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News from the Votemaster            

Murkowski Keeps Committee Post     Permalink

The full Senate Republican caucus defied the wishes of the leadership and did not vote to strip Lisa Murkowski of her seniority and position as ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday as had been expected (and reported here). Nobody is talking about what really happened at the meeting but there are at least three plausible explanations. First, the senators saw the poll in which the Republican nominee in Alaska, Joe Miller, is leading Murkowski anyway, and didn't want to punish her out of fear that the voters would feel sorry for this deliberate and gratuitous insult and vote for her out of sympathy. Second, they might have been worried that since they had already removed the only woman from their leadership, hitting her even harder might not play well with women voters nationwide. Third, Murkowski may have decided to play hardball right back at the caucus and told them that if they carry out their plan, if there is a lame-duck session of the Senate after the election, she will vote with the Democrats on everything. With the Democrats currently holding 59 seats, such a threat carries some weight (although in a few states it is possible that a newly elected senator could be seated immediately after being certified, even before January). One thing is certain though: the decision not to strip her of her post was made 100% based on political calculations.

A consequence, however, is that she can now tell the voters of Alaska that if they elect her she will have a powerful position on a committee that has a major impact on Alaska (due to all its oil) but if they elect Miller, he will be a backbencher with no power to bring home the bacon. She is wasting no time pursuing this strategy and is hitting the airwaves already, explaining to people why she is running. Her fundamental argument is based on the story of the three bears: Miller is too extreme, McAdams is too inexperienced, but she is just right. She has a big warchest and Alaska is a cheap state, so expect a battle here. It's not over yet. Another factor is that Alaska is a very difficult state to poll. Previous polls have been way off.

Republicans Release Pledge to America     Permalink

In an effort to repeat their enormous successes of 1994 which featured the "Contract with America," the Republicans have written a "Pledge to America" saying what they will do if they take power. Some of the key elements are:

  • Stop tax hikes
  • Give small businesses a tax deduction of 20% of their income
  • Require congressional approval for any new regulation that would increase the deficit
  • Repeal small business mandates in the new health-insurance law
  • Repeal the insurance-insurance law
  • Reduce federal spending to pre-2008 levels
  • Require every new law to cite the constitutional authority
  • Give members 3 days to read each bill
  • Provide resources to the troops
  • Fund missible defense
  • Enforce sanctions on Iran

It is an interesting list that sounds nice at first blush but is certainly going to be attacked by the Democrats. It is not clear what "Stop tax hikes" means since no one was proposing them. This might be interpreted as not letting any of the Bush tax cuts expire, which is clearly not the same as a tax hike. The deduction for small businesses is a legitimate policy goal and one many Democrats might support. Requiring congressional approval for new regulations would tie Congress in knots. There are thousands of federal regulations issued every year, many of which affect the deficit. Having a nonfunctional Congress debate each one would bring the government to a halt and would leave many companies in limbo since they wouldn't know how new laws affect them until the regulations are in place.

The fourth and fifth items are in conflict. Either they want to remove the mandates from the health-insurance law or repeal the law. Doing both is not possible. Requiring bills to cite the constitution sounds good but is meaningless as most bills would cite the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. For example, that is the argument for the health-insurance bill. Pretty much all the health-insurance companies operate in multiple states so regulating them could be seen as regulating interstate commerce.

Giving members time to read bills (which they won't do anyway) is certainly a good idea, but could come to bite them if they take over either chamber because like the Democrats, they have also rammed things through in a big hurry sometimes in the past. As to providing resources to the troops, Congress has already provided over $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not clear what this promise means, probably nothing. Funding a missile defense system is certainly a legitimate policy goal although Democrats are sure parade tons of experts who say it could never be made to work, even at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Another question to be raised is likely to be "whose missiles are being protected against?" Russia is the only country with missiles that could strike the U.S. and it hardly seems like a threat these days. A much bigger threat is a terrorist disguised as a tourist bringing in a suitcase full of plutonium and detonating it in a crowded area. A missile defense system won't help much with that. Finally, enforcing sanctions on Iran would indeed be possible. There is one area in which Iran is vulnerable: although it has a lot of oil, it has almost no refining capacity so it has to import all its gasoline. A naval blockade that stopped, and if necessary, sunk all tankers taking gasoline to Iran (as well as blowing up pipelines) would bring the Iranian economy to a screeching halt. It would also start a full-blown war with Iran, possibly with the consequence of Iran attacking Israel and Israel using nuclear weapons on Iran. But this is a feasible policy point if one is willing to accept the consequences.

Also noteworthy are things that the pledge does not discuss (much). There is no mention of term limits for elected officials, a balanced budget amendment to the constitution, or the end of earmarks. Nor does it attack TARP much (because the Democrats would remind people that the unpopular law was signed by George Bush, not Barack Obama). In general, most of the pledge is fairly general, without specific proposals.

Nobody Can Save Harry Reid     Permalink

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is fighting for his political life against tea party favorite Sharron Angle in Nevada. Polls show it to be a very close race but Reid might be saved by a quirk in Nevada law: in addition to listing all the candidates, the Nevada ballot also has an option "None of the above." Reid is running ads depicting Angle as an extremist, which may have the effect of causing people who hate him and would otherwise vote for Angle to choose this option. If he can drain enough votes away from her and get those voters to choose "None" he might squeak through. No other state has this option.

Parts of Health-Insurance Law Kick in Today     Permalink

Some of the more popular provisions of the much-maligned health-insurance law start 6 months after the law was enacted, which is today. For example, starting today, insurance companies will be forbidden by law from excluding sick children from family policies. Lifetime limits on policies are now also illegal. Some forms of preventive medicine, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, must now be covered and without copayments. In addition, parents can carry their adult children up to age 26 on their own policies. All these provisions enjoy great popularity and give the Democrats an opening to explain why the law is a good thing in concrete terms people can understand and relate to.

Today's Polls: AR CA CO DE ID IL NV NY OH PA UT WI CA-03 ID-01 ID-02 NY-24 NY-29 PA-02 PA-03 RI-01 RI-02     Permalink

New Senate Polls

State Democrat D-pct Republican R-pct Ind. I-pct Start End Pollster
Arkansas Blanche Lincoln* 39% John Boozman 53%     Sep 17 Sep 19 IPSOS
California Barbara Boxer* 47% Carly Fiorina 46%     Sep 18 Sep 18 Pulse Opinion Res.
California Barbara Boxer* 49% Carly Fiorina 43%     Sep 19 Sep 21 SurveyUSA
Colorado Michael Bennet* 44% Ken Buck 49%     Sep 17 Sep 21 Opinion Research
Delaware Chris Coons 54% Christine O-Donnell 39%     Sep 18 Sep 18 Pulse Opinion Res.
Delaware Chris Coons 55% Christine O-Donnell 39%     Sep 17 Sep 21 Opinion Research
Idaho Tom Sullivan 17% Mike Crapo* 61%     Sep 13 Sep 15 Mason Dixon
Illinois Alexi Giannoulias 41% Mark Kirk 44%     Sep 21 Sep 21 Rasmussen
Nevada Harry Reid* 45% Sharron Angle 46%     Sep 18 Sep 18 Pulse Opinion Res.
New York Kirsten Gillibrand* 45% Joseph DioGuardi 44%     Sep 20 Sep 21 SurveyUSA
Ohio Lee Fisher 36% Rob Portman 49%     Sep 18 Sep 18 Pulse Opinion Res.
Pennsylvania Joe Sestak 40% Pat Toomey 48%     Sep 18 Sep 18 Pulse Opinion Res.
Pennsylvania Joe Sestak 43% Pat Toomey 50%     Sep 15 Sep 19 Quinnipiac U.
Pennsylvania Joe Sestak 44% Pat Toomey 49%     Sep 17 Sep 21 Opinion Research
Utah Sam Granato 25% Mike Lee 52%     Sep 20 Sep 20 Dan Jones
Wisconsin Russ Feingold* 45% Ron Johnson 51%     Sep 17 Sep 21 Opinion Research

New House Polls

Cong. Distr. Democrat D-pct Republican R-pct I-pct Start End Pollster
CA-03 Ami Bera 38% Dan Lungren* 46%     Sep 18 Sep 19 PPP
ID-01 Walt Minnick* 46% Raul Labrador 36%     Sep 13 Sep 15 Mason Dixon
ID-02 Mike Crawford 23% Mike Simpson* 51%     Sep 13 Sep 15 Mason Dixon
NY-24 Mike Arcuri* 45% Richard Hanna 40%     Sep 13 Sep 15 Siena Coll.
NY-29 Matt Zeller 30% Tom Reed 44%     Sep 14 Sep 16 Siena Coll.
PA-03 Kathy Dahlkemper* 38% Mike Kelly 44%     Sep 14 Sep 19 Franklin+Marshall Coll.
RI-01 David Cicilline 49% John Loughlin 26%     Sep 20 Sep 20 Quest Research
RI-02 Jim Langevin* 54% Mark Zaccaria 20%     Sep 20 Sep 20 Quest Research

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