Sunday, August 9, 2009

Does the GOP Renaissance Begin in 2009? Cash for Clunkers: A Program That Works, Time to Compromise on Health Care

The Road to GOP Recovery Runs Through the I-95 Corridor
As many political observers (including myself) have noted, if the GOP is going to make a lasting comeback from its current status as a severe minority, that comeback will need to start at the state level. I've never been as fatalistic on the state of the GOP as some have. Some believe that the GOP has become a permanent minority, a regional party with no pull outside of the South. This is a very short-term view of the world. This is the party that was talking about a permanent MAJORITY less than a decade ago. Political ebbs and flows are natural. But being a party with no representation in New England, marginalized in the Northeast and losing steam in the moderate south (read Virginia, North Carolina and Florida) is not a good place to be. And the state level is where the GOP can rebuild its candidate field.

The Democratic takeover of congress was partly a backlash against the Bush administration. But it was also because Democrats had some fantastically good candidates -- Jim Webb in Virginia, Kay Hagan in North Carolina and so forth. Locally developed candidates with compelling stories who understood local politics. Likewise, the GOP needs to shed the weight of Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich and grow some new leaders that will inspire independents. And this work can begin in 2009.

There are only two elections of significance in 2009 -- the Virginia and New Jersey Governor's races. In Virginia, the GOP has a chance to retake a swing state that has been turning from red to purple to blue in the past few years. The Democrats control every office worth having at this point and President Obama won the state reasonably handily in 2008. A GOP win would quell the Democratic momentum in Virginia and provide a launching pad for future national candidates. New Jersey, on the other hand, would be a real prize. My (current) home state is a true blue state and no GOPer has won major statewide office (Senator or Governor) since moderate Republican Christie Todd Whitman was Governor in the 1990s.

And the news is good for the GOP so far in both cases:
In Virginia -- McDonnell leads Deeds by 8 to 15%, depending on which poll you prefer.
In New Jersey -- Christie leads incumbent Corzine by 8 to 14%, again depending on the poll.

While it is still relatively early and few people are strongly engaged in the election yet, these are massive margins. They are bigger than any margin that Barack Obama held throughout the 2008 cycle over John McCain. The New Jersey one is especially significant given the huge margin Democrats have in party registration in that state (Virginia does not register by party, but is obviously much more of a swing state.)

The betting public is betting against the Dems too. Corzine has dropped to a 2:1 dog in Intrade betting. The Virginia betting is actually marginally closer, with McDonnell just better than a 3:2 favorite. The early polls would indicate that theses betting odds may even be a little generous to the Dems.

I remain undecided in the 2009 New Jersey race. I, like many in New Jersey am extremely frustrated with the lack of leadership in cutting through the wasteful and bloated bueracracy in New Jersey, the continued corruption in contracting and the tax burden, currently the highest combined in the nation. A state with such a strong tax base should not have these problems and Gov. Corzine has done a poor job addressing them. Chris Christie, on the other hand, presents downright caveman-era views on social issues, opposing the legal status of basically all abortions and opposing gay rights. I'm also not yet inspired that he is the guy who can actually get the fixes above done -- although Corzine has been given a chance and clearly isn't that guy. I'll be watching the campaign, but I'm definitely deeply conflicted on this race.

Cash for Clunkers Renewed -- Best Piece of Stimulus Yet
Ford is reporting profits again, unemployment has dropped slightly as automakers are rehired and dealers are reporting shortages of small, gas-efficient cars as buyers storm dealerships to trade in old vehicles for newer, more efficient vehicles, thanks to a $4,500 federal tax credit. The economy is stimulated, the environment is helped and people get new cars. What's not to love?

Apparently, a lot, to the GOP. The program will be extended with another $2 billion in funding (initial funding had been wiped out by massive demand), but without much GOP help. The Senate passed the extension by a 60-37 vote with only 6 GOP votes for and 3 Dems opposing. The House vote was more bipartisan with a 316-109 (with 2 voting "Present") vote, including 77 Republicans. Overall, the bill gets a partisanship index of .65 (fairly bipartisan).

The GOP compaints centered around the price tag and meddling in the free markets. But weren't these the same Republicans that complained (with some legitimacy) that elements of the stimulus bill were not stimulative enough? Does the GOP want real stimulus or just no stimulus at all? Cash for clunkers is working and working well. I'm glad the program will get to continue.

Health Care: Why the Democrats Must Give Ground
Health care has been at an standstill. Both houses of congress missed the President's deadline to pass a bill before the August recess. Blue Dog Democrats are still worried. Senate GOP members threaten a fillibuster. The Democrats face a crucial choice -- stick to your guns on funding a so-called "public option" or compromise to get a bill passed. If the Democrats stick to their guns, even if they get the votes in the House, they will undoubtedly have to use budget reconciliation to dodge a GOP fillibuster in the Senate.

Democrats have to ask themselves -- holding strong majorities in both houses of congress, do they really want to use parlimentary procedure to ramrod through a bill with zero GOP support and conservative Democrats in opposition? I think they would be wrong to do so. Ducking the checks on power in the Senate is a dangerous game and the tone in Washington is turning very ugly, strongly in opposition to the President's promise of post-partisanship in Washington.

To get a bipartisan bill, Democrats need to give up the public option. Take the GOP idea to let people buy into the federal government health insurance program instead. The critical aims of the program are still the same. They will blunt GOP criticism and might pick up a few votes along the way.

Site Update
This site finished July with 216 visitors, marking 6 consecutive months that the site has had 200 or more visitors since I started tracking this in late January. After a spike in June due to an ad that I placed on, traffic basically returned to its previous level. I'm actually very satisified with this, given that there were relatively few posts in July because of my travel. As of this writing, August has had 45 visitors so far in the first 8 days of the month.
February -- 235 Visitors
March -- 257 Visitors
April -- 221 Visitors
May -- 210 Visitors
June -- 366 Visitors
July -- 216 Visitors

Next up -- a look at the state of the appropriation bills in congress.

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