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“The Sky Is Falling!”: The Coming Return Of “Dems In Disarray!”

Be warned: “Dems In Disarray” is on its way back. That phrase is familiar to you if you’re a reader of the political press, because it has appeared in headlines so often it became a cliché long ago. The bitter joke among professional liberals is that political reporters are so predisposed to write about Democratic infighting that it will be applied to anything; if two Democratic members of Congress go to lunch and one orders a hamburger while the other gets a chicken sandwich, the reporter at the next table will start writing his “Dems In Disarray!” story.

Or at least that was the case for as long as anyone could remember, until Republican intra-party conflicts became so intense that they dominated everyone’s attention. And for the last few years, Democrats have been uncharacteristically unified, in both their policy goals and their tactics. But with likely losses in the upcoming midterm elections, followed by the winding down of the Obama presidency, we’re going to be hearing more and more about internal Democratic disagreement.

The stories are just starting to trickle in now. Here’s Politico, writing about how state and local Democratic officials are “going rogue” and taking on the Obama administration over policy. There are the endless stories about the Democrats wishing the President would play less golf, and the stories about Democrats who wish he would invite them along. As we get closer to November, we’ll probably be seeing more and more about Dem candidates “distancing” themselves from Obama, doing what’s best for themselves instead of what’s (supposedly) best for their party.

It isn’t that there’s something inaccurate about these stories in and of themselves. But if there is a change afoot, it has less to do with any sudden increase in Democratic disagreement than it does with some completely predictable political factors.

The first is the midterm election. Democrats could do almost everything right from here to November and still have a terrible night on November 4th. Redistricting and a more efficient distribution of voters have left Republicans with a built-in advantage in the House, so that they can hold on to a comfortable majority even if more people vote for Democrats for Congress, as happened in 2012. In the Senate, Democrats are defending more seats than Republicans this year, many of which are in conservative states. The Democrats running in those states would have to distance themselves from any Democratic president, but particularly one who’s so hated by conservative voters.

Then there’s the fact that the Obama presidency is approaching its final two years. At such a time, every ambitious Democrat is going to look for ways to forge a unique identity and elevate their profile. That means both more disagreement with the White House, and more competition for attention between Democrats, even those who aren’t running for president.

So there may in fact be less Democratic unity than we’ve seen in recent years. At the same time, it’ll be easy to make too much of the supposed disarray. At the moment it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much of a contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, a truly remarkable fact. While there are some policy differences within the party, you don’t see organized factions squaring off against each other in any meaningful way. There may be a “fight for the soul of the GOP” going on, but Democrats aren’t doing much soul-fighting.

And while there is some simmering displeasure with the President over issues like government surveillance and immigration, his approval among Democrats actually remains fairly high. His current approval among Democrats — around 80 percent — is where he’s been for significant portions of his presidency. That approval was in the 90s in the initial honeymoon period, then stayed around 80 percent for most of 2010 and 2011, then rose back up in the election year of 2012 as partisan loyalties became more salient, then settled back again. As a point of comparison, George W. Bush’s approval among Republicans fell as low as 55 percent in the final months of his presidency.

So when you see those “Dems In Disarray” headlines, not just this year but in the waning days of the Obama presidency, keep in mind that unless there’s a dramatic change, there won’t actually be anywhere near the level of “disarray” that these accounts suggest.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 25, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Media, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare, Beyond The Label”: The Politics Of Obamacare Are Upside-Down

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam-dunk issue for the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.”

So how’s that Obamacare thing working out for the GOP?

The most significant bit of election news over the last week was the decision of Senator Mark Pryor, the embattled Arkansas Democrat, to run an ad touting his vote for the health care law as a positive for the people of his increasingly Republican state.

Pryor’s ad is so soft and personal that it’s almost apolitical. After his dad, the popular former senator David Pryor, tells of his son’s bout with cancer, he notes that “Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.” The picture has widened to show Mark Pryor sitting next to his father. “No one should be fighting an insurance company while you’re fighting for your life,” he says. “That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Who knew a law that critics claim is so dreadful could provide such powerful reassurance to Americans who are ill?

Democrats have never fully recovered from the Obama administration’s lousy sales job for (and botched rollout of) what is, legitimately, its proudest domestic achievement. That’s one reason Pryor doesn’t use the word “Obamacare” in describing what he voted for. Another is that in many of the states with contested Senate races this year, most definitely including Arkansas, President Obama himself is so unpopular that if you attached his name to Social Security, one of the most popular programs in American history would probably drop 20 points in the polls.

So, as the liberal bloggers Greg Sargent, Brian Beutler and Steve Benen have all noted, Republicans would much prefer to run against the law’s name and brand than the law itself. They also really want to avoid being pressed for specifics as to what “repealing Obamacare” would mean in practice.

As one Democratic pollster told me, his focus groups showed that when voters outside the Republican base are given details about what the law does and how it works, “people come around and say, ‘That’s not so bad, what’s everybody excited about?’”

This consultant says of Democrats who voted for the law: “You’re going to be stuck with all the bad about this but not benefit from any of the good unless you advertise” what the Affordable Care Act does. This is what Pryor has decided to do.

In fact, according to Gallup, Arkansas is the No. 1 state in the country when it comes to reducing the proportion of its uninsured since the main provisions of the ACA took effect. The drop was from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in 2014. The No. 2 state is Kentucky, where the uninsured rate fell from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent. What they have in common are Democratic governors, Mike Beebe in Arkansas and Steve Beshear in Kentucky, committed to using Obamacare — especially, albeit in different ways, its Medicaid expansion — to help their citizens who lack coverage. Beshear has been passionate in selling his state’s version of Obamacare, which is called kynect.

Kentucky also happens to be the site of another of this year’s key Senate races. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is giving Republican leader Mitch McConnell what looks to be the toughest re-election challenge of his 30-year Senate career.

The Bluegrass State is particularly instructive on the importance of labeling and branding. A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month found that the Affordable Care Act had a net negative approval rating, 34 percent to 51 percent. But kynect was rated positively, 34 percent to 27 percent. Grimes and the Democrats need to confront McConnell forcefully on the issue he has tried to fudge: A flat repeal of Obamacare would mean taking insurance away from the more than 521,000 Kentuckians who, as of last Friday, had secured coverage through kynect. How would that sit with the state’s voters?

Election results, like scripture, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. You can bet that foes of expanding health insurance coverage will try to interpret every Republican victory as a defeat for Obamacare. But as Mark Pryor knows, the president’s unpopularity in certain parts of the country doesn’t mean that voters want to throw his greatest accomplishment overboard — even if they’d be happy to rename it.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mark Pryor, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McConnell’s Genius Pitch”: Vote GOP, Get Another Shutdown

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is often hailed as one of Washington’s most tactically cunning politicians, and for the most part it’s true. But McConnell does have a serious political flaw: His tendency to actually tell the truth about those tactics.

Senator McConnell did it again in an interview with Politico, published on Wednesday. Previewing a Republican-controlled Senate, McConnell made it clear that he plans to escalate congressional confrontation with the president, potentially leading to another government shutdown:

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell said in an interview aboard his campaign bus traveling through Western Kentucky coal country. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

When asked if this strategy could force a government shutdown, McConnell “said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.”

“He could,” McConnell later said of the probability that President Obama would veto must-pass appropriation bills that are loaded with riders to undo policies that the White House supports. “Yeah, he could.”

It’s difficult to overstate what a horrible idea this is. Although some Republicans may not have noticed it, the last government shutdown was a debacle. The GOP’s hopeless effort to blackmail President Obama into defunding the Affordable Care Act failed miserably, wasting $24 billion and dragging Republicans’ poll numbers into the sewer along the way.

The poll numbers haven’t really recovered, but the combination of President Obama’s own political struggles and a very favorable electoral map still have them set up to make gains in 2014. In fact, Republicans have a good chance of winning the Senate. But promising to ramp up the brinksmanship that caused the last shutdown gives Democrats their best argument for why voters should deny Republicans full control of Congress.

Democrats recognize this, of course; numerous party leaders have already turned McConnell’s remarks against him, and they are certain to resurface in Democratic campaign pitches from now until November. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat giving McConnell the fight of his career in Kentucky’s Senate race, surely appreciates the minority leader’s Kinsley gaffe most of all.

If Republicans do manage to win the majority and follow through on McConnell’s threat, it would virtually guarantee that they don’t hold control for long. The 2016 Senate map is as favorable to Democrats as this year’s is to the GOP. It will be difficult enough for Republicans to hold on to seats in blue states like Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; if they spend the next two years threatening vital services for the sole purpose of making a hopeless ideological stand, it will be nearly impossible.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The 2014 Midterms Do Matter”: McConnell Eyes More Shutdowns Following GOP Gains

It’s tempting to think the 2014 midterms may not matter much. Assuming Republicans keep their House majority, which seems very likely, the legislative process in 2015 and 2016 will probably look an awful lot like the legislative process since 2011 – congressional inaction. GOP lawmakers will continue to reject compromises and negotiations no matter who controls the upper chamber.

As this line of thought goes, the part that enjoys the Senate majority will have the power to watch the other party filibuster, and little more.

But there’s a flaw in these assumptions: if rewarded by voters with their first Senate majority in a decade, Republicans don’t intend to use their new-found congressional power to just spin their wheels. Manu Raju reports today that GOP leaders have a very different kind of plan in mind.

Mitch McConnell has a game plan to confront President Barack Obama with a stark choice next year: Accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or risk a government shutdown.

In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.

In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.

McConnell told Politico, “We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That’s something [President Obama] won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

There’s no reason to think this is campaign-season bluster. McConnell is more than comfortable making demonstrably false claims about public policy and his partisan rivals, but when it comes to process and legislative strategy, the Kentucky Republican is one of Capitol Hill’s most candid officials.

The result, however, is a curious pitch: just 76 days before this year’s midterm elections, the Senate’s top GOP leader wants the voting public to know that a vote for Republicans is a vote for government shutdowns.

Indeed, McConnell isn’t even being subtle about it. If his party is rewarded by voters in the fall, GOP senators, working with a Republican House majority, will add measures to spending bills that undo the progress of the last several years. If the White House refuses to go along, Republicans will simply shut down the government – yes, again – until the president gives the new GOP majority what it wants.

In other words, the 2014 midterms do matter. As ridiculous as Congress has become of late, McConnell has mapped out a deliberate strategy to make things considerably worse. The question isn’t whether he’ll follow through on his threats; the question is whether voters will empower him to do so.

Update: I should add that McConnell’s strategy is an interesting departure from four years ago, when GOP leaders suggested that they’d still govern if Republicans took the House majority. At the time, some pundits even believed them. Now, however, McConnell isn’t even bothering with the pretense.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Government Shut Down, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant”: In 2014, You Can Still Buy A Senate Seat

Leaving aside for the moment the debate over whether or not individuals, corporations or nonprofits should be able to give an unlimited amount of money to a political candidates, shouldn’t we at least know who they are and when they do it?

Our federal representatives are so controlled by the money they receive that they have not been able to pass legislation requiring simple disclosure of contributions from outside groups.

So, as is the case with many other issues these days, the states are stepping in when the federal government demonstrates no capability to lead. Which is pretty much all the time, on every issue.

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a reasonable disclosure law requiring all groups making independent expenditures—that is, money for campaign ads and the like—to disclose their donors within seven days, or within 24 hours if it is 10 days or less before an election. Additionally, the top five donors of more than $5,000 must be listed in advertisements.

Let’s take a look at the kind of problem the lack of any federal action encourages.

Recently, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, David Perdue, came from behind and won a tightly contested runoff against a former congressman, Jack Kingston. And it turns out he did so with the help of more than $2 million in advertising attacking his opponent that came from a couple of political organizations based in Ohio, one of which was formed in 2011 with the express purpose of “promoting a stronger economic climate in Ohio.”

Would it surprise you to learn there is a loophole in federal disclosure requirements? Technically, a political action committee is supposed to disclose its donors. But tax-exempt “social welfare” nonprofits do not. And, guess what? Nearly all the money that was dumped into the PACs that funded the George Senate race came from two nonprofits.

So we now have a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia whose margin of victory was absolutely supplied by, um, we have no idea.

For all we know, Perdue may be a terrific guy and a potentially great U.S. senator. But it sure doesn’t instill faith in our system, or encourage voters to participate, when unknown special interests from outside a state can swoop in and affect the outcome of an election.

And believe me, this is not just happening in Georgia. It’s happening in most high-profile political races, with the rare exception of those where the candidates have engaged in agreements to ban outside funding, or are considering pledges to disclose all “dark money” funding.

So, as the Georgia race just proved, you really can buy a U.S. Senate seat. And, while buying a Senate seat may be constitutionally protected thanks to the Citizens United decision, there are no similar protections for doing so anonymously.

So thank you, Massachusetts, for invoking in action the words of the former Supreme Court Justice Luis D. Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”


By: Mort McKinnon, The Daily Beast, August 11, 2014



August 13, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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