Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Tale of Two Governor's Races, Health Care Finance Comittee Vote Tuesday, Budgeting Rolls On, Don't Call It a Stimulus!, Tracking Site Visits

The Only Legal Left Turn in New Jersey, Right Turns on Red Allowed in Virginia Those who live or visit my home state of New Jersey know full well the odd road design that persists throughout the state. In many places, left turns are simply not allowed on New Jersey roads. In their place, New Jersey has designed a series of "jug-handles", right lane off-ramps that loops around to take traffic to the left.

While left turns are not legal on the roads in my state, they are all the norm in statewide races over the course of the past 20 years. The cycle goes thusly: New Jersians get mad every cycle about high property taxes, government corruption and runaway spending. They flirt with Republican candidates who surge out to double digit leads in early polls. The media swarms around how "blue" New Jersey may elect a right-winger to a major statewide office. Slowly as the election approaches, the Democrat runs a series of ads portraying the Republican as an enemy of education, a token of the social right and an incapable leader. Everyone is suddenly shocked as the polls tighten to break even. Then, on election night, the Democrat wins by a solid margin.

Is the cycle repeating? You betcha.

New polling in the New Jersey Governors race? My average: Christie +1.7%. RCP average: Christie +1.8%. Both the closest the race has been all year.

A Corzine win in November? I sure wouldn't bet against it.

Virginia, by contrast, was one of the first states to legalize right turns on red. And right turns in politics are the norm, although the state has certainly had a purplish hue of late, with wins by Barack Obama, Mark Warner, Tim Kahne and Jim Webb as proof of a new, sudden, Democratic dominance.

It is not to be this year. The latest in the Governor's race there? My average: McDonnell +9.6%. RCP Average: McDonnell +8.5%.

Put this one in the bank for the GOP. Deeds is toast, barring a major, late-breaking scandal.

The Baucus Bill -- It Saves Money and Will Get a Vote on Tuesday Maybe Max Baucus is crazy like a fox. After being scorned by the left for dropping a public option and shunned by the right, who universally turned their back on Baucus' compromise Health Care proposal, it may ultimately be proven that he has successfully threaded the needle to navigate a health care bill out of committee.

The CBO analysis of the amended Baucus bill gave it two major talking points: it's new expenditures are well below the $900 billion over 10 years that President Obama had set as a target in his address to the nation. And, perhaps more importantly, the CBO projects that the Baucus bill will REDUCE the deficit by $80 billion over that time period while covering 94% of Americans.

Now will these points cause Republicans en masse to endorse the bill? Absolutely not. There are 1, maybe 2 Republicans in the Senate that appear "gettable", our favorite moderate Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. But it does give cover for the 58 Democrats and 2 Independents to support the bill with less fear of reprecussion about runaway spending.

Now, this debate is obviously still far from over. Assuming the bill survives the committee vote (I predict it will pass with all Democrats voting "aye" and Sen. Snowe joining but no other Republicans), it will have to be "melded" with the other bills coming out of the various Senate comittees and then brought to the floor where it will be ammended, attacked and fillibustered. But make no mistake about it, this is a big step towards getting a bill through the Senate.

No word on when a bill will make it to the House floor, although Speaker Pelosi still says "soon", whatever that means.

Still Working Through a Budget
The Senate and to a lesser extent the House and the conference committees continue to slowly make progress on appropriations. The latest bill to move completely through the congress, the Agriculture bill, passed in a slightly less partisan fashion (although still not particularly bi-partisan) than the first bill, the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

The meat of the spend (Defense, DOD/DOE Construction, etc.) are still moving through the process. I'd be hopeful that congress gets done by the time the first continuing resolution expires October 31st, but given the pace so far, I'm not counting on it.
A Stealth Stimulus?
The Obama Administration is walking a tightrope on the stimulus. On the one hand, the White House is feeling the heat of needing to show more progress on job creation. On the other hand, proposing a second stimulus would be tantamount to admitting that the first stimulus was either a failure or insufficient, something the President has been unwilling to do.

So what is the White House doing? Quietly proposing small "stimulating" activities -- continuing to extend unemployment benefits, extended the first-time home buyer credit. This kind of small ball stimulus is a play straight out of the Clinton playbook -- do small, managable initiatives that you can tout the success of if conditions improve and are small enough not to draw public outrage if they fail. It is, frankly, a very un-Obama strategy, as the President has thus far shown a preference for the big, bold and splashy. But it might be a wise move until unemployment starts dropping.

Extending unemployment has hit a snag, however, as Senators from states with higher unemployment rates argue with Senators from states with lower unemployment rates. The key issue is whether all unemployment benefits should be extended for a shorter period of time or benefits in states with high rates be extended for a shorter period of time. Obviously which state you are in drives your opinion there.

I've received a number of e-mails on my relative lack of coverage of the debate within the White House around the strategy in Afghanistan. I HAVE written previously about the choices facing President Obama and the need to commit, one way or another, to a clear strategy of either "all-in" or "all-out". I don't really have a lot more to say on the topic until the President reaches decision, which I will critique in full. Two options, Mr. President, you need to choose one.

Who's Reading This?
1,581 people since February, according to the tracking. I initiated tracking of site visitors in late January, which was largely just as the political season was slowing down, post-innauguration. From there, the number of visitors held relatively constant from February-May, spiked up in June when I did some advertising on (still one of the best political sites on the web) and has slowly declined since then, to a low of 140 visitors in September.
So is the readership drying up for this site? Not really. It's the political slow season, I haven't advertised, and as you can see from the green line, a lot of the decline has been driven by my posting less as I have been busy with the business of life and traveling a lot.

For those of you who read frequently, thanks for reading. And let people know about us. There is never a charge and I try very hard to bring you analysis that you won't find anywhere else on the web, at any price. From innovative poll-aggregation techniques (which I believe are provably more accurate than sites like realclearpolitics) to tracking of the budgeting process (which is scarcely mentioned on many political sites) to commentary, I think people will like what they find here, regardless of their political stripes.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

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