Two Graphs That Could Save the Democrats in 2014
Democracy Corps, the blue-tinged polling outfit that conducts semiannual surveys of how the party's doing, is out with its final 2013 findings. It's a balm for scared Democrats, or at least it's written that way; its authors assume that the negative vibes of the health care law rollout will "fade," and that Republicans will blow every opportunity to rebound. (The poll was conducted before the party punted on the 2013–2014 budget agreement.)
The whole survey is at the link, but these graphs are the ones most likely to make a Democrat think, "Ahhh, much better."
That, I suppose, is what Democrats are supposed to argue for 11 months. Keep them in power and they will nod their heads sorrowfully about what is wrong with the law, and delay or fix the worst bits—not like those other guys, who'll blow it up. One problem with this is that the swing districts monitored by Democracy Corps are significantly bluer than the states where the Democrats need to hold Senate seats—West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska. (They're about as blue/purple as North Carolina.)
Democrats Suddenly Remember That They Need to Win Elections in the States
The Secretary of State Project was born in 2006, after two elections lost by Democrats in superficially similar circumstances. In 2000, Democrats really believed that they'd won the popular vote in Florida but that a series of executive decisions—one by elected Secretary of State and Bush campaign co-chair Katherine Harris—had taken the win away.* In 2004, Democrats didn't get as close to the presidency, but they would have won had they taken Ohio. Alas, the secretary of state there was Ken Blackwell, a rising Republican star—oh, and Bush campaign co-chair—who made a series of decisions that did nothing to alleviate voter confusion or long lines.
So a group of well-connected Democrats huddled. They approached wealthy donors who had just blown fat stacks of fiat money on an unsuccessful and too-late 527 (America Coming Together) built to elect John Kerry. The Democrats' pitch: With less money, they could elevate progressives to wins in secretary of state races, and give the party the advantage in the sort of coin-toss decisions that come in close elections, about how long to leave polls open or how to count flawed ballots.
It worked. Democrats took over the election chiefs' offices in Minnesota, Ohio, Colorado, and other swing states. In 2008 Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie made game-day decisions that allowed more voter registration forms to be processed and more spoiled ballots to be counted in a recount.
And then 2010 happened. Brunner ran a mystifyingly bad Senate campaign, raising less money than the average candidate for state Senate, and the SoS office went back to the Republicans. Ritchie barely held on, and conservatives from the party base all the way up to the Wall Street Journal edit board state matter-of-factly that he's an election thief. Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa fell to the Republicans. The Secretary of State Project responded by ... falling apart.
Now Aaron Blake reports that Democrats have remembered, oh yeah, electing chiefs of voting systems in the various states might actually be important.
SoS (Secretary of State) for Democracy... is the brainchild of longtime Democratic strategist Steve Rosenthal and former AFSCME political director Larry Scanlon... The PAC will focus its efforts on five or six key secretary of state races in 2014 -- potentially in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona -- in an effort to regain some ground lost to Republicans in recent years.
The PAC will do both independent expenditures -- paid media -- and assemble a team of consultants in each state that is chosen.
The lesson of 2010, that ceding off-year races can lock a party out of power for a decade, is beginning to sink in.
*Theresa LePore, creator of the butterfly ballot, was arguably more responsible for the Gore loss.
John Boehner Goes to War
There is a decidedly Punch-and-Judy feel to the current Boehner-vs.-Tea Party argument. Reporters learned yesterday that asking Boehner what he made of "outside groups" would bring him to a quick boil. So today, at his scheduled Thursday presser, reporters prodded Boehner again.
The speaker was even more biting over budget disagreements, saying that the groups are "misleading their followers, they're pushing our members in places where they don't want to be, and frankly I think they've lost all credibility."
"It just comes to a point where some people step over the line," the speaker said. "When you criticize something and you have no idea what you're criticizing, it undermines your credibility."
Cue: FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity and everyone else with an office condemning Boehner for this calumny. Cue the Club for Growth issuing a "key vote" alert, which means any Republican who backs the deal negotiated by Paul Ryan will see a drop in his overall score. Everybody gets to build his/her email list; everybody wins.
The only question is whether Boehner is running a wonderful distraction or whether this really does represent a move to make the Professional Right less relevant. The reason Paul Ryan had to flog this deal, and Boehner couldn't, was that the right stopped respecting Boehner years ago. In the summer of 2011, in December 2012, when he tried to save his party some face and pass big spending bills without Democratic votes, a rump of his members refused to get him across the 217-vote line. Over time this emboldened more members, who philosophically agreed with the easily lampooned right-wingers, and Boehner was denied dozens of Republican votes on his measures.
Ryan's role, this week, was to tell the base that Boehner was right. You wanted to achieve real conservative change? You should have won the 2012 election. If even Heritage Action President Michael Needham was saying that Obamacare was the law until Barack Obama left the White House, then the right had no actual strategy for forcing its legislation through a divided Congress.
Conservative members of the conference are taking this dispute seriously. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, whom the leadership considers a bomb-throwing fool, told reporters yesterday that the party was erring in not trying to pass more conservative alternatives in the House. "Why don't we PASS our alternative to Obamacare?" he asked.
UPDATE: We have a Vine, which you can click on if you want audio.
Senate Republicans Shame Democrats Over Filibuster by ... Doing What Democrats Had Wanted Them to Do
Roll Call reports on the methods Republicans are using to make life at least a little bit difficult for Democrats who want to confirm nominees. They're making the Senate stay up all night to do it! Quelle horreur!
Nine additional nominations are already pending in the queue... under the series of motions that Reid filed Monday evening. That doesn’t include the nomination of Janet L. Yellen to become chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.
“Republicans are not facing reality. They’re not,” Reid said. “We’re eating up days of time” plodding through debate on nominees.
Of course, the Republican resistance to yielding back time is an outgrowth of the Democratic majority’s move to change Senate precedent on nominations using the “nuclear option” so that only a majority of senators are now required to break a filibuster.
Staying up all night? Why, that's ... sort of what filibuster reformers wanted to see when they started talking about breaking down cloture. The first big idea pushed by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley was the "talking filibuster," whose name says it all—it would have required senators who believed strongly in, say, tanking a D.C. Circuit nomination to take the floor and explain why until their bladders gave way. Long Senate nights aren't a bug. They're a feature. The argument was that blocking a nominee should be at least a little bit time-consuming and irritating.
Why Rubio Was Right to Denounce the Budget Deal He Hasn't Read
Aaron Blake and Jeff Simon have the latest on Paul Ryan's pitch to Republicans, selling his budget deal. In this round, he joins John Boehner in side-eyeing the people who said his deal was a disaster before they even read it.
Ryan reacted in an animated fashion when asked about Rubio saying the deal would make it harder for people to achieve the American dream. Ryan looked off-camera briefly and then suggested that Rubio should "read the bill."
"Read the bill and get back to me," Ryan said. "People are going to do what they need to do. Look, in the minority you don't have the burden of governing."
Ryan then said of Rubio's move: "I thought it was a little strange. It is what it is."
And Ryan was late to the party: Jon Stewart, our country's poet laureate of political smarm,* derided Rubio's statement that the budget deal was "bad for America." His audience howled with laughter. Was there anything these Republicans wouldn't say?
Well, maybe not, but this wasn't a particularly ridiculous criticism for Rubio to make. He condemned the deal shortly after the details of it (but not the entire text) were released. Those details confirmed that it would make no sacrifices on taxes or long-term entitlement spending, the sort of choices that S&P asked Congress to make when it issued the 2011 debt downgrade. If your goal from 2011 on was to force a Democratic president to start cutting into entitlements, you knew immediately that this wasn't the deal you wanted.
Side note: Because the Beltway press can't see a leaf flutter off a tree without asking how it will affect the next presidential election, Ryan's brokering role here is inspiring some "did Ryan hurt himself in 2016?" columns. The existence of Chris Christie as a popular, centrist-looking figure with ties to major GOP donors is more harmful to Ryan than any political choices the budget chairman could possibly make. Still: No, the Tea Party (or whoever) won't be angry at Ryan because the budget didn't touch the benefits that older voters paid into for years. Pete Peterson has billions of dollars to pay consultants to "message" for him. He does not have a vote in the Iowa caucuses.
*Just in the monologues, which have become seven-minute festivals of Stewart mugging and making fun of cable news.
How You (Yes, You) Won the Budget Wars
My latest piece, reported on the Hill this week, explains how Congress decided that punting on everything budget-related was a virtue; that there was no point in another showdown with high stakes meant to force a "grand bargain." It's largely the story of the deficit shrinking, Democrats denying Republicans any shot at entitlement reform, and Republicans—who would never admit this—realizing they needed to stop looking like the antagonists who were ready to inflict massive casualties to force through spending cuts. It is a massive victory for Democrats, who took Social Security and Medicare cuts out of the conversation after two years of "Washington" insisting that they needed to happen.
And it's also the funeral of Fix the Debt. No one's taking selfies at this bash. Fix the Debt, the iconic "just use this current panic to cut entitlements" pressure group, spent at least $43 million to influence the conversation. Its reward: bupkis. Shortly after the budget deal's parameters were known, Fix the Debt issued one of its standard five-paragraph press statements full of repetitive rhetoric.
To be clear, this deal falls well short of what is needed to deal with the nation’s fiscal challenges. It will have only a marginal impact on the debt and it does not tackle the difficult choices we will have to make. It does not address the growth of entitlement spending, provide for tax reform, or help target government spending away from consumption towards more productive investments. It does not even put in place any further steps to help deal with these challenges in a timely manner.
Four more grafs of that. If liberals want to thank anyone for the stasis that killed debt mania, they should thank the conservatives who held out on a 2011 bargain and the consultant class that did basically nothing with all the money provided by debt-hawk business interests.
Even Grover Norquist Is Basically OK With This Budget Deal
My colleague Matt Yglesias writes, in the spirits of both good faith and trolling, that Republicans may be fooling themselves when they say the budget deal isn't a tax-raiser.
It’s a good deal—it’ll improve the economy moderately and it achieves the GOP’s goal of reducing spending. But if it makes sense for Republicans to do a deal that raises “fees” in exchange for spending cuts, then on what planet does it not make sense to do a deal that raises taxes in exchange for spending cuts? Who exactly are they trying to fool here? Their donors? Rush Limbaugh? Backbenchers? Writers of bogus trend pieces?
Themselves! Ryan has repeatedly said that this deal protected the Republican "principle" of not raising taxes. Republicans I talked to today were generally convinced, and not willing to contradict that. Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform put out an analysis of the bill that carped about the TSA fees, and suggested maybe Republicans get around to scrapping them some day, but did not consider the package a tax-raiser. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, hounded by reporters after the morning GOP meeting, insisted that the new fees were merely "service charges," not taxes, and that in the case of the TSA, the airline industry had wanted them.
If everyone in a party agrees that a fee is not a tax, is a fee not a tax? For the purposes of passing this bill, no, it is not.
Stories of the Conservative Purge
We can trace John Boehner's loss of his conservative wing to the end of 2012. The "fiscal cliff" was looming. (Cliffs can loom, right?) Boehner wanted his Republicans to pass their own relief package without Republican votes. Just enough Republicans opposed this to scuttle the deal; power moved over to the Senate. And throughout 2013, when deadlines rushed up, Boehner's Republicans were utterly unable to pass a fiscal plan without Democratic votes.
The rather unexciting embrace of the budget conference's package really might be reversing the dynamic. On fiscal policy, at least, Boehner's Republicans are trying to cobble together a majority of the majority. They're ignoring the conservatives; they're trying to win as many of them as possible, but the success of the bill depends on Democratic support. "This bill wasn't written for us," groused South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney today. The conservative wing of the party has clammed up, with no official condemnation of the plan even from the Republican Study Committee.
And today, in the RSC:
Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise has fired the group's longtime executive director, Paul Teller, multiple sources told National Journal.
The reason for the dismissal, according to sources familiar with the situation, is that Teller allegedly shared sensitive conversations between RSC members with outside advocacy groups, some of whom hold policy positions counter to the RSC.
Allegedly, hell! It was nearly two and a half years ago that Teller was caught strategizing with outside conservative groups that were then demanding total purity from the GOP conference. At that time many Republicans called on the RSC to sack Teller. He survived; new RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, in late 2012, promised to keep him on. That he's out now is a clear signal from the leadership to the conservatives: Stop playing games with the wolves outside. You want to vote "no," you count on it being a stunt vote that doesn't imperil passage.
Not that this would help you, endangered Republican. Here's how the Senate Conservatives Fund responded when Mitch McConnell confirmed he'd vote down the budget deal.
Mitch McConnell will oppose a budget that raises spending by $63 billion but won't oppose one that raises debt limit and funds Obamacare?— Senate Conservatives (@SCF) December 11, 2013
Can't catch a break.
Republicans Not Yet Calling for the Head of Paul Ryan
Every conservative pressure group with an acronym worth repeating is against the budget deal. Like I wrote below, the lack of impact this is having on Republicans is impressive—even those who stand with Heritage Action don't want to say their votes are being influenced by it. Personality matters more than scorecards, and the fact that Paul Ryan is behind half this deal is winning over conservatives—more than enough to pass the thing.
"The only reason I'm undecided is my complete respect for Paul Ryan," said Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis. She was inclined to oppose the deal, as it traded away plenty of her state's land-rights priorities. But she wanted to believe in Ryan.
When prodded by reporters, who wondered whether Ryan had lost "conservatives" with this deal, several House Republicans pushed back. "Would we rather spend money on the military than pay dead people?" asked South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who planned to oppose the deal. "Yes. Paul won't suffer for that. I worry that Paul is being overly optimistic about how the Senate will act going forward."
"I'm a lean-no on the plan," said Maryland Rep. Andy Harris. "But Mr. Ryan, as chairman of the Budget Committee, has done, I think, the best job he could do, given the liberal makeup of the Senate."
John Boehner Has Had It up to Here With These Outside Groups
The overall tone at the House GOP's conference, and in the halls, was of resignation and spin. Republicans were being asked to trust Paul Ryan and agree to a deal that would not cut entitlements, while blowing past the sequestration spending cap. Reporters at the TV camera/mic stands weren't often asking about sequestration caps. The story was about how Paul Ryan had brokered a deal and got the GOP back to reality.
That was the tone, anyway, until CNN asked Boehner to respond to the conservative groups that had pre-condemned the deal.
It so happened that eight conservative members of the caucus appeared at an 11 a.m. panel, on the Hill, put on by the Heritage Foundation. These congressmen did not agree with Boehner.
"I would ask anybody who is attacking these outside groups," snarked Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, "is this: What are they saying yesterday about this deal that is false today?"