Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Next Year in Politics

The 2009/2010 Schedule
The 2009 elections are now behind us and there are a mere 359 days until election day 2010. There is a heck of a lot of unfinished business in congress as well as a lot of mid-term primaries and campaigning that will commence shortly.

Let's take a look at the legislative calendar first.

There are 4 major categories of legislation that the congress will need to deal with in the next 359 days:

(1) Fiscal 2010 Appropriations

The status of Fiscal 2010 appropriations is below. The House finished its work on preliminary bills in late July (as it is supposed to.) Many of the bills have been slowly slogging through the Senate, which has been very slow to follow. Of the 17 major departments and categories requiring annual appropriation:
* 6 have been signed into law
* 5 have passed the House and the Senate and await work from a conference committee
* 6 have only had a version passed by the House with the Senate yet to act

The current continuing resolution (the second one passed) allows the 11 departments who are not yet funded to continue operating under Fiscal 2009 policies until December 18th, therefore this is the new "deadline" for congress to act on the remaining pieces of legislation. Of course, congress can always pass another continuing resolution and keep kicking the can down the road.

(2) Cap and Trade
The House has already passed a cap and trade bill, the Senate has been bogged down in various committees trying to construct something that could get 60 votes. There are recent signs of life and compromise on this bill, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) helping to craft a compromise that would bring along moderate members of teh GOP. Clearly whatever clears the Senate will be far more conservative than the bill that passed the House, but the President has some hope of getting something that fulfills this domestic policy priority passed in the next 3 or 4 months.

(3) Universal Health Care
Again, et tu, Harry Reid? The House on Saturday passed its sweeping, trillion-dollar bill. The Senate has no clear path to a 60-vote supermajority, although clearly it is going to require a much more conservative approach than the House. Reverting to a "trigger mechanism" is likely as are other concessions to centrists Lieberman, Snowe and Nelson. If those three get on board with a bill, it will pass. If they oppose it, it will get killed by the a "super minority" of 41+ votes.

(4) Fiscal 2011 Appropriations
In all my writing about Fiscal 2010, I should remind everyone that we are scarcely more than 10 months away from the start of Fiscal 2011 and that the House really needs to start taking up the 2011 bills by June or so. There will be a strong incentive for Democrats to get appropriations passed on time this year, since the incoming congress in 2011 seems highly likely to be more conservative than the outgoing one in 2010.

(5) Other Domestic Policy Priorities
Remember immigration?
How about Gays in the Military?
Entitlement reform? (yeah, right)
If we are going to add any new domestic policy priorities, it has to happen in a narrow window.

So how much time is left to do all of this?
Congress takes a break in November for Thanksgiving, in December and January for Christmas and New Year's, extended breaks in the spring and summer for district work periods and holidays and...let's face it, EVERYONE on both sides of the aisle wants to get home by next August to campaign for re-election.

So the window is fairly narrow.

The House clearly won't be the problem -- both the rules in the House and the nature of the Democratic majority make the House by far the easier of the two bodies to get legislation through. The Senate, as it usually is, will be the bottleneck. Stay tuned to see how things play out.

Election 2010

Don't kid yourself, the 2010 elections are upon us. Let's look first at the Senate.
Since my last update there has not been a ton of polling as pollsters had focused heavily on the 2009 races. Therefore, there are no changes to my projections. As a starting point, there are 39 Democrats, 22 Republicans and 2 Independents who are not up for re-election and will be returning to the Senate in 2011.

In addition, there are 7 Democratic seats that I consider very safe:
Hawaii, Maryland, New York (Schumer), Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin

There are also 6 GOP seats that I consider very safe:
Florida, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah

Add these in and you have 46 Democratic seats, 28 GOP seats and 2 Independent seats that are either guaranteed or highly unlikely to change hands over the course of the next year.

You can see from this the challenge the GOP will face, even in a pro-GOP year. With 48 Democratic or Democratic caucusing (Independents Lieberman and Sanders) seats basically out of play, trying to get to 51 will be very difficult.

The next category, the Likely Holds -- seats where one party is ahead by 10%+ bring further clarity.

They include 4 Democratic seats:
California, Indiana, North Dakota and Massachusetts*
* Special election schedule for January

And 6 GOP seats:
Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Louisiana

Factoring in these seats, we have:
50 Democrats, 34 GOP seats and 2 Independent seats that are likely to return.

Which leaves us with 14 races likely to be hotly contested:
Lean Democratic Hold (2) -- New York (Gillebrand)and Arkansas (Lincoln)
Lean Democratic Pick-up (1) -- Missouri (Bond's vacant seat)
Toss-up (4) -- Illinois (Obama/Burris open seat), Pennsylvania (Specter), New Hampshire (Gregg open seat), Ohio (Voinovich open seat)
Lean GOP Pick-up (4) -- Colorado (Bennett), Delaware (Biden/Kaufmann open seat), Connecticut (Dodd) and Nevada (Reid)
Lean GOP Hold (3) -- Kentucky (Bunning open seat), North Carolina (Burr) and Georgia (Isakson)

So my current projection, if we split the toss-ups evenly, gives us 55 Democrats, 43 Republicans and 2 Independents. If the GOP sweeps the toss-ups, that gets them to 45 seats. In their best-case scenario, where they sweep the toss-ups and take all the leaners (which is tough, but not inconceivable), they get to 48. They don't get to 51 votes (what they would need for the majority, with Vice President Joe Biden holding the tie-breaking vote if it hits 50/50) under any scenario that I can envision. If they were somehow to bust Democratic double-digit leads in the "likely hold" seats for the DEMs, they could get to 52, but that would require beating Evan Bayh in Indiana, Barbara Boxer in California, winning a special election in Massachusetts AND beating Byron Dorgan in North Carolina. Every single one of these events seems highly unlikely.

On the House side, all 435 seats are up, so the outcome has much more potential to shift. Current aggregated generic polling has the Democrats at +3% (although polling continues to vary widely depending on the poll you believe), short of the 7% they were polling going into 2008 or the 10% that they actually took the congressional vote by in 2008. These numbers would imply a GOP pick-up of 15 to 17 seats, short of what they would need to gain a majority by a significant amount, but a good pick-up for a mid-term. These numbers could shift dramatically if President Obama's poll numbers continue to fall.

Ironically, the Blue Dogs that have been pushing for more moderate policies and generally causing the Democratic leadership pain are the ones most at risk. That's the weird thing about the structure of House races -- the moderate seats are the ones that change hands in swing years.

I'll be with you every step of the way, tracking the races. It's going to be a fun year for elections as obviously much more is at stake than in 2009.

Some Side Notes

Based on 2009 election results, where Rasmussen was indeed more accurate than the majority of other polls, I will include their polling at full weight going forward, until empirical evidence suggest that I shouldn't. reports that as of last week, $123.5 billion in spending and $83.8 billion in tax cuts have been paid out as a result of the stimulus or about 26.3% of the bill's total reach. Given that we have lost 7 million jobs since the start of the recession and the total claim of the stimulus bill was to attempt to "save or create" (whatever that means) 3 million jobs, there is some credence to liberals like Thomas Friedman who feel we are drastically under stimulating. But the political reality is that there is no will to do more, at least explicitly. Small scale moves like extending unemployment benefits again (which the President signed into law this week) or small projects embedded into appropriations bills (of which there are plenty) may happen. Perhaps the Cap and Trade bill would be a good time to include a bunch of infrastructure spending to upgrade our electrical grid and build green power? It might accomplish two goals at once...'s latest grading of the President's promise keeping, shows of the 513 promises that it is tracking:
52 have been kept
14 compromised (half-kept)
7 broken
440 to be acted on (in the works, stalled or no action)

So, the President has acted on 14.2% of his promises. Of those he has acted on, he has been true to his work 80.8% of the time. His term is 20% over, so he is obviously behind schedule if he is going to do everything he promised. But his consistency of approach is actually pretty good compared to history.

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