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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lies and Broken Promises

As a previous post noted, the president repeatedly claimed that if you liked your health insurance plan, you could keep it.
If you like your plan and your doctor, you can keep them. The only changes that you'll see are lower costs and better health care.
If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.
That claim has proved false.  In California alone, 800,000-900,000 people will have to switch policies.  At The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler gives the pledge four Pinocchios:
The administration is defending this pledge with a rather slim reed — that there is nothing in the law that makes insurance companies force people out of plans they were enrolled in before the law passed. That explanation conveniently ignores the regulations written by the administration to implement the law. Moreover, it also ignores the fact that the purpose of the law was to bolster coverage and mandate a robust set of benefits, whether someone wanted to pay for it or not.
The president’s statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.
Like "Read My Lips: No New Taxes," the pledge has to count as a broken promise.  But was it a lie?  It is possible that the president meant it at first.  In that case, it was not a deliberate deception, but rather a commitment that he later failed to keep -- which is different.  The trouble is that the president and his administration kept repeating it long after the truth was obvious. On March 23 of this year, he said:  "If you like the plan you have, you can keep it."

As of the morning, the White House website still features this egregiously false statement:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seeing the Danger

In July, Alexis Simendinger reported that pollster Stan Greenberg foresaw risks in the "you can keep it" line:
Greenberg said his polling work examining the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit known as Medicare Part D influenced his thinking about how early public suspicions about a major new health care law can dissipate when Americans feel the tangible benefits. “We will see what happens during implementation” of the Affordable Care Act, Greenberg added. “That’s a dangerous position to be in.”
He was critical of the Obama administration’s promotion and messaging about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, adding it would be preferable if the president and his supporters had not eventually embraced the originally pejorative shorthand “Obamacare.”
In his telling, that wasn’t the Democrats only misjudgment, either.
“They had an argument for passage … which was 'you can keep what you’ve got,’” Greenberg told reporters, “when in fact, it was a big, big change in the nature of insurance, and people would be invested in it if they’d actually say, 'this is a big change.’”
Obama has delivered numerous speeches reassuring Americans that the vast majority who have coverage through their employers or received Medicare benefits wouldn’t see any change. Greenberg suggested the White House sales pitch had been misleading on that score, creating an opening for Republicans to fan public doubts.
Greenberg also suggested that the issue would not burden Democrats in 2014 because it had not disadvantaged them in 2012.  He overlooked a fundamental difference.  In 2012, Obamacare was not hurting anybody yet.  Now it is.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"If You Like Your Current Plan..."

So what we're working on is the creation of something called the Health Insurance Exchange, which would allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, choose the plan that's best for you. If you're happy with your plan, you keep it.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at a Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session in Green Bay, Wisconsin," June 11, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
Now, I know that there are millions of Americans who are happy, who are content with their health care coverage. They like their plan; they value their relationship with their doctor. And no matter how we reform health care, I intend to keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you'll be able to keep your doctor; if you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan.

So don't let people scare you. If you like what you've got, we're not going to make you change.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at a Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session in Green Bay, Wisconsin," June 11, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
If you like your plan and your doctor, you can keep them. The only changes that you'll see are lower costs and better health care.
Barack Obama:"The President's Weekly Address," June 13, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.
Barack Obama: "Remarks to the American Medical Association National Conference in Chicago, Illinois," June 15, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
And I've said this before: If you like your doctor, you should be able to keep your health care; if you like your health care plan, you should be able to keep it.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at a Fundraiser Event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee," June 18, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
So if you're happy with your plan, as I said, you keep it.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at ABC's "Prescription for America" Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session," June 24, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
We've agreed that our health reform bill will promote choice. America—Americans will be able to compare the price and quality of different plans and pick the plan that they want. If you like your current plan, you will be able to keep it. Let me repeat that: If you like your plan, you'll be able to keep it.
Barack Obama:"Remarks on Health Care Reform," July 21, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
What we're talking about is not completely scrapping the existing health care system. All we're saying is if you've got health insurance, you can keep it.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at a Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session in Shaker Heights, Ohio," July 23, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
On the other hand, here's what reform will mean for you. First, no matter what you've heard, if you like your doctor or health care plan, you can keep it.
Barack Obama:"The President's Weekly Address," August 15, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
First, no matter what you've heard, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor under the reform proposals that we've put forward. If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep it. If your employer provides you health insurance on the job, nobody is talking about messing with that.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at the Organizing for America National Health Care Forum and a Question-and-Answer Session," August 20, 2009.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
But the last thing I will say, though—let me say this about health care and the health care debate, because I think it also bears on a whole lot of other issues. If you look at the package that we've presented—and there's some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating, we were in the process of eliminating. For example, we said from the start that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your—if you want to keep the health insurance you got, you can keep it, that you're not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decisionmaking. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.

And so we were in the process of scrubbing this and making sure that it's tight.
Barack Obama:"Remarks to the House Republican Conference and a Question-and-Answer Session in Baltimore, Maryland," January 29, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. I can tell you, as the father of two young girls, I would not want any plan that interferes with the relationship between a family and their doctor.
Barack Obama:"Remarks on Health Care Reform," March 3, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
What won't change when this bill is signed is this: If you like the insurance plan you have now, you can keep it. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, because nothing should get in the way of the relationship between a family and their doctor.
Barack Obama:"The President's Weekly Address," March 6, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
Bret, the core of this bill is going to be affecting every American family. If you have insurance, you're going to be able to keep it.
Barack Obama:"Interview With Bret Baier on Fox News Channel's "Special Report"," March 17, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
If you like your doctor, you're going to be able to keep your doctor. If you like your plan, keep your plan.
Barack Obama:"Remarks at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia," March 19, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
They'll have to finally acknowledge that this isn't a Government takeover of our health care system. They'll see that if Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn't happened yet. It won't happen in the future.
Barack Obama:"Remarks on Health Care Reform in Portland, Maine," April 1, 2010.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.
Through these marketplaces, Americans and small-business owners will be able to choose from a menu of health plans that fit their budget and provide quality coverage they can count on when they need it most. If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.
Barack Obama:"Statement on the Third Anniversary of the Signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," March 23, 2013.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley,The American Presidency Project.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crazies Don't Help

A number of posts have discussed GOP outreach, but as JFK once said, there's always some son of a bitch who doesn't get the word. At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green writes:
But last Wednesday, Mother Jones reported that Mississippi Republican Chris McDaniel—who is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R) and is backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth—had “addressed a neo-Confederate conference and costume ball hosted by a group that promotes the work of present-day secessionists and contends the wrong side won the ‘war of southern independence.’” And, last Wednesday night, the GOP precinct chair from Buncombe County, North Carolina, Don Yelton, appeared on The Daily Show to talk about voter ID laws and voter suppression. The now-viral clip includes Yelton admitting to being called a bigot, referring to African-Americans as lazy, and saying, “one of my best friends is black.” (Yelton has since resigned.)

Apparently, some members of the party that was once known as the Party of Lincoln can’t resist acting like the Democrats of yore, back when the Democratic Party was home to secessionist Sen. John C. Calhoun and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Outgoing Texas governor and former Republican presidential contender Rick Perry once mused about Texas’s right to secede from the Union. Last summer, an aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Jack Hunter, made headlines when it came to light that he was once known as the “Southern Avenger,” a radio shock jock who had made provocative comments about the Civil War and race.
[T]he secessionist impulse was and remains a political loser. It reeks of desperation and signals an inability to come to grips with modernity. Wearing a tri-cornered hat on the Washington Mall is one thing; unfurling a Confederate Flag in front of Obama’s White House is something very different and disgraceful. The question for the Republican Party is whether it can figure this out soon enough.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

West Virginia Realigns

At The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty writes of West Virginia:
From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s era until the 2000 election, it was among the most reliably Democratic states, one of only six that Jimmy Carter carried in 1980, and 10 that Michael S. Dukakis won in 1988.

But in the past decade or so, “West Virginia has realigned politically with the Deep South, at least in presidential elections,” historian John Alexander Williams said in a June lecture in Charleston marking the state’s 150th anniversary. “Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, a time when voters were trending strongly Democratic in other parts of the nation, 366 of official Appalachia’s 410 counties increased their Republican share of presidential votes.”

In 2012, that trendline cut more deeply. Obama lost the seven West Virginia counties he had carried in 2008. It marked the first time that a major party’s presidential candidate suffered a 55-county shutout.
“People haven’t changed here. People are still the same,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, a former West Virginia governor. “But I’ve never seen more people pushed away from their traditional Democratic roots or their voting habits than in the last six or seven years.” Manchin has put that fraying bond to the test, having sponsored gun-control legislation that failed in the Senate this year.
Next year’s elections could mark a historic hinge in West Virginia politics. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D), a traditional liberal forged by the Great Society, has announced that he will not run for a sixth term.
His most likely successor is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of a three-term governor, who would be the first Republican that West Virginia elected to the Senate since 1956. Although Capito is considered a heavy favorite, Democrats came up with a strong contender when Secretary of State Natalie Tennant formally entered the race.
Meanwhile, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, an 18-term congressman and the last surviving Democrat in the state’s House delegation, is facing what many expect to be his most difficult reelection contest.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NSA, Foreign Policy, and Domestic Politics

The NSA spying controversy is quickly transforming from a domestic headache for the Obama administration into a global public relations fiasco for the United States government.
After months of public and congressional debate over the National Security Agency’s collection of details on U.S. telephone calls, a series of reports about alleged spying on foreign countries and their leaders has unleashed an angry global reaction that appears likely to swamp the debate about gathering of metadata within American borders.

While prospects for a legislative or judicial curtailment of the U.S. call-tracking program are doubtful, damage from public revelations about NSA’s global surveillance is already evident and seems to be growing.

Citing the snooping disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Brazil’s president canceled a state visit to the U.S. set for this week. Leaders in France and Italy and Germany have lodged heated protests with Washington, with the Germans announcing plans to dispatch a delegation to Washington to discuss the issue. Boeing airplane sales are in jeopardy. And the European Union is threatening to slap restrictions on U.S. technology firms that profit from tens of millions of users on the Continent.
The story will have only limited direct impact.  Foreign leaders are probably much less surprised than their public reactions would indicate.  But by harping on the incident, they might gain some diplomatic leverage over the United States, much as a wronged lover plays up a misdeed to get flowers and chocolate.

It will have little immediate effect on domestic politics.  Americans do not know who Angela Merkel is, and they could not care less about her cell phone.  (In a 2006 Gallup poll, only 4 percent could identify her as the German chancellor.)  But, it does give an additional talking point to politicians who criticize NSA surveillance and further undermines the administration's already-sagging reputation for honesty and competence.

Friday, October 25, 2013

War of the Worlds

British scholars have discovered the long-lost final chapter of the H.G. Wells classic, The War of the Worlds. An excerpt:
Amid rising criticism of the botched rollout of the invasion of Earth, the Martian president met with members of the planet’s press corps. “This has been a magnificent effort, and I thank everyone involved,” he said in his opening statement. “But I have to acknowledge that it hasn’t worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work.”

A reporter raised six of his eighteen hands. “Sir, all the members of the invasion force died because they had no immunity to Earth germs. We spent years scrutinizing and studying the Earth. Didn’t anybody in your administration anticipate that this might be a problem?”

“We knew there would be glitches,” he said, “but frankly we were blindsided by the extent of the difficulty. But we have teams working round the clock to find solutions.”

Another reporter interjected. “In light of this disaster, are you actually suggesting that you will keep trying to invade the Earth?”

“Yes,” the president smiled, “We are moving forward. This is a great plan.  We are looking for volunteers to serve in the second wave of the invasion. In fact, they are signing up as we speak.”

The reporter asked, “Just a followup, sir, how many volunteers do you have so far?”

“I don’t have any data on that.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Party Differences in Campaign Spending

The Center for Responsive Politics has analyzed Republican and Democratic campaign spending between 2002 and 2012.
  • Democratic candidates outspent Republicans on personnel. 13.7 percent of the money spent by Democratic campaigns from 2002-2012 fell into our Wages & Salaries category, which also includes payroll taxes, health insurance, and any other costs associated with fielding a staff. Republicans spent 9.7 percent, or barely two thirds as much. Of course, more money spent on payroll doesn’t necessarily translate into a bigger staff -- it could reflect higher pay all around, a top-heavy payroll focused on senior staff, or a combination of the above.
  • Republicans spent more of their campaign budget on fundraising and consulting. The numbers are almost a mirror image of the salary figures: Republican campaigns used 14.2 percent of their money to raise more money, against an even 10 percent for Democrats. The bulk of the difference comes from the fundraising consulting subcategory, where Republicans outspent Democrats by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (5.8 percent to 3.1 percent). Republicans also had a substantial edge in the media consulting and campaign consulting subcategories, which -- along with the higher Democratic payrolls -- may indicate that Republicans outsource some campaign functions that Democrats keep in house.
  • Republican campaigns rely more heavily on direct mail, Democrats on new media. Perhaps reflecting party demographics, Democrats and Republicans favored different methods of reaching out to voters. Republican campaigns put 13.6 percent of their money into direct mail versus 9.4 percent for Democratic candidates; Democrats, meanwhile, spent almost three times as much on Web advertising as Republicans (2.6 percent to 0.9 percent). While that figure reflects all cycles since 2002, the gap in Web spending was actually even larger in the past cycle -- a fact that probably comes as no surprise to Republican consultants who rued the GOP’s lack of web presence in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss. Even in 2012, however, traditional media reigned supreme: web advertising was barely 10 percent of Democratic candidates’ media budget.
  • Ultimately, the spending habits of Democratic and Republican campaigns were fairly similar. Both spent more than half of their funds on media, smaller chunks of money on fundraising, salaries, and administrative expenses, and the remainder on campaign and strategy expenses. The resemblance even extends to spending on big subcategories like polling and surveys (1.9 percent for Republicans, 2.2 percent for Democrats) and travel and lodging (4.5 percent for Republicans, 4.8 percent for Democrats). Whatever else may divide them, Democratic and Republican candidates appear to run their races using the same basic playbook.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Context for CNN Poll Numbers

Poll numbers have not been good for the GOP, but a CNN report hypes the danger.
More than seven in 10 questioned in the survey said that most members of Congress don't deserve to be re-elected, with nearly four in 10 saying even their own representative doesn't deserve a return ticket to Washington next year. Both figures are hovering around all-time highs in CNN polling.
But the actual data tell a different story  The "four in 10" figure refers to all Americans.  Among registered voters, 37% say that their own representative does not deserve reelection while 48% say that their representative does deserve reelection.  Two years ago, the CNN generic reelection figures were much worse for incumbents:  48% not deserve, 46% deserve.  In the 2012 House races, however, the reelection rate was 90 percent, even after redistricting temporarily weakened the incumbency advantage for many lawmakers.

Chapter 5 of After Hope and Change discusses these races in greater detail.

Monday, October 21, 2013

GOP Primaries: Real Threat or Paper Tiger?

Are primaries a real threat to GOP House members?  Perspectives differ.

Alex Isenstadt at Politico:
Nearly a dozen House Republican incumbents already have credible challengers, and conservative groups expect that number to grow in the coming months as races develop and deadlines approach to qualify for the ballot. The coming fiscal battles — there’s now a Jan. 15 deadline for funding the government and a Feb. 7 deadline to raise the debt ceiling — could add fuel to the primary fires.
While Democratic incumbents will have a few primaries of their own in 2014, so far nearly all of the intraparty fights are on the Republican side. Many of the races pit tea party-style insurgents against establishment-minded members who are close allies of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or powerful committee chairmen. In other instances, the establishment — furious over the tea party’s role in the shutdown and debt fights — is turning the tables, finding business-friendly candidates to try to take out conservative incumbents.
Cam Joseph at The Hill:
Despite widespread fear of Tea Party challenges, few Republican congressmen have drawn conservative primary foes.
Only Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) appears to be in real danger of losing his primary to a more conservative opponent at this point, though Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) have challengers and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) may soon get one.

Of the 10 House Republicans identified by the conservative Club for Growth on its website, only Simpson has drawn a challenger so far.

Though other challengers may arise, the fears of many House Republicans have yet to materialize that breaking with conservative orthodoxy could cost them their seats.

“It really looks like a paper tiger to me,” said Cook Political Report House race editor David Wasserman. “Primaries are a coercive force, but they're not a widespread job threat.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Midcentury Moment

At The Wall Street Journal, Michael Barone writes of "the Midcentury Moment," the period of the 1950s and 1960s when politics seemed less bitter and hyperpartisan.
This was an America that generally seemed united by common values, shaped by the shared experiences of deprivation in the Depression 1930s, the mass mobilization in the wartime 1940s and the unexpected prosperity in the postwar 1950s.

Politicians in Washington during the Midcentury Moment actually did gather at five o'clock to sip bourbon and branch water in Capitol hideaways and then roll out bipartisan compromises on the floor the next day. Genuine friendships and constant communication were established across party lines, despite great enmities—remember that this was also the era of Joe McCarthy.
Since then, the parties have realigned, the Greatest Generation has marched toward the sunset, the popular culture has fragmented.
America's Midcentury Moment was just that—and American politics has returned to its combative, partisan, divisive default mode. In the 1790s, Americans were divided over a world-wide war between commercial Britain and revolutionary France. Political strife was bitter. In the antebellum years, Americans were deeply split over issues from the Bank of the United States to slavery in the territories. For three generations after the Civil War, Americans North and South lived almost entirely apart from each other.

The Midcentury Moment emerged as the result of three unexpected developments, two of them unwelcome—depression, war, postwar prosperity—and was communicated through the language of an unusually vivid and unusually universal popular culture. Absent these things—and it's hard to see how they could return—our politicians aren't likely to all get along.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Main Street's Revenge?

At USA Today, Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars report:
Campaign donations to some of the House's most prominent Tea Party insurgents tumbled in recent months, and several of the chamber's most conservative new members struggled to match the fundraising pace of their business-backed primary challengers, new campaign filings show.
Fundraising fell in the July-to-September fundraising quarter for two-thirds of the 42 House Republicans elected since 2010 who signed an August letter that urged House leaders to tie dismantling the Affordable Care Act to a bill funding the government, a USA TODAY analysis shows. That letter, circulated by first-term Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., helped ignite the budget showdown that shuttered parts of the government for 16 days this month.
In Detroit's upscale Oakland County suburbs, first-term Republican Rep. Kerry Bentivolio raised $59,177, a 10% drop from his haul in the previous fundraising quarter. In less than a month on the campaign trail, Bentivolio's primary challenger, lawyer David Trott, raised nearly $650,000. Trott tapped $200,000 of his own funds plus donations from prominent business leaders in Michigan, including billionaire Amway heir Dick DeVos.
In Florida, first-term Rep. Ted Yoho, who argued that a debt default would "stabilize the world's markets," took in $51,000 during the third quarter, down from $117,900 during the previous three months.
In recent weeks, primary challengers to Tea Party-aligned incumbents have emerged in at least other three other congressional districts — in North Carolina, Alabama and in western Michigan. In Michigan, Rep. Justin Amash, a rising star among conservatives who was part of an attempted coup this year against House Speaker John Boehner, faces investment manager Brian Ellis. (Ellis entered the race in October after the books closed on the third fundraising quarter of the year.)

The fundraising reports come as a growing number of Washington trade groups, typically aligned with Republicans in Congress, have raised concerns about the economic toll of Washington's fiscal crises. Several business leaders say they are considering backing primary challengers to Tea Party incumbents.
The national money could be a problem for the tea party guys, but you know that they're in real trouble when local business groups start mobilizing against them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Obamacare Problems Mount

Marketwatch reports:
Insurers say the federal health-care marketplace is generating flawed data that is straining their ability to handle even the trickle of enrollees who have gotten through so far, in a sign that technological problems extend further than the website traffic and software issues already identified.
Emerging errors include duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children, missing data fields and suspect eligibility determinations, say executives at more than a dozen health plans. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska said it had to hire temporary workers to contact new customers directly to resolve inaccuracies in submissions. Medical Mutual of Ohio said one customer had successfully signed up for three of its plans. 
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum writes:
I've been corresponding with a friend about the problems with the federal Obamacare website, and I have to admit that I'm having second thoughts about my initial reaction. Back on October 2, it looked to me like the problems were serious, but nothing all that out of the ordinary for a big software project. My conclusion: "Before long, the sites will all be working pretty well, with only the usual background rumble of small problems. By this time next month, no one will even remember that the first week was kind of rocky or that anyone was initially panicked."
That might still be the case, and certainly one of the lessons of big software rollouts is that you always reach a point when you're finally convinced that you really are well and truly doomed—and that's often the point when things start to get better. Maybe that's where we are now. But the reporting we've seen recently about the nature of the Obamacare problems certainly suggests otherwise
At The Huffington Post, Jeffrey Young writes:
Time remains for these problems to be resolved, but not much. "If things aren't resolved in three weeks, we've got some serious, serious problems," said Timothy Jost, a law professor and health care reform expert at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., and an Obamacare supporter. "I don't think we're anywhere close to there yet, but if the whole thing collapses, it'll be another generation before we get this problem fixed."
The stakes are high for uninsured people, individuals and families who buy their health insurance directly and the entire health care industry. Without a functioning health insurance exchange, many people too sick or too poor to get health insurance under the old rules will remain shut out of the system. The millions of Americans who already buy their own insurance will face major disruptions. Health insurance companies could experience a nightmare scenario where the bulk of the individuals who brave the frustrating sign-up process are those who are sick, desperate for coverage and expensive to treat.
And anyone who isn't able to get coverage because of the exchanges' problems could confront the prospect of tax penalties through no fault of their own.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How Congress Works

The Disney version:


The Netflix Version:


The Real Version:

Federalist 51:
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
John Boehner is not Frank Underwood, but he should be.

From National Journal


Shutdown Fallout

At Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg tallies the damage:
The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

Republican operatives are worried that the showdown will improve Democratic House recruiting considerably for 2014, and it could well damage GOP fundraising, both among small-dollar donors and the party’s bigger hitters.

Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.

GOP insiders point out that while the party clearly has lost some ground in recent years among swing voters because of its position on cultural issues, the party’s great strength — at least up until now — was that it was generally seen by independents as fiscally responsible and prudent on economic matters. Now that argument may be more difficult for Republicans to make.

Ironically, the House Republicans’ suicide mission came at exactly the right time for President Barack Obama and the wrong time for the GOP.
At The New York Times, Jeremy Peters picks up the theme:
For the Republicans who despise President Obama’s health care law, the last few weeks should have been a singular moment to turn its problem-plagued rollout into an argument against it. Instead, in a futile campaign to strip the law of federal money, the party focused harsh scrutiny on its own divisions, hurt its national standing and undermined its ability to win concessions from Democrats. Then they surrendered almost unconditionally.
“If you look back in time and evaluate the last couple of weeks, it should be titled ‘The Time of Great Lost Opportunity,’ ” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among the many Republicans who argued that support for the health care law would collapse once the public saw how disastrous it really was.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bad Mood

The Pew Research Center reports:
As the government shutdown drags on and the debt limit deadline approaches, 81% say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, while just 14% are satisfied. The percentage saying they are satisfied with the state of the nation has fallen 13 points since July and is now at its lowest level since the financial crisis in late 2008.
The grim public mood is reflected in the record share of voters who want most members of Congress defeated in next year’s midterm elections. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of registered voters would like to see most members of Congress defeated; during the 2010 and 2006 election cycles, which both culminated in shifts in control of the House, no more than 57% in each of these two cycles wanted most members of Congress not to be reelected.
Moreover, the share saying they do not want their own representative reelected – 38% – is as high as it has been in two decades. At this stage in the 2010 and 2006 midterms, fewer wanted to see their own member of Congress defeated (29% in November 2009, 25% in September 2005).
An early read of voter preferences for the 2014 midterm shows that the Democrats have a six-point edge: 49% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 43% support or lean toward the Republican candidate.
In November 2009, a year before the Republicans won a House majority, Democrats held a five-point edge (47% to 42%). In September 2005, 14 months before the Democrats won a House majority for the first time in more than a decade, Democrats held a 12- point lead (52% to 40%).
The Democratic Party continues to be viewed more favorably than the Republican Party: 47% of adults have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 38% view the GOP favorably. As in the past, the public by wide margins views the GOP as more extreme in its positions than the Democratic Party (55% to 34%) and less willing to work with its political opponents (32% say the Republican Party, 50% the Democrats).
However, as many say the Republican Party (42%) as the Democratic Party (39%) can better manage the federal government. And by 44% to 37%, slightly more say the GOP is better able to handle the nation’s economy. [emphasis added]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shutdown and Midterm Doom

The shutdown/debt battle is bad for the GOP, but unless a debt crisis triggers an economic disaster, it does not spell doom for the party in the 2014 midterm. John Sides notes that President Obama is paying a price:
First, it isn’t like the public approves of his handling of the budget negotiations either — in the new Post/ABC poll 53 percent disapprove, a slight but not statistically significant increase from two weeks ago. Second, Gallup’s tracking polls suggest that his overall approval rating has declined. Rasmussen finds the same thing. (And don’t start in about Gallup’s accuracy in the presidential election; there is nothing wrong with their presidential approval numbers.) I am the last person to put much stock in a single poll. But we have two polls showing the same trend — on top of a third warning sign: perhaps the best predictor of presidential approval, evaluations of the economy, are in freefall. I am happy to state that we need more polling to identify whether there is any trend in presidential approval. But all of these pieces of data deserve more attention than they are getting.
And the landscape does not look terrible for the GOP, at least for now:
Democratic candidate recruitment has not gone so well that election handicappers give them an edge in many swing districts. Nate Cohn summarizes this nicely. And while the shift in the generic ballot is certainly good news for Democrats, political scientists Joseph Bafumi, Robert Erikson, and Christopher Wlezien have shown that during the election year the generic ballot tends to trend in the opposite direction as the president’s party. This suggests that Democrats will lose ground in generic ballot polling during 2014. So what we’re left with is the potential for either party to make small gains, but less potential for either party to make major gains. Certainly I cannot confidently predict that the Democrats will gain the majority.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Entitlement Reform and the Current Troubles

At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green writes:
Having failed to bring Obama to his knees, the House GOP is now clamoring for “entitlement reform,” which in simple English translates as sticking it to the elderly. But for the Republicans, that’s a problem.

The elderly and the white working class comprise the party’s core, and the elderly and the white working class are hostile to linking entitlements to the resolution of the current impasse. According to a recent National Journal poll, 70 percent of whites without college degrees, and more than four-in-five white seniors say any debt deal should not deal with Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shutdown and GOP Chances in the Midterm

The New York Times reports:
“The Tea Party benefits when the energy is focused on the Democratic Party and their agenda,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant and former strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “What’s concerning is a select few groups trying to turn that fire inward on the Republican Party. And that is not helpful.”
In states like Georgia, Louisiana and Montana, the members of the House who are now running for the Senate are demanding that Mr. Obama make concessions on the health care law in exchange for reopening the government. That might help in a Republican primary, but it puts the candidates at risk of damaging their viability in the general election.
And in other states like Kentucky, where the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is fighting off a primary challenge from the Tea Party right and would face a strong Democratic opponent, being associated with Republicans in Washington is as freighted as it has ever been. Mr. McConnell’s newest advertisement, in fact, adopts the grievances as his own. “Angry with Washington? So am I,” says Mr. McConnell, a 28-year veteran of the Senate.
Many Republicans fear that if Mr. McConnell’s opponent wins the nomination, the seat will flip to the Democrats.
And instead of focusing attention from the woes of Obamacare, the shutdown is diverting attention from it. 

But Nate Silver explains that it probably won't cost Republicans their majority in the House:
Even if the shutdown were to have a moderate political impact — and one that favored the Democrats in races for Congress — it might not be enough for them to regain control of the U.S. House. Instead, Democrats face two major headwinds as they seek to win back Congress.
First, there are extremely few swing districts — only one-half to one-third as many as when the last government shutdown occurred in 1996. Some of this is because of partisan gerrymandering, but more of it is because of increasingly sharp ideological divides along geographic lines: between urban and rural areas, between the North and the South, and between the coasts and the interior of the United States.
So even if Democrats make significant gains in the number of votes they receive for the House, they would flip relatively few seats because of the way those votes are distributed. Most of the additional votes would come in districts that Democrats were already assured of winning, or where they were too far behind to catch up.
Consider that, between 2010 and 2012, Democrats went from losing the average congressional district by seven percentage points to winning it by one percentage point — an eight-point swing. And yet they added only eight seats in the House, out of 435 congressional districts.
In 2014, likewise, it will require not just a pretty good year for Democrats, but a wave election for them to regain the House. But wave elections in favor of the party that controls the White House are essentially unprecedented in midterm years. Instead, the president's party has almost always lost seats in the House — or at best gained a handful.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Shutdown: Not Good for the GOP

Luke Frans writes at Resurgent Republic:
Unlike previous trends, Independents look more like Democrats than Republicans when it comes to partially shutting down the government in order to right the wrongs of Obamacare. Three-quarters of Independents join 86 percent of Democrats in disapproving of this action, according to a CBS News survey. More noteworthy, Republicans are split: 48 percent approval to 49 percent disapproval.
By 59 to 38 percent, even those who oppose Obamacare believe a partial government shutdown is not the way to go. A government shutdown divides Republicans and flips the anti-Obamacare coalition, which is why the shutdown stopped revolving around the health care law several days ago.
Instead of focusing Americans' attention on Obamacare's troubled rollout, the shutdown distracted them from it:
The news that did break through about the health care exchanges was widely negative, according to a new AP poll. Only 27 percent had a positive opinion regarding the rollout, while 40 percent think things are going not too well or worse. In a preview of what health care looks like with greater federal government control, 73 percent of those attempting to sign up experienced problems.
Unfortunately, instead of shinning a spotlight on these real-life problems, this story was overrun by debate over which parts of the government to fund, the National Park Service shutting down open-air memorials, the shameful lapse of benefits for families of fallen soldiers, and others along the same line.
The blame game works against the GOP:
We entered the government shutdown certain of one thing: there will be no shortage of blame to go around. Above 50 percent in January, President Obama’s job approval now registers in the low-to-mid 40’s, and voters are increasingly pessimistic about the direction of the country. After tempering in late 2012, Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track today by greater than 2-to-1.
The complicating factor for Republicans is that they’re viewed less favorably than Democrats, so more voters perceive them as culpable. Voters are more likely to blame Republican leaders than President Obama or congressional Democrats by 8 to 13 points, according to several polls.
These margins are consistent with opinions of swing voters. Independents are more likely to fault Republicans (40 percent) than Obama/Democrats (30 percent) or both (24 percent), per CBS News. That’s in line with the Fox News poll: Republicans (40 percent), Obama/Democrats (27 percent), and both (32 percent).
Moreover, majorities of Independents disapprove of how all parties are handling the fiscal stalemate, but once again more blame falls on Republicans. According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 54 percent of Independents disapprove of President Obama (39 percent strongly), 63 percent disapprove of Democrats in Congress (45 percent strongly), and 71 percent disapprove of Republicans (50 percent strongly).

Friday, October 11, 2013


Throw the bums out.
That’s the message 60 percent of Americans are sending to Washington in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, saying if they had the chance to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, they would. Just 35 percent say they would not.

According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, the shutdown has been a political disaster. One in three say the shutdown has directly impacted their lives, and 65 percent say the shutdown is doing quite a bit of harm to the economy. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
The 60 percent figure is the highest-ever in that question recorded in the poll, registered in the wake of the government shutdown and threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time in history. If the nation’s debt limit is not increased one week from now,

“We continue to use this number as a way to sort of understand how much revulsion there is,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the poll with Republican Bill McInturff. “We now have a new high-water mark.”
Read the full poll here (.pdf)
But will an anti-incumbent wave affect both parties?  That prospect seems unlikely.  In 2006, Stuart Rothenberg persuasively argued that the United States does not have anti-incumbent elections: 
Over the past 26 Congressional elections, going back to 1954, there have been only three elections when at least a half-dozen incumbents of both parties were defeated — 1956, 1990 and 1992, according to “Vital Statistics on Congress, 2001-02,” edited by Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and Michael Malbin.

By contrast, we have had eight elections in which one party knocked off at least 20 of the opponent’s incumbents and lost fewer than a half-dozen of its own.

Virtually all midterm elections are a referendum on the party of the president, so it isn’t surprising that when a political wave hits, it damages one party much more heavily than it does the other.

The worst bipartisan election since the mid-1950s was in 1992, when a total of 24 sitting House Members — 16 Republicans and eight Democrats — were defeated. While there was a strong anti-Washington, D.C., mood developing in this country at that time, that year also was a redistricting election in which some incumbents didn’t possess the normal advantages of incumbency. That fact undoubtedly explains so many incumbent losses.

Otherwise, over the past 50 years, the closest we’ve come to an anti-incumbent election was in 1990, when six Democrats and nine Republicans lost in the general election, and in 1978, when 14 Democrats and five Republicans were defeated that November.
Here are the incumbent-loss figures for the three House elections since then:

2008 Democrat 06
Republican 17
Total 23
2010 Democrat 54
Republican 04
Total 58

2012 Democrat 10
Republican 17
Total 27

The 2012 election, like that of 1992, was a redistricting election.  Most of the losing incumbents had new territory or were facing other incumbents.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Party Favorability

The shutdown is hurting Republicans more than Democrats. Gallup reports:
With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.

The Democratic Party also has a public image problem -- although not on the same elephantine scale as that of the Republican Party -- with 43% viewing the Democratic Party favorably, down four percentage points from last month.
These findings come from a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 3-6 that followed the Oct. 1 partial government shutdown after lawmakers in Washington were unable to pass a spending plan for the federal government.

More than six in 10 Americans (62%) now view the GOP unfavorably, a record high. By comparison, nearly half of Americans (49%) view the Democratic Party unfavorably. Roughly one in four Americans see both parties unfavorably.
But generic views of the parties do not directly translate into midterm election results.

Rightward Shift

At The Monkey Cage, Peter Enns writes:
Recently on this blog, Larry Bartels drew attention to an astonishing fact: the public is as conservative as it has been in 50 years. To highlight this point, Professor Bartels presented the public’s policy mood — James Stimson’s measure of public support for government programs—from 1950 to 2012. In a recent article, Julianna Koch and I generated measures of policy mood for each state from the 1950s to 2010 (our measures our here). What we found is that the conservative opinion shift Professor Bartels highlighted repeats itself in every state.
What does the public’s conservative shift suggest for future public opinion? That depends a lot on the 2016 election. The public’s policy preferences typically move in the opposite direction of public policy (especially for policies related to government spending). Thus, if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and policy shifts in a conservative direction, we should expect a liberal turn in public opinion.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gingrich and Shutdowns

In After Hope and Change, we discuss Newt Gingrich's 2012 candidacy.

At CNN, Gingrich compares the 1995-96 shutdowns with the current impasse, noting that polls tilted against the GOP in the earlier conflict.
This is not to say the shutdowns were a strategic mistake. Quite the opposite: The enormous progress we made afterward -- four consecutive balanced budgets, welfare reform, the first tax cut in 16 years -- was a direct result of Republicans standing firm in 1995 and early 1996. It proved to Clinton, and more importantly to the country, that we were serious about the ideas we had run on in 1994. As a consequence, we were the first re-elected Republican majority in the House since 1928.

In the long run, in other words, the shutdowns didn't do us any damage, a fact Gallup documented recently.
In 1998, however, he took a different tone.From Newt Gingrich, Lessons Learned the Hard Way (HarperCollins, 1998), pp. 10, 41:
We had not only failed to take into account the ability of the Senate to delay us and obstruct us, but we had much too cavalierly underrated the power of the President, even a President who had lost his legislative majority and was in a certain amount of trouble for other reasons. I am speaking of the power of the veto. Even if you pass something through both the House and the Senate, there is that presidential pen. How could we have forgotten that?
The idea of a grand showdown on spending had long been a staple of conservative analysis. Even before Reagan's inaugural, he had been approached by one prominent conservative who urged him to force a showdown over the debt ceiling and simply refuse to sign on to one until the Democratic Congress reined in its spending plans. Reagan rejected this idea with a comment I wish I had understood better at the time. The conservative activist who told me that story was convinced that Reagan would have won such a showdown. For fifteen years I agreed with him, but I was to learn something about the American people that too many conservatives don't appreciate. They want their leaders to have principled disagreements but they want these disagreements to be settled in constructive ways. That is not, of course, what our own activists were telling us. They were all gung ho for a brutal fight over spending and taxes. We mistook their enthusiasm for the views of the American public."
Also see an earlier post explaining how the GOP was able to survive the 1995 shutdown: by changing course and doing deals with Clinton.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Shutdown Does Not Guarantee a Democratic House

Nate Cohn writes at The New Republic that the GOP is taking more blame for the shutdown than the Democrats.
But whether Democrats can translate public opposition into significant gains in the House is far less clear. Unfortunately, these polls didn’t ask the “generic ballot” question about whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans in control of the House. But there are plenty of reasons for caution. The combination of gerrymandering, strong Republican incumbents, and weak Democratic recruiting make it very difficult for the Democrats to take the House. And if the polling is clear on anything, it’s that President Clinton was better positioned than President Obama—yet Democrats didn’t come close to taking back the House in 1996. So although it’s clear that the public is more upset at Republicans than Democrats, it remains to be seen whether the GOP will suffer great costs.
Michael Barone adds:
Another statistic could be cited: Obama carried only 209 congressional districts, while Mitt Romney carried 226. While capturing all 17 Obama House Republican seats would give Democrats a 218-217 majority, as a practical matter (and because Republicans have a good shot at winning some current Democratic seats) Democrats are going to have to capture at least some Romney seats. If Obama's job approval continues to be under its November 2012 levels, as it is now, and if voters continue to vote straight tickets, as they have done increasingly in the past 20 years, that's going to be difficult.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Fog of War

Byron York reports on an interview with a GOP House member about the shutdown.  The member says that the leadership was surprised by the rise of Cruz and the intransigence of the Democrats
The congressman began with an anecdote from the Civil War. "I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn't intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it," the congressman said. "That's basically what's happening now in a political sense. This isn't exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it's the fight that's here."
 Even after the events of August, and the rise of Cruz forced House Republicans to take notice, GOP leaders had little understanding of the course that the conflict, both inside the House Republican conference and with Senate Democrats, would eventually take. "I never thought defund, and honestly, I never thought delay, would work," the lawmaker said. "I think the Democrats very much need the exchanges to come on and work to finally create a constituency for [Obamacare]…so I never thought they would agree on that."
Still, the lawmaker thought Senate Democrats, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, would make some sort of concession on a lesser aspect of Obamacare. "I do think, though, when Boehner sent over delay and [repeal of the] medical device tax, I think he thought he'd probably get back medical device, and that would have probably been enough right there," the congressman said. But Reid and the Democrats steadfastly refused to consider any change to Obamacare, surprising Republicans again. "When [Boehner] didn't get medical device, I think he did something he didn't want to do, which was send over the member health care [the Vitter amendment barring Congress from receiving special subsidies on the Obamacare exchanges]. And I think he did that largely because he thought [Democrats] were trying to jam him." When Boehner lowered his demands to include a delay for just the individual mandate — not for all of Obamacare — Republicans thought Democrats would be open to that more modest proposal.

"Instead, it's no, we're not going to negotiate, we're not going to negotiate, we're not going to negotiate," the lawmaker said. "Which means effectively you're going to try to humiliate the Speaker in front of his conference. And how effective a negotiating partner do you think he'll be then? You're putting the guy in a position where he's got nothing to lose, because you're not giving him anything to win."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Crossroads, Shutdown, and High-End Donors

According to The Washington Post, a recent gathering in Washington for supporters of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS reveals some heartburn about the shutdown:
In between private sessions at the Four Seasons hotel with GOP stars such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, many attendees expressed concern about the strategy of tying funding of the government to measures that would stymie the president’s health-insurance initiative.

“People are totally annoyed,” said one attendee at the Crossroads meeting who asked not to be identified, to discuss private conversations.

The frustration was evident this past week not just at the Crossroads conference but also throughout the party’s high-end donor class. While grass-roots activists cheer the unyielding positions of conservative House Republicans, some of the GOP’s top fundraisers are watching the situation with growing dismay.

“I oppose Obamacare as much as anyone else does, but this is not the way to repeal it,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime GOP donor and fundraiser in Northern Virginia.
“The fact is, donors have had it,” Kilberg added, saying she will not give donations to groups raising money broadly for House or Senate Republicans. “I will only give to individual candidates who get it."
The two Crossroads organizations together raised more than $300 million in the 2012 cycle. But as expected in a post-election year, revenue declined in the first six months of 2013. The groups brought in just $3.3 million, including $1 million from Contran Corp., the holding company of Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Kevin McCarthy and Frank Underwood reports on House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):
McCarthy likes to illustrate the changes in the House by talking about a conversation with Kevin Spacey, the actor, who came to visit when he set out to research his role in the HBO [sic, it's on Netflix] series “House of Cards,” in which he depicts a wily congressional leader who consolidates power by bullying, scheming and coercing the caucus to his will.
The House majority whip could offer the “House of Cards” actor advice on many things: how to charm constituents, recruit candidates, run a shrewd campaign. But for hardball tactics like the ones Spacey’s character reveled in, the actor had arrived several years too late.
“We went through things, and Spacey said, you know, ‘Tell me how you twist arms,’” McCarthy said during one of several recent interviews in his stately Capitol office.
“It is not like that now,” the congressman told him.

Indeed, among the first pledges the new majority made good on was to jettison the billions of dollars of “earmarks” that previous congressional leaders — and Spacey’s fictional character — used to sway members’ positions. The move was one of several the GOP adopted that weakened the leadership’s influence.

The heavy-handed ways of previous GOP leaders, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, had worn on the rank and file, McCarthy said. In the new media landscape, efforts to push the caucus into a position can be upended in a matter of minutes on Twitter. It is just not practical, he says, nor desirable, to exert the kind of pressure Republican leaders once used.
But despite all his talk of letting the caucus work its will, McCarthy occasionally lets some frustration show. In a recent talk in Newport Beach, according to an account in the Daily Pilot, he admitted that the job might be a lot less challenging if he could do it in the style of Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, who, in the show, cleared his path by killing a fellow congressman.

“If I could murder one member,” McCarthy joked, “I’d never have to worry about another vote.”