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News from the Votemaster

Senate Finance Committee Set to Vote on Health Bill Tuesday     Permalink

Now that the Congressional Budget Office has said that the health-care bill written by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) will not add to the federal deficit, in fact, will cut it by $81 billion over 10 years, the committee has set Tuesday for the vote. The bill is expected to pass the committee, with all Republicans except possibly Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) opposing it and all Democrats except possibly Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) supporting it.

At that point the sausage making starts. The bill does not have a public option but the bill that has already passed the HELP committee does. Majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will have to decide whether to put the public option in the final Senate bill or not. Either way, he will displease some Democrats.

A potential compromise being pushed by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) would set up some kind of public option but let states opt out if they wanted to. This plan passes the gigabuck to the state legislatures, which gives conservative Democrats some political cover. Some small red states might consider opting out initially as a political statement, but when their citizens discovered that their insurance rates were higher than those of other states that had a public option, they might pressure the legislature not to opt out or if they already did so to opt back in. The idea is that it makes it a bit hard for a senator from, say, Kansas to state that it is not enough to avoid inflicting a public option on the people of Kansas but he wants to protect the people of Colorado from this monster as well. Such a position might be a tough sell, however, if the senators from Colorado thought the public option was a dandy idea.

Also, the reason the Baucus bill cuts the deficit is that it taxes insurance companies that offer gold-plated health plans. Over 150 members of the House have signed a letter saying they won't vote for a bill with this provision, so Reid may have to jettison it. But then he has to find the lost revenue somewhere else. One of the House bills generates revenue by raising income tax rates for the rich, but many senators don't like that. Another idea that has been floated is taxing insurance companies since they are getting 50 million new customers, many of whom are getting government subsidies to pay the premiums. All in all, there are many plans floating around for raising the needed revenue and every plan has drawn violent opposition from the people being taxed. This is why health care reform has been so hard to do for decades.

Once Reid has merged the two bills, it will go to the Senate floor for amendments and a vote. The Republicans are going to filibuster it to death unless the 58 Democrats and 2 independents stick together and invoke cloture. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to merge the three bills passed by different House committees. After the Senate and House have passed (different) bills, then the real sausage making happens, in the conference committee. A lot rides on who is appointed to the conference committee.

Republicans Split in NY-23 Special Election     Permalink

The appointment of former representative John McHugh (R) of NY-23 as Secretary of the Army left an open seat in the House that will be filled by a special election on Nov. 3. New York state law does not call for primaries for such special elections. Instead, the party chairmen of the counties in the congressional district select the nominee. The Democrats selected attorney Bill Owens without much controversy. He has never before run for public office, but the Democrats clearly had the March 2009 NY-20 race to fill the seat of Kirsten Gillibrand (who was appointed to Hillary Clinton's seat) in mind. In that race, newbie Democrat Scott Murphy narrowly defeated an experienced Republican politician, Jim Tedisco.

With the Republicans in NY-23, the situation was completely different. There was a battle for the nomination behind closed doors and the winner was state assemblywoman Deirdre "Dede" Scozzafava. The county chairman were clearly aware that the district is R+1 and was won by Barack Obama in 2008 with 52% of the vote. For such an evenly split district, they wanted someone who was acceptable to independents and Democrats and Scozzafava fit the bill. She is a moderate Republican and is both pro-choice and supports gay marriage, giving her a decent chance to hold the seat.

The problem is that her selection, and the NRCC's support of her has exposed a rift between professional Republican politicians and movement conservatives. The pros want somebody with (R) after his or her name who can win. Ideology is secondary. The movement conservatives want a fire-breathing conservative and if he or she puts up a good fight and loses, so be it. As a consequence, many conservative groups are backing Doug Hoffman, who is on the ballot on the Conservative Party line. There is a danger that Hoffman will siphon off enough Republican votes to elect Owens. Conservatives don't really mind this. They see it as: "this will teach the Republican county chairmen an important lesson: if they nominate moderates they will lose." Such an attitude is not limited to the right of course (see: Nader, Ralph). The most recent poll puts Scozzafava at 35%, Owens at 28%, and Hoffman at 16%, but the big money hasn't started to flow in yet. Since this is the only seriously contested congressional election this November, pundits will be picking it over for months. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

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