procedural change. This is, plain and simply, a power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created.

Without that system, the U.S. Senate would become a rubber stamp for the president.

It would allow whichever political party is in power – Republican or Democratic - to have all the say over our nation’s courts. I will not stand for that.

This is a basic argument about the future of the Senate and how we will conduct our business. I believe in giving the people a voice, in standing up for those who sent me here, and in protecting the rights of minorities everywhere.

One of the first things every child is taught about the American government is the separation of the three braches. This separation, and the checks and balances that come with it, are fundamental to the greatest system of government ever created. This system is worth protecting, and that's exactly what I and so many of my colleagues intend to do...

Mr. President, recent comments by advocates on the other side, and even by some elected officials, have left me worried about the future of the independent judiciary. It seems many in this country are intent on running roughshod over the Constitution, bent on misusing their power to destroy fundamental principles of democracy.

That's not how America works. It is not what our founding fathers intended. In our democracy, no single person and no single political party may impose extreme views on the nation. The Constitutional system of checks and balances was set up for a reason. It has worked for two centuries. There is no reason to destroy this fundamental principle now.

Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) seems to be on the fence about whether he'd vote to use the reconciliation process on health-care, though he says he's hoping that process won't have to be used. In the past, Sen. Wyden has, as is his right, filibustered about oil prices and threatened to filibuster a new FISA authorization. Sen. Wyden used the filibuster as a way of fighting for his position.

Perhaps some of the most striking words in defense of the filibuster and Senate privileges have come from Sen. Russ Feingold, another member of the Budget Committee. In 2005, Feingold declared:

But the Constitution did not set up the Senate to be a majoritarian body. And that is what why renaming the nuclear option as "the constitutional option" is so wrong. The Constitution allows citizens from smaller states who could be easily outvoted in a majoritarian legislature, like the House, to have the same power in the Senate as citizens of larger states. This is not a minor provision, either. The founders clearly didn't think so, because they made it the only provision in the Constitution that cannot be amended. They designed the Senate to be an important bulwark against majoritarian pressures.

And the Senate rules from the very beginning have granted protections for the minority. There was no cloture rule at all until this century and the rule didn't cover nominations until 1949. While the cloture rule has changed over time, sometimes offering more protection to the minority and sometimes less, those rule changes have always been accomplished in accordance with the Senate rules. Until now. Until the demand for power trumped principle.

The Framers intended the Senate to act as a check on the whims of the majority, not to facilitate them. I will not pretend that the Senate has always been on the right side of history. At times, most notably during the great civil rights debates of the 1950s and 60s, Senators have used the powers given them to block vital, majority-supported legislation. But, notwithstanding those dark moments, the Senate has also served throughout the history of this republic as a place where individuals with different beliefs and goals are forced to come together to work for the common good. By empowering the minority, the Framers created a body that that has served this country well.

To continue down the road we are now on will be to irretrievably change the very character of the Senate, and irretrievably weaken the institution. Without the unique feature of extended debate, the Senate will be much less able to stand up to the President or to cool the passions of the explicitly majoritarian House. I know that my colleagues see themselves as guardians of this remarkable institution, as I do. When we leave the Senate -- and, some day, somehow or another, all of us will -- it is our responsibility to ensure that we do not leave this institution weakened. As Senators, we tend to see ourselves as pretty important, but none of us -- and certainly no judicial nomination -- is more important than the United States Senate.

Many Democrats---including Sen. Robert Byrd (WV), Sen. Tom Carper (DE), Budget chair Sen. Kent Conrad (ND), and Sen. Max Baucus (MT)---have expressed grave reservations about the use of the budget reconciliation process to force major policy reforms on the nation. Those Democrats who are wavering may do well to look at the words of their colleagues from four years ago and ask if their concerns about minority protections, Senatorial independence, and public consensus are any less relevant or true now (even if you don't agree with the filibustering of nominees---as opposed to laws---on grounds of principle).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Via David Freddoso, an interesting column by Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and great beneficiary of government funding, attacking the mechanism of private charity. There's a lot to go over in that column, but let's look at this point (emphasis added):

Second, voluntary private charity is a less equitable way to solve community problems. While many people assume that the rich amass their wealth on their own, the truth is that their business interests are almost always aided by public efforts such as roads, bridges and ports through which they ship their goods or public schools that educate their workforces. Given that even the wealthiest benefit greatly from this modern "public commons," it is wrong to give them unilateral power to decide whether their taxpayer-subsidized donations should go to, say, well-heeled operas or lavish care of pets rather than to organizations that meet more pressing communal needs.

It is fashionable these days to say that "the community," not government, should solve social problems. Yet no nonprofit leader, myself included, was elected by the community as a whole. Elected officials, whether we like them or not, are picked by voting citizens. In America, the government is the most legitimate voice of the entire community.

The bolded paragraph seems somewhat befuddling to me. First of all, as I've mentioned before, there can be something rather troubling about the identification of government and the community. Secondly, Berg makes an telling switch into the rhetoric of collectivist voices. It is far from clear to me that we should only view the "community" as a monolithic entity. A "community" is in fact comprised of a huge array of voices and not only voices but bodies, too. Each individual certainly has the right to speak in his or her own voice on his or her own behalf. Our private, individual voices themselves do much good for the community---as loving parents, friends, artists, teachers, builders, and so forth. They do not achieve their legitimacy (in a true sense) from the government. A society in which the only charity and good works are those of the government is one of either tyranny or bloody anarchy. Our daily kindnesses and acts of good will keep our society and government functioning. Our community has many voices; our nation has many communities. To try to nullify this variety, to rest legitimacy only in the majority of votes, is to begin to undo the underpinnings of a free society and to pervert our senses of charity.

UPDATE: Welcome Protein Wisdom readers! You might also be interested in this post on Arnold Schwarzenegger and the role of principles in politics.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Progressive" Redistributionist Watch

Matt Yglesias brings out the claws for those nefarious fat cats:
Some people, as I understand it, just don’t think inequality is a problem. But for the egalitarians among us, I’ve never really understood the view that obscene executive compensation is an issue that absolutely positively certainly must only be addressed through the indirect Rube Goldberg-esque method of changing corporate governance rules. What if we had a 95 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million? What dire consequences would flow from this? Perhaps a certain outflow of top-flight baseball talent to Japan. But I don’t see this leading to any kind of economic calamity. Producers of certain classes of supply-constrained luxury goods would lose out as their prices go down. But my strong suspicion is that at the end of the day most of the super-rich would ultimately find it a relief to get off the treadmill of status-competition and the not-quite-so-rich would be thrilled to see their betters cut down to size.
An economic policy based on its appeal to cultural resentments---what could go wrong?

Granted, the US has had very high marginal tax rates before (with top federal income taxes reaching 94% during WWII and 91% through much of the 1950s), though changes in the tax code (including rules for exemptions, etc.) may make it a little harder to compare the rates of then to now. But I think we need to be careful about going along with the notion that our economy would be more egalitarian if only our government could intervene to a radical extent. We also need to be wary of the temptation to think that one person will be better off only if another person becomes poorer.

A government with the power to implement complete economic "equality" (defined not as a freedom to pursue wealth but a limitation on wealth) by fiat is a government that, in practice, will prove to be deeply inegalitarian. Concentrating that much power in the hands of a few will lead to radical distortions of the market and significant displays of political corruption. The Soviet Union, for all its limitations on private wealth, was a far less egalitarian place than the United States. One of the reasons for using a "indirect Rube Goldberg-esque method of changing corporate governance rules" is that these rules offer a way of arriving at more egalitarian outcomes through encouraging specific channelings of private, decentralized interests. Regulation rather than dictation can lead to an economic system with more freedom, more productivity, and more equality.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2010: Damaged Democratic Governors?

Following on this post by Soren Dayton about Governor Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts, who currently enjoys a 28% approval rating (with 48% disapproving), I went to SurveyUSA to check out the approval ratings of other Democratic governors elected in 2006 (many of whom may be up for reelection in 2010). The numbers aren't very promising for them. (Numbers are Approval/Disapproval; astrerisks denote governors who will not be running in 2010)
Chet Culver (IA) 46/47
Jim Doyle (WI) 40/55
David Patterson (NY) 30/66
Bill Richardson* (NM) 41/53
Ted Kulongoski* (OR) 38/52

Meanwhile, a poll in Michigan shows Republican candidates leading the likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. Dem. Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio (facing a 2010 race) still has a healthy approval rating of 56%, but it has fallen 7 points from a month ago.

A number of Republican governor numbers are holding up. Jodi Rell of Connecticutt has a 75% approval rating; Charlie Crist (FL) was, as of a month ago, at 67% approval; Bob Riley (AL), who's term-limited out of office in 2011, stands at a 64% approval rating. Tim Pawlenty of MN, who had a very close election in 2006, still has a net positive approval rating (48-44), but it's below the 50% mark.

While some GOP numbers aren't so good (yes, I'm looking at you, Arnold and Gov. Carcieri [RI]), a lot of Democratic numbers in a variety of states are low and seem to be sinking. If the GOP can recruit some top-notch talent, it has a good chance of picking up some governorships in 2010.