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News from the Votemaster

Health-Care Bill Faces New Obstacles     Permalink

The decision by majority leader Harry Reid not to pursue using the budget reconcilation process to pass the health-care bill has come back to bite him. Going the regular route means he needs all 60 members of his caucus to vote for cloture, even if some of them may end up opposing the underlying bill. It is well known that all senators are smart enough to count to 60; in fact, when counting money they can often count into the millions. As a consequence of this situation, every Democrat can blackmail Reid by threatening not to vote for cloture unless he gets his or her way on something. It is already happening.

Several cases in point. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has said that he will block the bill unless it has a provision banning abortion that is as tough as the one Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) got added to the House bill. Needless to say, many Senate Democrats do not want such an amendment and would vote against it were it not for the fact that losing Nelson's vote might doom the bill. Of course, some ingenious Democrat might couple this amendment with another one banning all subsidies to corn farmers, but that is unlikely to happen. Nelson has the others over a barrel and everyone knows it.

Another amendment, quite different from Nelson's, is one Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is going to propose. He wants to allow reimportation of drugs from Canada. Dorgan is surely aware that North Dakota has a 400-mile-long border with Canada, putting that country's drug stores within easy reach of many North Dakotans. The amendment would get a lot of support from both Democrats and Republicans and would probably pass if there were an actual vote on it. The problem is that such an amendment would kill the secret deal between the administration and the drug companies and unleash a torrent of advertising from them opposing the bill. Reid does not want this.

Then there is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who has also threatened to torpedo the bill. He doesn't have a pet amendment, but seems to enjoy being the center of attention. Several other senators, including Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have come close to saying they won't vote for a bill with a public option, and one senator, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has said he won't vote for one unless it has a public option.

Some of this may be just bluster, but Reid is in a real box because he can't afford to lose even one vote. But the problem is entirely self inflicted. What he could have done is instruct some senator such as Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the HELP committee, to split the bill into two parts, one with the noncontroversial stuff which would pass by the regular order and a second bill that would go through the reconciliation process, which needs only 50 senators and Joe Biden. All Reid would have to do is make it clear to Nelson, Landrieu, and Lincoln, that if they voted against the bill, plan B would be the Harkin bill, presumably far less to their liking. Reid could even have leaked plan C: abolish the filibuster or at least reduce the number of votes needed for cloture to 55. During the Bush administration, then-majority whip Mitch McConnell threatened to do precisely that ("the nuclear option") if the Democrats filibustered Bush's judicial nominations. Even if Reid doesn't really want to change the cloture rule, the threat of doing so would chasten people like Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln by putting them on notice that a vote against cloture (1) wouldn't work and (2) would turn the rest of the caucus against them. And there might even be a plan D, in which Reid threatened recalcitrant senators with loss of committee slots and chairmanships, desirable office space, staff, and other goodies. Having a plan B, C, or D, would turn the tables and mean Reid could blackmail the recalcitrant senators, not the other way around. As majority leader Lyndon Johnson understood this very well.

But Reid's style is not Johnson's. He tries to be nice to all the senators and hopes that by giving them what they want, they will go along with him. The trouble comes in when the caucus is badly split, as it is now. Everyone knew this moment was coming and here it is. The internal discussions within the caucus have now reached full boil. The next few days will be critical.

Hostettler to Challenge Bayh in Indiana     Permalink

Former representative John Hostettler (R) has announced that he is running for the Senate against Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). Hostettler served in the House for 12 years until he was defeated by Brad Ellsworth (D) in 2006. Even though Indiana is fundamentally a red state (despite Obama's narrow win here in 2008), Bayh is personally very popular, having been elected governor twice and senator twice, most recently in 2004 by a 24-point margin. Furthermore, Bayh has over $10 million in the bank already, so Hostettler has his work cut out for him. The most significant consequence of this announcement is that Bayh is now likely to move to the right to avoid being tagged a "liberal."

Tanner's Departure Makes Democrats Nervous     Permalink

Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) is retiring at the end of this session of Congress. His district is R+6, so the Republicans have an excellent chance of winning the open seat. The Democratic leadership is well aware that the Republican sweep of 1994, in which they picked up 54 seats, was caused in no small part by the presence of 20 open Democratic seats. So far, a similar exodus has not happened but it still could. As of right now, there will be 13 seats in which the 2008 Democratic winner will not be on the ballot in 2010 and 14 such Republican seats. Five of the Democratic seats (CA-10, CA-31, IL-05, NY-20, NY-23) have been filled by Democrats in special elections in 2009 and FL-19 will be filled by a special election in 2010, so the number of open Democratic seats in 2010 is currently only seven. Here is the list of seats where the 2008 winner is not running in 2010. The colors indicate which party won in 2008.

District 2008 winner Party PVI Reason 2008 Winner is Not Running in 2010
AL-07 Artur Davis Dem D+18 Running for governor
CA-10 Ellen Tauscher Dem D+11 Appointed Undersecretary of State
CA-31 Hilda Solis Dem D+29 Resigned to become Sec. of Labor
DE-AL Mike Castle GOP D+7 Castle is running for the Senate
FL-12 Adam Putnam GOP R+6 Running for Agriculture Commissioner
FL-17 Kendrick Meek Dem D+34 Running for Mel Martinez' open Senate seat
FL-19 Robert Wexler Dem D+15 He will resign in January to join a nonprofit organization
GA-09 Nathan Deal GOP R+28 Running for governor
IL-05 Rahm Emanuel Dem D+19 Resigned to become WH CoS (replaced by Mike Quigley)
IL-07 Danny Davis Dem D+35 Running for Cook County President
IL-10 Mark Kirk GOP D+6 Running for Roland Burris' open Senate seat
HI-01 Neil Abercrombie Dem D+11 Running for governor
KS-01 Jerry Moran GOP R+23 Running for Sam Brownback's open Senate seat
KS-04 Todd Tiahrt GOP R+14 Running for Sam Brownback's open Senate seat
LA-03 Charlie Melancon Dem R+12 Running for the Senate against Vitter
MI-02 Peter Hoekstra GOP R+9 Running for governor
MO-07 Roy Blunt GOP R+17 Running for the Kit Bond's open Senate seat
OK-05 Mary Falin GOP R+13 Running for governor
NH-02 Paul Hodes Dem D+0 Running for Judd Gregg's open Senate seat
NY-20 Kirsten Gillibrand Dem R+2 Appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat
NY-23 John McHugh GOP R+1 Appointed Secretary of the Army
PA-06 Jim Gerlach GOP D+4 Running for governor
PA-07 Joe Sestak Dem D+3 Running for senator
OK-05 Mary Fallin GOP R+13 Running for governor
SC-03 Greshman Barrett GOP R+17 Running for governor
TN-03 Zach Wamp GOP R+13 Running for governor
TN-08 John Tanner Dem R+6 At 65, he's had enough of politics

Foley Switches from Senate Race to Governor's Race     Permalink

Former ambassador to Ireland, Tom Foley, apparently has decided that a tough general election is preferable to a tough primary. Yesterday, he switched from the Connecticut Senate race to the Connecticut Governor's race. In the Senate primary, he would have had to face World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, who has said she will spend $50 million of her own money to win as well as former representative Rob Simmons. The winner will face weakened Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) in the general election. By moving over to the governor's race, the Republican opposition is not as heavyweight, so far just Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, but the Democratic nominee, whoever that ends up being, will be untainted by the banking crisis, as Dodd is.

White Switches from Senate Race to Governor's Race     Permalink

Not to be outdone by little Connecticut, a Texas politician also switched from a Senate race to the governor's race. In this case it is Bill White, the mayor of Houston, Texas' largest city, who was going to run for Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat if and when she resigned (because she is running for governor), But Hutchison has been dragging her feet about resigning and may ultimately not even do so if she loses her March 2 primary against Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). So White got tired of waiting for a seat that may not even open up and jumped into the governor's race, which will definitely happen in 2010. There are two things that make him a plausible candidate even in deep red Texas. First, he has shown he can raise money by the boatload, something essential in such a large state. Second, the primary between Hutchison and Perry is going to be very raw. It exposes the key fault line within the Republican Party now--between moderate conservatives like Hutchison and far-right conservatives like Perry. For the next 3 months, they are going to be attacking each other mercilessly, which may ultimately weaken the eventual winner in the general election against the bland, soothing, nonideological White.

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