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GOP Bruised After Losing NY-20 McCain's First 100 Days
Obama Got More TV Coverage Than Bush, Clinton Senate Republicans Delay Nominations

News from the Votemaster

Murphy Wins NY-20     Permalink

With businessman Scott Murphy (D) holding a 399-vote lead and only 700 absentee ballots yet to be counted in the NY-20 congressional race, Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) conceded the congressional race in NY-20 to replace Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Many observers expected Tedisco to drag this out in the courts for months, like Norm Coleman is doing in Minnesota, but Tedisco called Murphy yesterday and congratulated him on his win.

If Tedisco had won this race, it would have helped the Republicans' morale, showing that the voters were beginning to respect them again. But effectively getting a tie in a district with 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats shows that their problems are far from over.

Tedisco didn't announce his future plans, but by bowing out graciously and keeping his dignity intact, he is well positioned for a rematch in 2010 if he so chooses.

Timetable for Minnesota Court Case Published     Permalink

Minnesota is a different kettle of fish. After losing his case in court, former senator Norm Coleman (R) is appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court has now set the timetable for the appeals process. Coleman's brief is due April 30th. Franken then has until May 11 to respond. Coleman can file a rebuttal up until May 15. Then the lawyers will argue their cases before the five justices on June 1. Two of the seven justices, Eric Magnuson and Barry Anderson, have recused themselves because they served on the state canvassing board earlier in the process. So Minnesota definitely won't have a second senator until June at the earliest.

Toomey Has Huge Lead over Specter in Pennsylvania     Permalink

First one poll then another poll have shown Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) trailing former congressman Pat Toomey by double-digit margins. The Rasmussen poll published yesterday puts Toomey ahead 51% to 30%.

Specter's real problem was the Democratic presidential primary in 2008. With the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama still raging last April, hundreds of thousands of moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania switched registration to vote in the Democratic primary. Most of these people normally voted for Specter. Now they are officially Democrats. With a big primary looming on the Democratic side in 2010, probably most of them will remain Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary. Thus the center of gravity of what is left of the Pennsylvania Republican Party has moved far to the right--towards Toomey and away from Specter. Under far less favorable circumstances, Toomey came within 1.7% of beating Specter in the 2004 senatorial primary. Now with the wind at his back and Specter unpopular with the right wing of the Republican Party for his occasional roll call votes with the Democrats, Toomey has an excellent chance of winning the nomination. Unfortunately, he has almost no chance of winning the general election against any of the numerous Democrats trying for their party's nomination. He is simply far too conservative for a state Obama carried by 11 points. Thus a Toomey win in the primary means that Pennsylvania will very likely flip and give the Democrats their 60th seat in the Senate (assuming Franken is seated by January 2011).

Health Care Bill Likely in October     Permalink

The Democrats made a strategic decision about health care reform this week that has major implications for the elections of 2010 and 2012. The decision was fairly technical--to attach health care reform to the budget reconciliation if agreement has not been reached by October 15--but the political consequences are immense.

Very briefly, budgeting works like this. In February, the President proposes a budget, which President Obama has already done and which Congress has approved. But this is only step 1. Next the Senate and House committees dealing with taxing and spending hack on the President's proposal and come up with their own plans, which merely sets general spending limits for each of 19 broad categories of government expenditures. After much arm wrestling, the committee chairman come up with a single proposal in each chamber, which is then brought to the floor for a vote. Since the Senate and House versions invariably differ, a joint Senate-House conference committee then works out a compromise, called the budget resolution, which both chambers then pass.

If Congress so desires, language can be inserted into the budget resolution directing one or more committees to produce specific legislation by a specific date. The legislation produced by these committees is generally bundled into a single bill called the reconciliation bill. According to Senate rules, budget resolutions and reconciliation bills are subject to straight up-or-down votes. Filibusters are not allowed. The Democrats plan to use this process to get a health care reform bill through this year. In effect, as long as 50 Democratic senators support the bill, it will become law with a little help from Vice President Joe Biden if needed. Up to nine Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) can oppose the bill and it can still pass.

Poll after poll has shown that Americans are very worried about their health insurance. People are afraid to quit jobs they hate because they are worried they won't be able to get health insurance after their COBRA coverage expires. The core of the problem, of course, is the insurance companies' desire not to insure anyone who is sick or likely to become sick. All other industrialized countries solve this problem through laws saying that health insurance companies must offer a standard policy at a standard price to anyone who asks for one. Cherrypicking good customers is illegal everywhere except the U.S. To prevent young healthy people from going uninsured until they suddenly get sick and then applying for insurance, other countries make carrying health insurance mandatory, the same way most states in the U.S. mandate that car owners have accident insurance on their cars.

The Democrats and Republicans differ hugely on their views about cherrypicking and mandates. Any bill the Democrats came up with containing both of these items would be filibustered to death in the Senate. However, now that Senate Democrats (with Obama's blessing) have decided to make health care reform part of the reconciliation bill, the Republicans will not be able to filibuster it. This will make them absolutely furious--even though George Bush used the reconciliation process himself on a number of occasions.

Now it is not certain that health care will have to go into the reconciliation bill. If Al Franken is ultimately seated in Minnesota, then the Democrats will need only one more vote to pass a health care bill the usual way (which in this session of Congress means invoking cloture). That vote won't come from Arlen Specter due to his tough primary, so the targets will be Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and to a lesser extent, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will undoubtedly spend a lot of time talking to these two women and trying to cajole them into voting for cloture on the health reform bill. However, since they know their votes aren't really essential (because if they vote against cloture health care reform will be dumped into the reconciliation bill which can't be filibustered) they are not in a strong negotiating position and may be content with small changes rather than having the bill go into reconciliation, in which case they get nothing.

If the Democrats manage to ram health insurance through Congress this year, they will be crowing about it in 2010 and 2012 as fulfilling a major campaign promise and Republicans will be dissing it as socialized medicine. But given the public's desire to see the health insurance system fixed, a bill this year is likely to help the Democrats, hence the decision to put health care reform in the reconciliation bill if all else fails.

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