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News from the Votemaster

Polling Drought Continues Unabated

Maybe it is the hot weather, but polling data has essentially dried up in July. Below is the mean number of nonpartisan general-election polls/week. The number is the total number of presidential plus senate polls divided by the number of days in the month (9 for July) times 7.

poll count

Obama Wants to Keep Bush Tax Cuts Only for Incomes below $250,000

In a move that is 100% political, President Obama announced yesterday that he wants to renew the Bush tax cuts for another year, but only for income under $250,000 a year. For income over this level, the rates would revert to what they were during the Clinton administration, when the top marginal rate was 39.6%. There is zero chance that Congress will act on this proposal before the election.

Everyone knows that if Congress does the one thing it is actually capable of--sitting on its 535 tails and doing nothing at all--then all the Bush tax cuts will expire at pumpkin time on Dec. 31, 2012. With the economy in such dire straits, that would probably send it back into recession. On the other hand, nearly all economists believe there is no way to reduce the deficit by cutting spending alone. There has to be new revenue, and letting at least part of the Bush tax cuts expire would produce a lot of revenue.

So why did Obama make this announcement when he knows full well it has no chance at all in Congress? In a word: politics. Romney and Obama agree that the tax cut should be kept for people making under $250,000. Where they disagree is whether taxes should revert to their 1990s' level for people making more than that. In effect, this announcement forces Romney to fight for lower taxes for the rich, something that poll after poll has shown to be hugely unpopular. It is obviously part of Obama's broader strategy of defining Romney as someone who cares only for the rich. Romney will surely say that higher taxes on the "job creators" will hurt the economy, but Obama's plan has been well poll tested, so it puts Romney on the spot.

It is virtually certain that there will be a lame duck session of Congress after the election to tackle the problem. What happens then depends on the election results. If Obama wins a clear victory, he will argue that the people had a choice between his plan and Romney's and they chose his. That doesn't mean the Republicans in Congress will go for it, but Obama can threaten to let all the tax cuts expire at midnight on Dec. 31 and then try to get a new bill through in January. Alternatively, he could cave to them and extend all the cuts until after the 2014 elections. If Romney wins, the calculus changes. Then the Democrats may say it's either the Obama plan or nothing and if the Republicans refuse, just go home and let Romney deal with the mess. If the Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they can pass new tax cuts using budget reconciliation, but the process takes a while. If the economy tanks in the interim, the Democrats will blame Romney in 2014 and 2016. If the Democrats control at least one chamber, then Romney won't be able to get a new tax cut through on reconciliation, and will have to cut a deal with the Democrats. That won't be easy since they have no incentive to give him an early victory.

Romney Raises $106 million in June

The Romney campaign has announced that it raised $106 million in June, far more than Obama's measly $71 million. The total, $177 million just for June, exceeds the entire amount spent by both parties combined in the entire 1980 election. And these June numbers do not included what superPACs have raised. Nearly all this money is going to be poured into negative television ads in about a dozen swing states. If you live in one of those states, you might as well turn off your TV now since all it will be showing is nasty political ads from now until November. Just hang out on your computer. The Web is more interesting anyway.

While we are on the subject of big money, the Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren pulled in nearly $9 million in June. Her opponent, Scott Brown, hasn't announced his haul yet. This is likely to be the most expensive Senate race in history.

Ron Paul's Last Hurrah

Under the RNC rules, any candidate with a plurality of votes in five states can have his name put in nomination and address the convention for 15 minutes. Ron Paul already has pluralities in Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, and Minnesota. This weekend, the Nebraska state Republican convention will be held and Paul forces are working hard to win it. If they do, Paul will get to speak to the convention and Romney is scared to death of what he might say. Paul is a loose cannon who is leaving politics and might decide to go out with a bang, for example, by endorsing policies that are anathema to Romney (such as abolishing the Federal Reserve). If Romney announces his running mate in July or early August, news-hungry reporters will focus on whatever Paul says as the big story. Low-information voters may have trouble distinguishing Paul's positions from the Republican platform, which could potentially hurt Romney if Paul goes off the deep end. And at this point in his career, he has nothing to lose.

House Ethics Panel Votes to Investigate Shelley Berkley

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Nevada, is going to have to face an ethics investigation over a program she pushed to save a kidney-transplant center in Nevada. Berkley's problem is that her husband is the state's leading kidney-transplant surgeon, so he will directly benefit from saving the program. It is a gray area when a politician does something that helps a local industry in which family members are active. If Berkley had steered money for heart transplants to Nevada, no one would have taken notice, but kidney transplants benefit her directly. Of course, she is going to argue that she understands the kidney transplant situation better than the heart transplant situation so she was naturally active in a field where she knew what she was doing. Equally predictable is that Republicans will say she is corrupt. Ethics investigations are not always fatal, however, as evidenced by Charlie Rangel's definitive victory in his primary, despite ethics problems. The one thing that may save Berkley (and possibly control of the Senate for the Democrats) is a very strong push by Obama in Nevada (especially registering Latinos). His coattails may pull her over the line in this increasingly blue state.

Tension Reported at the Supreme Court

It was reported last week that Chief Justice John Roberts switched sides after initially wanting to strike down the entire ACA. Now it is being reported that the conservatives on the Court are deeply angry with Roberts for this. They feel betrayed. Very little is known about the personal dynamics on the Court, but if this report is true, the five justices nominated by Republican Presidents may not be the tight little band that conservatives expect and liberals fear. If it were, say, Justice Kennedy who was the maverick, the others might try to beat him into submission next year, but nobody can cow the Chief Justice. But maybe the report is not true. Also, a year from now everyone may have calmed down.