PhRMA's Final Push for Healthcare Reform

Via Ben Smith, PhRMA has put together its closing argument in favor of healthcare reform:

Say what you will about the PhRMA deal -- that the cost of bringing the industry inside the tent (i.e. nixing prescription drug reimportation) was too high -- its support has been key to helping sell healthcare reform. And although the bill is far from perfect, it does cover 30 million Americans (including 15 million to be added to the rolls of governmental programs like Medicaid and CHIP), all while greatly reducing the long-term deficit. Indeed, there is a reason why liberal support for healthcare reform has increased by 16 points in just the past month, providing pressure on Members like Dennis Kucinich to flip their vote in favor of the bill.

Wait, CT-Sen Only "Leans" Democratic?

The Cook Political Report calls the Connecticut Senate race "leans Democratic" these days, a rating that reflects a belief that the race is currently competitive, though one party has an edge. I haven't seen too many competitive races, however, where one party leads by a margin well in excess of 30 points.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal tops Merrick Alpert 81 - 6 percent in a Democratic Senate primary and stomps his Republican opponents:
  • 61 - 28 percent over McMahon, compared to 64 - 23 percent January 14;
  • 62 - 26 percent over Simmons, compared to 62 - 27 percent;
  • 64 - 21 percent over Schiff, compared to 66 - 19 percent.
Blumenthal gets a 79 - 13 percent approval rating, continuing a 10-month string of approval ratings of 78 points or higher, and a 70 - 18 percent favorability rating.

The Pollster.com trend estimate gives the Democrat Blumenthal a lead in excess of 34 percentage points -- and growing. Yet this race is competitive, and only "leans" towards the Democrats. Okay...

Fineman: Kucinich a Yes on Healthcare Reform

Via National Review online editor John McCormack and The Hill reporter Jordan Fabian, Howard Fineman apparently reported tonight that Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, previously a no on healthcare reform, will vote aye. If this report pans out -- and we should know for certain by tomorrow morning, when Kucinich is slated to hold a press conference -- the Democrats would have their first announced no-to-yes switcher on healthcare reform. The goal of 216 is looking increasingly achievable for Nancy Pelosi.

More as we hear it...

Hooey on Healthcare Reform from Michael McConnell

Writing today in the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal (full text here), former Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael McConnell argues that it would be unconstitutional for Democrats to utilize the "commonly used" tactic (the words of The Washington Post, not my own) of a self-executing rule to package a vote on the Senate's healthcare reform bill along side fixes to that bill. According to McConnell, such a move would violate Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution, which states that "in order for a 'Bill' to 'become a Law,' it 'shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate' and be 'presented to the President of the United States' for signature or veto."

Yale constitutional law professor Jack Balkin does a good job of slapping down this argument:

Despite Judge McConnell's concerns, which are textually well founded, there is a way that "deem and pass" could be done constitutionally. There have to be two separate bills signed by the President: the first one is the original Senate bill, and the second one is the reconciliation bill. The House must pass the Senate bill and it must also pass the reconciliation bill. The House may do this on a single vote if the special rule that accompanies the reconciliation bill says that by passing the reconciliation bill the House agrees to pass the same text of the same bill that the Senate has passed. That is to say, the language of the special rule that accompanies the reconciliation bill must make the House take political responsibility for passing the same language as the Senate bill. The House must say that the House has consented to accept the text of the Senate bill as its own political act. At that point the President can sign the two bills, and it does not matter that the House has passed both through a special rule. Under Article I, section 5 of the Constitution, the House can determine its own rules for passing legislation. There are plenty of precedents for passing legislation by reference through a special rule.

If that weren't sufficiently clear, not all that long ago, a group of Congressmen filed suit in federal district court to have declared invalid the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which, as a result of an error by a clerk, was not actually passed in the same form by both the House and Senate -- then under Republican control. Citing the 1892 Supreme Court decision in Marshall Field v. Clark, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Michigan threw out the Congressmen's challenge:

Each of the courts that have addressed the identical issue presented here have held that enrolled bill rule announced in Marshall Field still applies today. Thus a claim of unconstitutionality for violation of Article I, Section 7, is not legally cognizable where an enrolled bill has been signed by the presiding officers of the House and Senate as well as the President. [internal quotation marks omitted]

In layman's terms, the court held, following more than a century of Supreme Court precedent, that individual Members of Congress have no valid federal claim where a bill has been certified as passed by both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, and then signed into law by the President of the United States. If a court upheld as law a bill not passed into law in the same form by both chambers of Congress, it's hard to see how a court would strike down a bill passed by the majority vote of both Houses.

And to add just one more wrinkle, it is unclear just who would have standing to bring a suit challenging healthcare reform legislation. In order for a law to be successfully challenged, a plaintiff must not only have a valid claim -- which, as discussed above, is far from apparent -- he also must have the judicially recognized capacity to sue. McConnell doesn't touch this issue, and it is unclear why. Courts have been loath to extend standing to minority lawmakers believing themselves to be aggrieved by the tactics of the majority, and the Democratic Congressmen who filed suit in the Conyers v. Bush decision discussed above were found to lack standing (in addition to be lacking on the merits). If challengers to the healthcare reform legislation could prove that they had a majority of either chamber on their side on the issue they might be deemed to have standing -- but considering that healthcare reform, if it does pass, will have garnered at least a 216-vote majority in the House and a 50+1 majority in the Senate, it's hard to see how they would have standing to sue. 

I am not an attorney and this should not be read as legal advice. But at least from my vantage, McConnell's argument appears to be hooey, and nothing more than another political argument to try to make it harder for the Democrats to pass meaningful healthcare reform.

Stupak Caucus Folding?

So reports The Hill:

Democratic leaders have been able to pick off members of the anti-abortion-rights bloc Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) claimed to have, the congressman said Friday.

[...]

[T]he Michigan Democrat, who claimed he had carried with him a dozen votes against the healthcare bill, suggested that his bloc of votes may be cracking, providing Democratic leaders with valuable votes for their pending healthcare measures.

"At this point, there is no doubt that they’ve been able to peel off one or two of my twelve," he said. "The others are having both of their arms twisted, and we’re all getting pounded by our traditional Democratic supporters, like unions.”

Nancy Pelosi may yet be able to attract the 216 votes necessary to pass healthcare reform through the House and send it along to the President. The 30 million Americans without coverage today who would have health insurance as a result of this legislation -- including the 15 million who will be added to the rolls of government plans like Medicaid and CHIP -- may actually be on track to leave the ranks of the uninsured.

Was the Stimulus "Politically Disastrous"?

The Atlantic's Max Fisher says it is, calling it "hugely important but politically disastrous." But was the stimulus bill, known also as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, really "politically disastrous"?

Let's go to the polling. The most recent polling on the stimulus, from CNN in mid-January, found that just 42 percent of respondents still favored the stimulus while 56 percent opposed it -- not great numbers, but also probably not "politically disastrous" (but that's just, ya know, like, my opinion).

Digging deeper into the CNN numbers, the "disastrous[ness]" of the stimulus becomes even less clear, though. According to the survey, a substantial 58 percent majority of Americans believe that the stimulus either improved conditions (12 percent) or prevented conditions from becoming even worse (46 percent). Just 22 percent stated a belief that the stimulus had no effect, and an even smaller 19 percent responded that the stimulus made economic conditions worse.

Far from indicating that the stimulus is "politically disastrous," these numbers seem to indicate that a sizable majority of the American people realize that things could have been a lot worse had the stimulus not been passed by the President and the Democratic Congress. Again, this isn't to say that the stimulus is wildly popular, because it's clearly not. At the same time, it's hard to see how one could argue it to have been a political disaster for the Democrats.

NYTimes: Ensign Legal and Political Woes Get Worse

Eric Lichtblau and Eric Lipton have the scoop for The New York Times:

Previously undisclosed e-mail messages turned over to the F.B.I. and Senate ethics investigators provide new evidence about Senator John Ensign’s efforts to steer lobbying work to the embittered husband of his former mistress and could deepen his legal and political troubles.

Mr. Ensign, Republican of Nevada, suggested that a Las Vegas development firm hire the husband, Douglas Hampton, after it had sought the senator’s help on several energy projects in 2008, according to e-mail messages and interviews with company executives.

The Beltway media has been doing its darndest to liken the ethical problems facing the Democrats today and those faced by the Republicans in recent years, but the differences could not be more stark. In the case of Eric Massa, for instance, within about a week of allegations of his misconduct coming forward into the public sphere, the Congressman had resigned his office. The Democratic response to the scandals surrounding Charlie Rangel were not as swift -- but nevertheless he no longer holds on to his committee chairmanship.

Yet when you look at the scandals affecting the Republican Party, both during the lead up to the 2006 elections and more recently, the response could not be more different. David Vitter, Mark Sanford and John Ensign are all still in office years and months after it became clear that they were under suspicion of impropriety.

In the case at hand, if the Republicans were serious about ethics, they would have taken steps to address the allegations against Ensign months and months ago when they first surfaced. That they haven't is extremely telling, undermining any notion that the GOP is poised to capitalize on the problems facing some Democrats in Congress.

House GOP Recruitment Fail

House Republicans thought they had an excellent pick up opportunity when Democratic Congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas announced that he would not be seeking reelection. Indeed, considering that his district tends to lean about 8 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole, the Republicans were probably right to be giddy. That is, at least until they failed to recruit a strong candidate.

Arkansas' filing deadline passed Monday afternoon and while Republicans made a lot of noise about their chances in the 1st district in the days after Rep. Marion Berry (D) announced his retirement, all the sound and fury may have actually signified nothing....

Here's Swing State's take:

Republicans had sought to get one of several state legislators into the race -- state Sens. Davy Carter or Johnny Key. However, both said no, leaving the GOP without a backup plan. Meanwhile, top-tier Democrats piled into the race in this historically-Democratic district, including state Sen. Steve Bryles, former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge, state Rep. David Cook, and Berry's former CoS, Chad Causey. Like PA-12, here's a district where the Democratic tradition and the disparity between the two parties' benches may just save our bacon despite an ominous trend at the presidential level.

If the Republicans are to retake the House, they're going to need to win in districts like Arkansas 1 -- or at the least recruit a credible candidate -- as well as districts like the R+16 Alabama 2, where the freshman Democratic incumbent leads by margins of 24 percentage points or more against all Republican challengers. If they're unable to do such things, it's not at all clear to me just how they could possibly be a near-lock for gaining the majority in November.

House 2010: Staying on the Offense

As most readers of this site are probably aware, I'm not yet sold on the notion embraced by some that the House has already been all but lost by the Democrats. Part of the reason is that it's still very early, and we do not know how the political environment -- and even more so the economic climate -- will change in the next eight months. Part of the reason is that election prognosticators in recent cycles have fairly consistently underestimated Democratic performance. And part of the reason is that the Democrats do have some opportunities to stay on offense.

The DCCC is rolling out their roster of promising challengers, determined to stay on offense amid a harsh national political climate.

The party will target 7 GOP incumbents and 4 GOP-held open seats this year, armed with prominent challengers who have demonstrated their ability to raise money and build effective campaign organizations.

[...]

Inaugural Red-to-Blue members:

Candidate            Incumbent         District 
Ami Bera             Dan Lungren         CA03
Paula Brooks         Pat Tiberi          OH12
John Callahan        Charlie Dent        PA15
John Carney          Open (Castle)       DEAL
Suzan DelBene        Dave Reichert       WA08
Lori Edwards         Open (Putnam)       FL12
Raj Goyle            Open (Tiahrt)       KS04
Bryan Lentz          Open (Sestak)       PA07
Rob Miller           Joe Wilson          SC02
Steve Pougnet        Mary Bono Mack      CA45
Dan Seals            Open (Kirk)         IL10
Tom White            Lee Terry           NE02

The list is a good one, and the Democrats have legitimate shots at winning in a number of them, particularly the open seat races.

But one incumbent target worth mentioning is Mary Bono Mack, who has never faced a genuine challenge during her time in Congress. Representing a district anchored in the Palm Springs-area of Southern California that backed Barack Obama by a 52 percent to 47 percent margin in 2008 and which backed Al Gore's 2000 Presidential bid with 51 percent of the vote, Bono Mack might be more vulnerable than many think -- particularly considering that her challenger is the popular mayor Palm Springs, Steve Pougnet.

Bono Mack has quite a bit more money in the bank than Pougnet does at present -- but Pougnet has shown decent fundraising chops, bringing in more than $550,000 through the end of the year and holding $400,000 in the bank. With new fundraising support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, these numbers could come closer to equalizing in the months leading toward the election, and this could be a real race.

Mitch Daniels: Direct Populist Anger Towards Teachers

Indiana's GOP Governor Mitch Daniels has been the talk of the town in Washington as a potential 2012 White House aspirant, a seemingly can-do Republican among a group of ideologues. One big problem with this meme: Daniels is a pretty fierce conservative ideologue. (Another is that he was a key member of the Bush economic team as head of the Office of Management and Budget.) Here's Ben Smith, writing under the headline "Daniels' target: Greedy ... teachers?":

Some of the anger out there now, he said, is directed at "not just Wall Street or overpaid corporate CEOs but government employees and their unions."

Public education, he said, used to be "the bloody shirt of American politics," a kind of conversation stopper that could be invoked as a way of saying if you want cuts, "you hate children." Not anymore, he said, putting himself in the shoes of a voter who says, "The teacher next door I just figured out makes a lot more than I do but doesn't work all year."

Let's go to the actual numbers to see if Daniels is in fact correct in his assessment that Americans are just as angry at teacher pay as they are at CEO pay.

The latest data I could find on CEO compensation come from 2007, before the Great Recession, but they are nevertheless instructive. In June of that year, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey asked Americans, "In general, do you think most CEO's of large American companies are compensated too much, too little, or just about the right amount?" A whopping 81 percent of respondents said "too much"; just 1 percent said "too little"; and a paltry 14 percent said "just right".

Compare these numbers to those on teacher pay. A January 2010 poll from CBS News asked Americans, "As far as you know, do you think, on average, public school teachers in this country are paid too much, too little, or about the right amount?" The numbers are close to a mirror opposite of those on CEO pay. Fully two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) said public school teachers are not paid enough, while a quarter (24 percent) said they are paid about right. A mere 4 percent said public school teachers are paid too much.

Usually, when a politician lines himself up with a 4 percent minority of the public on the issue, he is not treated as being within the mainstream of American politics. Then again, I'm not holding my breath for the point at which the Beltway media stops fawning over Daniels.

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