Sunday, October 18, 2009

Governor's Race Spotlight, Appropriations Malaise Continues, Countdown to a Healthcare Deadline

Down to the Wire in New Jersey and Virginia
We are 16 days from the elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, two races that because of their off-year nature (these are the only two states that elect their governors in odd-numbered years) always receive a disproportionate amount of attention.

So let's check out where we stand;
In, New Jersey, we now have an extremely close race.

I'll break down the numbers a few different ways.

The most commonly used average in political circles is the "RealClearPolitics" or RCP, an average generated by the site which uses a pure average of recent polling data. I personally think there are potential issues with this average as there are vast differences in the polling sample of different polls and therefore their accuracy. In the New Jersey race for instance, there is a current New York Times Poll that sampled 475 voters and a Quinnipiac poll that sampled 1,264 voters. Clearly, in my mind, the Quinnipiac poll should be given more weight because they talked to more people. So my methodology has always been to combine the poll results into one "megapoll" by aggregating the responses. The effect of this is that the Quinnipiac poll has 2.66 times the weight in this example. If the poll numbers are all similar, this is an academic point, but if the poll numbers vary widely, this becomes an important distinction.

The second set of numbers I'm going to look at are with and without polling results from the firm Rasmussen Reports. My practice has always been to look at polling results from all non-partisan polling firms (I exclude results from partisan-affiliated firms such as Strategic Vision for the Republicans and PPP for the Democrats as they inherently run the risk of polling bias). Rasmussen Reports has been a respected, independent polling firm. Their results in the 2008 election were in line with those of other polls as well as relatively close to the final results. However, it is difficult to ignore that their methodology has deviated significantly this year from that of other polling firms. Their Presidential Approval polls have been regularly showing a 10 to 20% gap versus all other Presidential Approval polls. To me, this calls into question the sampling methodology that they are using. Now, we don't have emperical results to validate this -- it is possible that Rasmussen has it right and everyone else has it wrong, but we won't know, at least until we get some election results. So, for completeness, I'm looking at numbers with and without the Rasmussen results.

Finally, we'll look at the numbers both way based on the "median" poll. This theory is to throw out high and low outlier polls until we get to the poll that is "in the center" of the numbers. If there are two polls, in the center, we will take a pure average of the two, as is typical in median calculations.

Averaging all three of these methodologies is how we did the Presidential prediction model last year, which had some pretty darn good results.

So, based on all of this, NJ stands as follows:
All Non-Partisan Polls Without Rasmussen
Weighted Average Christie +1.1% Christie +0.2%
Pure Average (RCP) Christie +0.8% Corzine +0.3%
Median of Polls Christie +1.0% Christie +1.0%
Average of Averages Christie +1.0% Christie +0.3%

So, with or without the Rasmussen polls, any way you slice and dice the data, this one is extremely close. Christie holds a tiny lead over Corzine, but Corzine has been closing fast with a huge spending blitz, and as we've discussed before, New Jersey tends to tilt blue at the very end. This one rates a Toss-Up going into the final 16 days.

As a reminder, I endorse Independent Chris Daggett in this race. His current polling shows as following:
All Non-Partisan Polls Without Rasmussen
Weighted Average 13.6% 15.0%
Pure Average (RCP) 13.6% 15.0%
Median of Polls 14.0% 14.0%
Average of Averages 13.7% 14.3%

Okay, so Daggett is extremely unlikely to win. 14% is a pretty respectable showing against two well-funded, establishment candidates.

In Virginia,

Utilizing the same methodology:
All Non-Partisan Polls Without Rasmussen
Weighted Average McDonnell +8.7% McDonnell +9.3%
Pure Average (RCP) McDonnell +8.8% McDonnell +9.3%
Median of Polls McDonnell +8.5% McDonnell +9.0%
Average of Averages McDonnell +8.7% McDonnell +9.2%

Note that in this case, the Rasmussen Reports poll actually helps Democrat Craigh Deeds.

Any way you cut it, this is a Likely GOP Pick-up.

As a side note, I'd like to endorse moderate Democrat and likely loser Craigh Deeds for the post. Deeds is a reasonable guy who will pursue the same type of centrist policies that the Virginia Democratic Party of Mark Warner, Tim Kahne and Douglas Wilder has long been known for. Regrettably, it does not appear that he will get the change.

I'll keep up with regular updates as the races progress over the next couple of weeks.

Why Is This So Hard and Who Is to Blame?
Job number one of Congress is to pass a budget for the federal government each year. Why else do we have a Congress but to determine the size and spending priorities for the executive branch?

So why can't we seem to get this done in anything resembling an on time fashion?

Okay, I admit that this is better than last year, when the Democratic Congress and President Bush couldn't find any common ground and kicked the can down the road for 6 months until finally passing a pork-laden omnibus spending bill that President Obama signed. But we have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. Nobody is even hinting that Obama is picking any fights or threatening any vetos. So why are we almost three weeks into Fiscal 2010 (which started in October) and we still don't have most of a budget?

The chart below shows the current status of all the major appropriations bills:
As you can see, the only bill to actually become law so far has been the legisilative branch appropriations bill, which also contained a continuing resolution, which kept the government open by extending Fiscal 2009 spending policies for one month (through October 31st.) Beyond that, two bills have been passed by congress and are expected to be signed by the President shortly. Still, massive chunks of the federal budget remain an unknown.

So who is to blame? Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership. As you can see from the chart above, the House of Representatives (where all the bills have to start out, per the constitution) passed every major appropriations bill by the end of July. This left all of August and September for the Senate to pass its versions, the conference committees to get together and iron out the differences and both houses to pass the conference report.

The Senate simply didn't get the job done. There are STILL 8 major cabinet departments for which the Senate has not passed a version of appropriations. At this pace, we are sure to have another continuing resolution for some departments while the Senate continues to work at a snails pace.

How sad and incompetent. Can you imagine running a household budget without knowing what your paycheck is going to be? That's what we are asking of the cabinet secretaries at the moment. Think about how many poor decisions, large and small are probably being made as a result of this.

Health Care Looms Large
The wide consensus in Washington is that for health care legislation to happen during this congress, it would need to pass this year, as the session in 2010 will undoubtedly be difficult to navigate with mid-term congressional elections looming large.

Congress has a "targeted adjournment" date of October 30th, meaning that they were originially shooting for October 30th to be the last day that the chambers met for the year. Clearly, this isn't going to happen, as there is a ton of unfinished business to deal with this year. However, even using December 31st as the marker of the end of this year's congress, there isn't much time left to pass a health care bill.

There are 74 days left in the year, during which congress would have to:
(1) Pass health care bills through both the House and the Senate
(2) Iron out differences in a conference committee
(3) Pass the conference report in both houses
(4) Pass all the remaining budgetary items (a ton as you can see from above)

This is to say nothing of dealing with Cap and Trade, which has passed the House, but still must be dealt with in the Senate and a conference report passed, if something is to happen this year.

Recall, that President Obama articulated three goals for this year:
(1) Legislation to stabilize the economy
(2) Universal healthcare
(3) Environmental reform including cap and trade

#1 was accomplished early, at least as the administration defined it (we have and will again debate how effective the stimulus has been), with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law on February 17th.

#2 and #3 both seem very elusive. The odds of getting Cap and Trade done this year seem like they are less than 25% and health care still seems a 50/50 shot at best.

The trouble for the Obama Administration is that if the can gets kicked down the road, not only will it be tough to do something in 2010, it will get even harder in 2011 and 2012, where, if my projections hold, he will face a congress that, while still a Democratic majority in both houses, is to the right of the existing congress.

Tall hills to climb. Time for some leadership, Mr. President.

Stimulus Update
To date, $288.5 billion of the stimulus funds have been authorized (57.8%) and $116.0 billion spent (23.2%). The tax cuts, which took effect in May, will automatically roll through December, 2010.

The adminsitration's figures show a ton of jobs "saved or created" by the bill -- almost 16 million. All of this is pretty fuzzy math and I would pay it much credence.

The real measure of the effectiveness of this bill, which was as much an investment and reshaping of the US economy as it was a stimulus bill, will be in the economic growth rates over the next 3 years. We will need time to assess whether the bill worked or not.

President Obama's Promises
Today is day 272 of the Obama Administration. He is 18.6% of the way through his elected term as President.

So how is he coming against the long list of promises he made?

According to the tracking at, President Obama had 505 documented promises during the campaign.

Of those 505, he has kept 47 of them, partially kept 12 of them and broken 7 of them. This means that about 13% of his promises have been acted on in some way and giving him half a point for the partially kept promises, a full point for kept promises and no points for broken promises, of the ones he has acted on he is doing what he said 80% of the time.

Not bad. But those were the easy promises. The hard ones are still in the unacted column. And, with almost 19% of his term gone and only 13% of his promises acted on, he is falling significantly behind schedule if he is going to do everything he said in his term.

Of course, you could look at those promises as 8 years worth of promises rather than 4. But that would be rather presumptuous. We are a long way from understanding the dynamics of the 2012 elections yet.

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