Feb. 14 absentee ballot for overseas voters

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House Dem 257   GOP 178  

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News from the Votemaster

Stimulus Bill Passes Both Chambers of Congress

The Huffington Post summarized the stimulus bill nicely with the headline: "Stimulus 2, Bipartisanship 0." The conference bill passed the House yesterday without a single Republican vote. It (barely) passed the Senate, with senators Snowe, Collins, and Specter being the only Republican votes for it. The bill didn't pass until 10:30 P.M. because Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was in Ohio for his mother's funeral and had to be flown back to D.C. in a chartered plane. His vote was essential to make 60 because Ted Kennedy was in Florida recovering from a brain tumor, meaning that without Brown, only 56 of the 58 sitting Democrats were in D.C. to vote. President Obama will sign the bill next week.

In addition to allocating money for spending on infrastructure projects, education, and green jobs, the bill provides the middle-class tax cut Obama promised during his campaign. It amounts to $400 for single taxpayers and $800 for married ones, slightly less than the $500/$1000 he wanted. In addition, 11 of the 1073 pages of the massive bill (which probably nobody has read since it wasn't even available until Thursday at 11 P.M.) deal with exorbitant CEO pay. It limits bonuses to 1/3 of CEO's base pay and requires the bonuses to be in the form of stock options that can't be cashed until the company has repaid all its loans to the government. The 11 pages go into detail about precisely which employees are subject to these rules, depending on where they are in the corporate pecking order, how much money the company got from the government, and more. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, thought this would be better than a single sentence stating that no employee of a company getting government money shall have a total annual compensation exceeding that of the President of the United States until the loan is repaid. To hear that CEOs will have no incentive to work for a mere $400,000/year seems ludicrous when one realizes that an awful lot of people with important jobs, from doctors to airline pilots, do their work very conscientiously for less than that. Yet nobody challenges this myth.

Obama, and especially his chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, have taken the lessons of the stimulus bill to heart. In the future, there is going to be a lot less talk from the President about bipartisanship and a lot more about the merits of the legislation at hand. Their conclusion from this episode is that no matter how much they involve the Republicans in the legislation and how many concessions they make, all the House Republicans and all but three Senate Republicans are going to vote no anyway, so why bother asking for their help? Serious political observers knew this was going to happen, but it was considered impolite to say so in public. As Winston Churchill put it: "The job of the opposition is to oppose" and the Republicans are doing their job. If Al Franken is ultimately seated in Minnesota, the Democrats will have to pick off only one Republican senator to get things done.

Minnesota Court Ruling Helps Franken

Speaking of Franken, the court handling the election contest in Minnesota made a ruling yesterday that is likely to help him. It ruled that absentee ballots that do not comply with Minnesota law may not be entered as evidence and will not be opened and counted. For example, if a voter did not sign the envelope as required by law, that ballot may not be entered as evidence, no matter what other factors apply. This ruling even applies to cases where county officials saw that the ballot was defective in some way and failed to alert the voter. The court said that it was the voter's responsibility to make sure his or her ballot conformed to Minnesota law, not the county's. About 1300 of the 4800 contested ballots are immediately excluded by this ruling. The court also said that the people of Minnesota are not well served by endless delays in getting a second senator seated. The three judges appear to be growing impatient. None of these developments look good for former senator Norm Coleman, but as Yogi Berra famously noted: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Dorgan Crushes Hoeven in North Dakota

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is up for reelection in 2010 and most observers have assumed that he will cruise to an easy reelection--unless the popular Republican governor, John Hoeven, runs against him. But a new Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos shows Dorgan beating Hoeven 57% to 35%. If Hoeven's own polling shows similar numbers, he will probably be very hesitant to challenge Dorgan, ensuring Dorgan's reelection. It is not that North Dakotans dislike Hoeven. In fact, they like him very much (68% approval rating), but they want him to remain governor and let Dorgan, who has 16 years of seniority and a seat on the all-important Appropriations Committee, continue to bring home the bacon.

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