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News from the Votemaster

Democrats Beginning to Seriously Consider Using Reconciliation on Health Bill     Permalink

After months of trying to get a bipartisan deal with the Republicans on health care reform, there is increasing momentum now on using the budget reconciliation process to ram a bill through the Senate using a parliamentary maneuver that cannot be filibustered. Once the House and Senate have passed (different) bills, a conference committee will come up with a single bill or possibly two bills. It is likely that aspects all Democrats agree on will be in a single bill that will follow the normal rules and on which cloture will be invoked. The controversial parts will likely go in a second bill that will be subject to a straight up-or-down vote, with 50 votes (plus Joe Biden) being enough to pass it. In this way, even if some conservative Democrats, such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) vote against it, it will still pass.

While Republicans will be enraged by this tactic, the Democrats are now circulating an unsigned memo explaining how reconciliation works and pointing that it has been used 19 times since the process was established in 1980, most recently six times during the Bush administration. In particular it was used in 2001 and 2003 to pass large tax cuts for the wealthy over Democratic objections. Some of the things Republican senators said then may come back to haunt them now. For example, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said: "Is something wrong with 'majority rules'? I don't think so."

An alternative way to get things done is the way Lyndon Johnson got his health care bill (Medicare) through. He knew exactly how to cajole and pressure every member of Congress. He'd get Billy Graham to call Baptists, Cardinal Cushing to call Catholics, Martin Luther King to call blacks, etc. He'd have a list of everyone's campaign contributors and get them to pressure lawmakers. He'd tell reporters why it was important for their own families. And on the dark side, he knew where all the skeletons were buried and wasn't afraid to remind members that he knew. In short, he could play Congress like a violin, something Obama doesn't know how to do or isn't willing to try. Here is an interesting summary of the LBJ treatment.

An Individual Mandate May Sneak in under the Radar     Permalink

While there has been a lot of talk about the "public option" everyone seems to forget it is just an option. Nobody is forced to choose it. In fact, in most of the bills, only a tiny fraction of the population will even be allowed to choose it (basically people not eligible for employer-sponsored coverage). What is far more important, both for individuals and politically is the individual mandate--a requirement that everyone in the U.S. have an approved health insurance policy. This requirement, which most Democrats agree on, will badly split the Republican party. On one hand, are the libertarians, who object to the government telling them how to spend their hard-earned money. On the other hand, big business, led by the insurance companies, is salivating at the thought of 40 or 50 million new paying customers. The insurance companies are so enthusiastic about this idea that they are willing to drop their objections to offering policies to people with preexisting conditions. Multiply 40 million by several thousand dollars per person per year and you may begin to see why.

The uninsured tend to fall into two categories: people who want insurance but can't afford it and young, healthy people who have made a calculated bet that they won't get seriously ill. The former group is likely to get government subsidies and will be pleased if suddenly they have insurance. To the extent that they vote, they are likely to express their gratitude by voting for the Democrats. The latter group is likely to be at least somewhat annoyed by being forced to buy insurance and may express their grievances by voting against the Democrats. The size of the two groups is thus important, but really isn't known. But this issue could be far more important to voters than the presence or absence of some abstract public option for which most of them aren't eligible anyway.

Court Reject's Paterson's Appointment of Lt. Governor     Permalink

When David Paterson succeeded to the governorship of New York after Eliot Spitzer's resignation following a sex scandal, the lieutenant governorship became vacant. New York law does not provide for any way to fill this post. Normally, that wouldn't matter since the lieutenant governorship is worth less than the vice presidency--and John Nance Garner famously compared that job unfavorably to a container of tepid fluid. However, the one real duty the lieutenant governor has is breaking ties in the state Senate and when that body temporarily had a 31-31 split between fractious Democrats and fractious Republicans, Paterson thought he could solve the problem by appointing Richard Ravitch, a long-time Democratic Mr. Fixit, to the vacancy. A New York state appeals court has now thrown out the appointment, noting that the state constitution does not give the governor the power to fill a vacancy in the state's number 2 position. At the moment the issue is moot since the party switching in Albany has (temporarily) stopped and the Democrats have a 32-30 edge in the state Senate, but for the longer run, the state constitution probably should be amended. If the lieutenant governor's position is worth having in the first place, there should be a way to refill it if it becomes empty. For the time being, this ruling just makes Paterson look inept and will probably lower his approval rating more. The lower it goes, the more likely New York Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, will challenge Paterson in a primary. All the polls say Cuomo would crush Paterson and go on to be elected governor, no matter who the Republicans nominate.

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani is keenly aware of Paterson's vulnerability and is considering a run against him. However, if Cuomo is his opponent instead of Paterson, he may decide to stick to making millions as a security consultant. Cuomo, meanwhile, is playing his cards close to his vest and is saying he has no current plans to run for governor. But with statewide name recognition, he could hold off making an announcement until next year.

Hutchison Starts Campaign for Governor of Texas     Permalink

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has officially started her campaign for governor of Texas by blasting the incumbent, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), pointing out that Texas has the highest property taxes in the country and the most children without health insurance. Most politicians regard being a senator as a "higher" position than being a governor, but when you are in the minority in the Senate and from a large state, being governor may seem more attractive. It is already clear that Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" is currently disabled. The Hutchison-Perry primary is going to be a high profile, big fireworks event.

Republicans May Have a Candidate Against Reid     Permalink

As we have often said here, be careful what you wish for. You might get it. One thing the Republicans have dearly wished for is a Senate candidate in Nevada who could take on the majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who is not very popular in his home state. Now a Las Vegas lawyer and real estate developer, Danny Tarkanian (R), is about to announce his candidacy. Tarkanian ran for the state Senate in 2004 and lost and also for Secretary of State in 2006 and lost. The main thing he has going for him is a famous name. His father, Jerry Tarkanian, was formerly the basketball coach for the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and is very well known throughout the state. A Mason-Dixon poll just released shows Tarkanian beating Reid 49% to 38%.

The downside for the Republicans is that they might just knock off Reid--as they did to then minority leader Tom Daschle in 2004. The problem with that is that Reid's defeat would create a vacuum at the top of the Democratic senatorial caucus and both of the likely contenders, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), currently #2, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), currently #3, would be far more partisan and aggressive than Reid, who is surprisingly mild mannered given that he was formerly an amateur boxer. If the Democrats manage to hang onto 60 seats despite losing Nevada (for example, by winning Missouri, New Hampshire, or Ohio) then a 60-seat caucus headed by the pitbull Schumer would be no fun at all for the Republicans. And even Durbin would be more of a pain than the conciliatory Reid.

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