Archive for category Nancy Pelosi

Is the House in Play in 2012?

Last week President Obama predicted that Nancy Pelosi will again be Speaker of the House in 2013; Pelosi today noted that due to excellent candidate recruitment and a large war chest that the Democrats have a shot at taking back the House.

The job is tough.   They need to flip 25 seats.   To be sure, the Republicans took over 60 from the Democrats in 2010, meaning that there are a lot of first term Republicans who could be vulnerable.    Moreover, the dynamics of a Presidential election are different than an off year election.   For one thing, the electorate is different.   Off year election demographics favor the Republicans and 2010 was no exception.

So on its face the bold prediction certainly is both plausible and possible.    Brent Budowsky writing for The Hill explains why Democrats are still in a very strong long term position, noting that in polls Hillary Clinton blows away the GOP opposition.   The people may have doubts about Obama, but it’s not because they’ve embraced the GOP.   There have also been recent signs that the economy may start to pick up steam and that Obama is rising from his approval lows.    At this point Obama is still a slight underdog, but given that he’ll fund raise as much as $1 billion and has the advantages of incumbency, no one should underestimate his capacity to win.

But the House?   The House changed parties in 1994 and then again in 2006.   The scope of the GOP win in 2010 was breathtaking, and the idea that the anti-Democratic wave would reverse itself seems unlikely.   On the other hand, the pundits in December 2008 were writing about the inevitability of a big Democratic victory in 2010, so as I noted a few days ago, the political pendulum may be about to swing again.

Going over to Larry Sabato’s website there are 53 Republican seats “in play,” and 46 held by the Democrats.   15 of those seats are ranked as pure tossups, meaning that if the Democrats won every toss up seat they’d still fall well short of the 25 listed without gaining elsewhere.   Sabato also has three seats leaning to switch from GOP to Democratic, but six from Democratic to Republican.  If it’s a stable year and both sides held the seats currently leaning their way, a split of the toss ups would mean very modest Republican gains.

However 18 current Republican seats are simply leaning GOP and not likely GOP.    For the Democrats that number is ten (or 13 if you add the districts already leaning to switch parties).    To get the 25 seats the Democrats would have to win most of the 15 toss ups, keep their leaners and win a large number of current seats that “lean” GOP.

Or to put it another way, there are 186 safe Republican seats and 150 safe Democratic seats.   If you add the likely wins to each total, it becomes 216 Republicans and 173 Democrats.   That means that if they keep those currently rated likely to remain with the party, the Republicans need to pick up only two of the 46 leaners and toss ups to keep their majority, while the Democrats would have to net 45.   Not easy.

There are a number of scenarios of how the election will play out.

Stable:  If everything plays out that each party wins 80% of their “leaners” and splits the toss ups, the GOP would end up with 239 seats, a net loss of three seats for the Republicans.    That would be a good outcome for them as it would stabilize their majority — the longer a member of Congress serves, the less likely he or she is to fail.

GOP advantage:  If the GOP ends up with an advantage and wins all its leaners, 2/3 of the tossups, and 30% of Democratic leaners they would end up with 248 seats, a pick up of six.   It sounds small, but such a result would be a smashing success for the Republicans after they swept almost all close districts and took many that previously were leaning Democratic.

Democratic advantage:  If the same scenario plays out for the Democrats, they would end up with 201 seats, a net gain of nine seats.    That would be less than half of what they would need to gain the house.

However, that’s the view a year out, meaning that we’re only at the half way point.   Calling football games at half time can be dangerous, so can elections.   If the economy improves and Obama emerges as a front runner, perhaps due to a weak Republican candidate or good economic news, one could see a mini-wave for the Democrats — a shift that would be markedly back in their favor, though not as strong as the political tsunami that swept the Republicans to power in 2010.

If that happens the Democrats could keep all their leaners, win 12 of the 15 toss ups, and take 60% of the GOP leaners.   That would give them 208 —  a pick up of 16, but short of control.   Right now, this seems to be to be the upper reach of what Democrats can hope for in 2012.   They could claim a moral victory, especially if the defeated represents the “tea party” wing of the GOP, but they’d still be a clear minority.

Of course if the wave is larger — if the toss ups ultimately all swing to the Democrats, they pick off a couple Republicans currently ranked likely (that often happens), and win 80% of the GOP leaners, they’d be in a position to retake the House — albeit barely.

The only way that’s going to happen is if starting soon there is consistently better news on the economy.  Voters have short memories.  If the forward outlook on the economy is good in July 2012 the doldrums of fall 2011 will be a distant memory.    With foreign policy successes and the GOP seen by many as too extreme, it is not hard to imagine that kind of scenario creating the possibility of what now appears an improbable Democratic wave.

So is the House in play in 2012?   Technically yes, since it’s too soon to make a definitive call one way or another.  But for Democrats at this point it’s a hope rooted in high expectations for the economy and President Obama’s fortunes improving over the next year.    Even if that improvement happens, it still may not be enough to give Democrats the prize.

For the Republicans, if things remain pretty much as they are today they’ll be sitting pretty.   If the Obama Presidency implodes, they may bolster their majority.   Even if Obama wins re-election and the economy improves, Republicans are still likely to keep a House majority.

The Democrats are in the position of a football team down 24-0 at halftime.   All of us have seen teams come back from that kind of deficit.  It requires a mix of good luck, good execution, brilliant adjustments and often the other side letting down their guard and getting over confident.  The odds are always against such a comeback, and they are against the Democrats now.   But in politics a year is an eternity and anything can happen.

UPDATE:  If the Democrats were to move towards having a big year, the indication would be a change in Sabato’s list of likely, leaning, toss ups, etc.   Print out the list as it stands today and compare it as the year goes on.  If it stays stable, it’s unlikely there will be a major shift.   If there is movement from, say GOP likely to lean, or leaning to toss up, that would be good news for the Democrats.  If the shifts are mostly from dem likely to lean or lean to tossup, that would be good for the Republicans.

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Did the Democrats Cave?

If look at the left side of the blogosphere, word of an agreement between the White House and Republican leaders was met with despair and anger.   Rather than stand up to the Republicans the President gave in again, sacrificing Democratic principles of protecting the elderly and poor, while getting no tax increase at all.   It was a ‘cuts only’ approach, the same thing that he spoke out against just last week.    If this were a game of chicken, they say, the President swerved first — and before he had to.

However, a few things stand out in listening to the President announce the deal.  First, he said leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress have approved the deal.  I assume this means that Nancy Pelosi, who has been the most adamant in not wanting the President to give in too much, must have signed on.   Moreover, the $1 trillion of cuts agreed upon over the next 10 years is something both parties agreed to early on in the process.    Everything else is uncertain.

Apparently a bipartisan commission will meet to recommend how to cut the deficit further, and report to Congress in November.   Congress will vote up or down on their proposals or have to face automatic cuts that would be very painful for both liberals and conservatives.   Speaker Boehner can’t demand revenue increases be removed, Senator McConnell can’t threaten a filibuster, and the only person who could stymie this would be President Obama, should he choose to veto the legislation.

I certainly can understand objections to this.  From the right, of course, this makes the possibility of tax increases extremely likely, something they’ve vowed to oppose.  It also suggests that spending cuts will not simply be on programs they hate, but might include favorites of the right, particularly the Pentagon.

The left has more serious objections.   First, many believe this will stifle the already limp recovery, not only dooming President Obama’s re-election, but harming the economy.   Some evn want a “stimulus II,” believing budget cuts are the wrong thing at this time.  Others point out (as I have) that the wealthiest Americans have been virtually the only ones who have benefited from the boom times of the last 30 years.   Cutting domestic spending to the “lowest level since Eisenhower was President” while taxes rates tax the rich at much lower levels than during Eisenhower’s tenure could be termed the worst of both worlds.   More money should be spent to help the poor and middle class, provide college education to students, help out states in trouble, and assure our elderly have quality lives, paid for by relatively large increases in marginal tax rates.   Finally, others note that due to the loss of productive capacity over the last thirty years of economic mismanagement, real investments in infrastructure and productivity need to be made.   You have to spend money to make money, and the only real cure to our debt is a growing economy, not just cuts.

I am sympathetic to all these arguments.  However, reality bites.   Our government debt to GDP ratio is nearing 100%.   Our total debt as a country (public and private) is about $60 trillion (about 400% of GDP), with almost $15 trillion foreign held.    Because of the hyper-consumerism of the last thirty years, particularly the last decade, we’ve created an unsustainable economy that ultimately went from bubble to bubble deluded by the ‘wealth illusion’ before things collapsed in 2008.  These are real problems requiring rapid and even radical solutions.

If President Obama had refused to make a deal, maybe the GOP would have surrendered.   Given the radicalism of especially many in the House, that’s unlikely.   More likely is that either the US would have defaulted, catapulting us to a global depression, or the President would have invoked the 14th amendment, leading to political turmoil.   That would have included impeachment, mutual anger, and no common ground at a time of immense danger to our prosperity and way of life.   Perhaps the President could have come out on top; but mutual fighting would have insured a long term partisan divide.   Either way, it was a gamble.

With this deal, the President has claimed the middle ground.   It’s clear that he gave a lot to get a deal.  The left may hate it, but I suspect independents, scared by recent tea party hyperbole, may respect it.   The US has proven that its political system is not collapsing and it’s likely we’ll keep our AAA rating.   Moreover, a big debate is set up to begin the next election campaign.   When the recommendations come out in November, members of both parties will have to take a stand, choosing between two options which neither will like.  Demagoguery will be difficult to maintain.

Here is where I simply differ with many of my friends on the left.  I do not think our debt to GDP ratio can be raised, and in fact am convinced that for the long term health of the country we need to work to start lowering it immediately.   Given the partisanship and sometimes radicalism in our political discourse, a bipartisan body of respected experts seems to me the best path towards making tough choices.    The sooner we can make those choices, the sooner we’ll re-create economic stability and shift towards a sustainable path forward.

I also think that the experience of getting here has lessons for us.   The right was wrong to embrace deregulation and radical tax cuts (let alone the Iraq war!).   Without the Bush tax cuts we’d be in much better shape.   However, government programs embraced by the left have often been dysfunctional.  Class mobility remains low in the US.   We haven’t spent wisely to create real opportunity.  Finally, with the information revolution, there are ways to envision cheaper ways of making money go farther by allowing localities more power in determining what is needed and how to implement it, rather than centralized bureaucracies in Washington creating standard operating procedures which can add red tape and cost.

This might also spur the left to engage in grass roots campaigns to reinvigorate the labor movement; relying on the government isn’t enough.   Both parties betrayed workers over the last 30 years, labor unions have to become grass roots movements again.

In short, this forces the country to start a path of renewal and revitalization.   It makes clear that while neither party has truly won, the future needs to be shaped with a different vision than the past.   Tax cuts and de-regulation were a too good to be true solution.   But government programs and regulation also didn’t solve our problems.

I do not think the Democrats caved.  I believe President Obama has put the Democrats in a fine position for the 2012 national debate on these issues.   The wildly fluctuating results of the last two elections have created a break from business as usual.   We’re starting to address the severe problems facing this country created by 30 years of bi-partisan economic mismanagement and a culture driven by consumerism and superficiality.  Transitions are never easy and usually require a break in old ways of thinking.   The optimist in me believes that’s starting to happen.

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Too Early to Predict 2012

At this point in 2007 a few things were virtually certain about the 2008 Presidential race.  First, we knew who the Democratic candidate would be.   Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee, a front runner so far ahead in money, endorsements,  “super delegates” and polling support that as long as she didn’t collapse in scandal the race in the Democratic party was to see who might be the Vice Presidential nominee.   Barack Obama was a possibility, though he lacked experience.

John McCain, after appearing to be a darling of the media in the past, had faded.  His support for immigration reform was a nail in his coffin in terms of getting GOP support, and he was all but written off.   Mitt Romney, Rudy Guilliani and Fred Thompson were getting more buzz.

Of course, McCain ultimately cruised to the GOP nomination despite active opposition from talk radio jocks and the right wing of the party.   Hillary Clinton was shocked by upstart Barack Obama, and the two fought a long, sometimes bitter and for political junkies extremely entertaining battle for the Democratic nomination.

In June 2007 most people assumed the Iraq war would be a major issue in 2008.   And while some people were warning that the sub prime debacle and housing bubble could portend a major recession, most thought that the economic slow down might be over by late 2008 and wouldn’t be a major factor.

Well, the world changed tremendously between June 2007 and November 2008!

Right now President Obama looks reasonably strong against a relatively weak Republican field, yet vulnerable due to economic woes.   His success in ordering the assassination of Osama Bin Laden exist alongside an unpopular intervention in Libya and on going conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By mid 2012, things could be much different.   First, a Republican nominee could emerge that captures the attention and support of independent voters.   Jon Huntsman seems the most plausible choice to fill that role, but if you look way back to June 1979, the Carter White House thought Ronald Reagan would be the weakest candidate they could face, and if you told George Bush in June 1991, still enjoying high post-Desert Storm ratings, that Bill Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, he’d have known his re-election was assured.     The idea that the GOP field is weak is pure speculation, in hindsight it may appear strong.

On the other hand, the economy could bounce back.   Oil prices are dropping, which means gas prices will fall and that will stimulate the economy.   Uncertainty over the debt ceiling and other issues may be slowing the economy, and once resolved, late 2011 could see some good economic news.   If that’s the case, the dark fears of a double dip recession may give way to “Morning in America II,” as Obama cruises on good economic news to victory.   Romney reminds me of Mondale in some ways.

If the economy does slip into double dip recession, Obama’s chances start to decline dramatically, as few Presidents have ever governed during four years of recession and kept their jobs.  You have to go back to Roosevelt for that.   To be sure, Obama didn’t cause this recession, and it’s a stretch to say he’s done anything to prevent recovery.   We’re suffering 30 years of imbalances that can’t be cured over night, or perhaps even over four years.   But that’s a case that will be difficult if not impossible for Obama to make in 2012.   If the economy isn’t looking better, he’s likely to suffer the same fate as Bush the Elder and Jimmy Carter.   The assassination of Bin Laden will be as helpful to him as Desert Storm was for Bush.

I’d be shocked if Gadaffi is still holding out in Libya by the end of this year.   If Libya appears a success — the rebels overthrow Gadaffi and are reasonably successful at creating a government that is neither extremist nor anti-western, what now is a liability for Obama may become an asset.   If the withdrawals from Iraq and  Afghanistan continue with no major setbacks, Obama’s foreign policy could well be a strong point, perhaps enough to keep him competitive even if the economy remains sluggish.

Of course, setbacks in Iraq or Afghanistan, a shocking reversal of fortune in Libya, or crises in Iran and Pakistan could create problems.   The Mideast is unpredictable.   Another terror attack could help or hurt Obama, depending on what it is and how it gets handled.   Instability is a liability for a sitting President.

It does seem unlikely that Obama will face a serious challenge in the primaries.  Still, depending on the economy and foreign policy, even that could change.   Simply, it’s too early to have a real clue on how the election will go.   Obama’s campaign team is proven, can raise money and get out the vote.   That will probably be enough to make it a competitive election, but in and of itself not enough to win.

So at this point predictions are predictable.  Republican leaning pundits will write columns predicting Obama’s demise and try to paint him as the return of Jimmy Carter.   Many will believe it, others are trying to shape the discourse.   Democrats will do the reverse, mock the Republican field and make it sound as if Obama has a relatively easy course ahead.   I suspect fewer of them believe it, until the economy picks up Democrats are worried about the election.

In Congress there is similar uncertainty.   Democrats won the special election in New York that had appeared safe for the GOP, thanks to public reaction to GOP plans to cut medicare.   This is the kind of seat Democrats would have to win a few of to get back the 24 seats necessary to bring Nancy Pelosi back into the office of Speaker of the House.   That is possible — 24 seats aren’t that much, and given the turn out dynamics in a Presidential election, a number of districts are almost certain to shift back to the Democrats.

On the other hand, the Senate could swing to the Republicans if bad economic news persists in 2012 – the Democrats will be defending 23 Senate seats, while the Republicans will only be trying to hold on to 10.   Senators don’t go down to defeat often, but the Republicans need only pick up four to get the majority, and that’s the same number of Democratic incumbents who have so far announced their retirement.

A victory for Obama with the Democrats holding the Senate and bouncing back to retake the House?
A victory for a Republican with the Republicans holding the House and taking the Senate?

Both are in my opinion equally plausible.  Statistically the latter is more likely than the former because 24 seats in the House is tough.   But there is so much uncertainty at this point that anyone making confident predictions is either faking it or a bit deluded.     It’s simply too early to have much of a sense of what 2012 will bring.

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Pelosi Power

Last January as it was becoming clear that Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat was likely going to be taken by the Republicans, with opposition to health care reform being a primary reason, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama were ready to scale back their health care plans in order to work with the Republicans.   Politico reported that Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel was a proponent of going incrementally, and it was only the stiff resistance of Nancy Pelosi that got the President to switch course.  Pelosi ridiculed Emmanuel’s “kiddie care” and pushed Obama to go for an historic major overhaul.

This says a lot about Pelosi’s power — and her leadership.   Assuming the Democrats can hold on to a majority for awhile, she could become an historic leader not just for being the first woman Speaker of the House, but also being one of the most powerful and effective.   She realized that going for the incremental approach would be a defeat to what she and others thought the election of Barack Obama was all about.   She understood that off year elections mean loses for the party of the President, and that the Republicans were gaining a tail wind.  If the President, after getting bills passed by the Senate and House, simply gave up, the Republicans would have a victory, and the President would look weak and ineffective.

Moreover, Pelosi knew she could get this done.   She knew it was risky.  She knew she could fail.   She knew it needed President Obama to be engaged, active, and willing to put his Presidency on the line just as she would put her prestige as Speaker on the line.    Sure, if they failed they would regroup and try to limit the damage, but no one doubted the damage would be severe — which is why Emmanuel and Reid were hesitant to move forward.

President Obama, after a year of sinking polls and criticism for not being engaged enough in pushing health care reform, took the gamble.   By all accounts the President doesn’t gamble much — he is a consensus maker and a pragmatist.   He truly wanted to get a bi-partisan approach, and was surprised by the inside the beltway backbiting that is Washington DC.   To be sure, part of it was learning from history.   President and Hillary Clinton took control of the health care reform process in 1993-94, essentially giving Congress something they had not constructed themselves.

Having it be a true Congressional process made sense — to a point.   The Senate and House did pass a bill, and if not for the untimely death of Senator Kennedy, they probably could have made it happen without having to go through so many procedural hoops.   But the pace reflected the President’s lack of focus, and thus it drifted into 2010, creating an opening for the Republicans, united in opposition to reform, to defeat the effort.  If not for Pelosi, they would have succeeded.

President Obama, once he engaged, showed true leadership skills himself.  He talked to everyone, negotiated between the various interest groups, and did what was necessary to create a coalition to pass the bill.   That included an executive order against federal funding of abortion for Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, a move that certainly does not reflect Obama’s personal beliefs.   He canceled his trip to Asia, gave a heartfelt speech to the House Democrats, and used his charm — and power — to convince many Representatives to vote yes.    This includes many who were determined to vote no, and some who will likely lose in November because of the vote.   He showed that he has the leadership skill to have a real transformational Presidency.

The Republicans in the end seemed shocked that Pelosi and Obama could pull this off.   The bitterness and hyperbole in the speeches before the vote seemed not only over the top, but spoke only to the most ideological Americans.    Most people don’t see this as creeping communism or giving up the essence of what America is all about.   That kind of talk is red meat for their base, but not going to convince anyone in the center.  Finally, the idea that because polls show the public against the bill the House somehow should vote no ignores the meaning of Representative democracy.  You elect Representatives not to vote the whim of the majority, but you elect people you trust to render judgment on issues so complex and unclear that you need to focus on it.   Someone making their opinion while watching a few minutes of TV or hearing it talked about on talk radio is fundamentally uninformed.   That’s why we have representative rather than direct democracy.

The bitterness of the Republicans reflect the fact that they thought they won last January.   Health care was to be Obama’s “Waterloo,” and after the Senate Democrats lost their 60th vote in the Massachusetts special elections, it appeared Obama as damaged goods.   No longer the “superstar,” his  approval ratings were dropping, his supporters on the left demoralized, and the likelihood that he could accomplish anything significant decreased.   This was their game plan, this was why they had to defeat health care.    It was close, but they did it — even the talk coming from the Democrats suggested they were backing down.

Pelosi made sure they didn’t.  Pelosi pushed the President to undertake the effort, and lead a momentous charge to win the votes necessary to pass the bill.   She used power, charm, and intellect to do so.   Agree or disagree with the bill that got passed, no one can doubt the fact that Nancy Pelosi is not just the first woman Speaker of the House, but one of the most effective.   This bill would not have been passed if not for Nancy Pelosi — she made history.

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