Oral Presentations in Minnesota Today
In what might be the beginning of the end of the everlasting Senate election contest
in Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court will
lawyers for Norm Coleman and Al Franken plead their cases today.
Probably the five justices hearing the case won't learn anything new. After all,
they have been following this case with more than casual interest for 7 months, have
already gotten Coleman's brief, Franken's rebuttal, and Coleman's rebuttal to the
rebuttal and have long since read the transcripts of the trial court proceedings.
Today they get to question the lawyers, but it is unlikely they will be able to
think of many questions that have not already been asked and answered many times.
One thing the court is keenly aware of is that whoever loses is likely to appeal the
decision to the federal courts, possibly directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. No court
likes to be reversed on appeal, so the justices will probably take their time in
writing a careful verdict, even though most of them may have already made up their
minds based on the voluminous written record. They are likely to take several weeks
to render a verdict, but probably not more than a month since they are also aware that
the public wants another senator.
Currently, Al Franken (D) is leading by 312 votes. Basically, the court has two
choices. First, it could uphold the canvassing board, Secretary of State, and lower
court and declare Franken to be the winner. Such a verdict would likely be accompanied
by an order to Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) to sign the election certificate, which
Senate Republicans would urge him not to do pending yet more appeals. If he refused to
sign it, in principle the Minnesota House, which has 87 DFLers and 47 Republicans could
impeach him and the Minnesota Senate, which has 46 DFLer's and 21 Republicans could convict him.
Pawlenty, who is up for reelection in 2010 and has been mentioned as a presidential
candidate for 2012, might not want to risk this and might sign despite the pressure.
Second, the court could agree with Coleman that the vote counting process was fatally
flawed and send the whole thing back to the canvassing board or the lower court to do
some more counting using different rules. This would be a victory for Coleman but would
not guarantee his election. It would just allow him to fight another day. Most observers
expect the court to accept the ruling of the lower court, which went out of its way to
make sure all arguments were heard, but you never know.
So far, the campaigns and lawyers have cost a total of
The proceedings will be Webcast live at The Uptake
starting at 9 A.M. Central Time.
Update. Here is the take
of Prof. Rick Hasen on the hearing. In short, the justices gave Coleman's attorney a much tougher time than they
gave Franken's attorney.
Sestak Says He will Run Against Specter in the Pennsylvania Primary
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) has
friends that he intends to challenge Sen. Arlen
Specter, a newly minted Democrat, in a primary next year, but he has not yet announced.
Sestak is a former Navy Vice Admiral, and admirals, vice or not, are not bullied easily
as a rule and Sestak in particular is notoriously stubborn.
It is not likely he would fold his tent even if President Obama called him, as Obama
called Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) last week. Nor is it clear that Obama would call him. Obama
no doubt likes the idea of holding Specter's feet to the fire, forcing him to vote
with the Democratic majority on upcoming bills to prevent Sestak from using those votes
to argue "Pennsylvania Democrats are entitled to a real Democrat in the Senate."
Specter, of course, fully understands this, and will try to be a fairly consistent Democratic
vote at least until Sestak is out of the way.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Specter leading Sestak 50% to 21%.
But early polls like this mean little. Specter is universally known in the state and
Sestak, a two-term congressman, is barely known in his own district. In a bitter
campaign, Sestak would become known very fast and would attack Specter as a turncoat.
It is hard to tell how that race would end up. Some speculation by Jay Cost
Coburn to Announce Plans Today
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the scourge of both parties in the Senate due to the way he
often obstructs Senate business to block government spending--even spending Republicans like--will
announce today whether he is running for reelection. If he runs, he is a virtual shoo-in.
If he retires, chances are popular Gov. Brad Henry (D-OK) will jump in and we will have
a real battle for the open seat. Coburn's tiny money haul ($17,000) in the first quarter
has given rise to speculation that he's had enough of Washington, but others have countered
with the fact that he is so well entrenched that all he has to do to get reelected is just
file for it.
Update. Coburn is running. He'll win easily.
Kennedy to Unveil Health Care Bill this Week
In what is expected to be the first shot in a brutal health-care-reform battle,
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) is
to soon release the draft of a health care bill he has written. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman
of the Senate Finance Committee is working on one, too, as is Rep. Henry Waxman over at the
House. The passage or failure of the Obama administration to pass a health care reform
bill is likely to be one of the defining issues of the 2010 midterm elections.
If the Democrats manage to pass a popular bill, especially one that guarantees all Americans
health care coverage no matter what and that also allows them to choose their own doctors,
it will weigh the Republicans down like a stone.
The key items to keep an eye on are:
- Presence or absence of a public option ("Medicare for all")
- A requirement that insurance companies accept all applicants, even sick ones
- A mandate that everyone be insured
- How this will be financed
There are many players in this game and they all have different positions and interests
and the Republicans especially, have to figure out how to navigate the maze. Just saying
no, no, no, will hurt them badly next year. They have to be for something, but it is not
yet clear what. Most Republicans are strongly against a public option because deep in their
hearts they know that when push comes to shove people would rather have to plead their
claims with uncaring (but neutral) government bureaucrats than with insurance company bean counters who are
rewarded for turning down claims and punished for allowing them. If there is a public
option, people who are dissatisfied with their private insurer would have a genuine
alternative and this new reality would put a lot of pressure on insurance company
profits, so expect Republicans to fight tooth and nail against a public option. If it happens
anyway--and it might because the Democrats have already put health care into reconciliation,
which means it can't be filibustered--the GOP will argue in 2010 that this is the start
of socialized medicine. Actually, that is not true. Socialized medicine started in a long
time ago, and now Medicare, Medicaid, S-CHIP, and the VA medical system already have
80 million patients, few of whom are demanding their program be turned over to private
The next two items are trickier. The insurance industry might be willing to agree to
insure all comers provided that there was a mandate--meaning millions of new customers,
most of them healthy. But healthy young people might not want to be forced to buy
health insurance. On the other hand, good drivers are forced to buy accident
insurance in most states. As to financing the coverage of the 50 million people currently
uninsured, new taxes are going to be required. One proposal currently circulating in
Congress is having employer-sponsored health insurance no longer be tax free. A tax on this
would raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year, but during the 2008 campaign, Obama
came out wildly against this. Of course if Congress "shoved this down his throat" he might
sign the bill anyway, saying it wasn't perfect but was better than nothing. And these are
only a few of the issues that will come up. Health care is going to be a huge political
football from now until the 2010 elections.
The health insurance companies
that "Just say no" is not going to work this time around with a popular President
whose top priority is reforming the health care system. They are also aware of a poll
taken in 2008 showing the managed-care industry with an approval rating of 40%--lower
than banks, airlines, and drug companies. However, they also realize that most of the
likely changes to the system are going to decrease profits rather than increase them,
so they have to walk a fine line, publically endorsing change while privately trying to
sabotage it. It won't be easy.
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