Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Last Call For Harry's Big Exit

As you're probably aware, Senate minority leader Harry Reid is hanging up his boxing gloves this year as Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto battle it out over his Nevada seat.  Right now it's looking pretty good for Cortez Masto who has taken a slim lead for the first time in state polling, indeed Cook Political Report's latest Senate forecast has the Democrats picking up five to seven seats and regaining control of the Senate.

Early voting is underway in 27 states, so Republicans don’t really have much time to turn things around, and Trump won’t be any help, especially his campaign doesn’t really have a ground game to speak of. The GOP’s only hope is to start running a checks-and-balances message, or more blatantly, a don’t-give-Clinton-a-blank-check message to motivate their base, particularly what one strategist called “casual Republicans,” to the polls. We are starting to see that message in some red and purple states as candidates work to tie Democratic candidate to Clinton.

History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them. Since 1998, no party has won less than 67 percent of the seats in Toss Up. While the 2016 election has broken every political science rule and trend, we’d be surprised if this becomes one of them.

As such, we are increasing the range of expected Democratic pick ups to five to seven seats. This means that we feel that the prospect that Democrats will have at least 51 seats is greater than the odds of a tied Senate, or of Republicans somehow holding their majority.

So in a future Clinton administration with the Democrats poised to have 51 to 53 Senate seats, that still means that Republicans can go back to filibustering everything like they did in 2012 and blame the Dems to great effect in 2014 and win the Senate right back in two years. And this time around, it would mean an almost guaranteed block on any Clinton nomination to the Supreme Court.

But maybe Harry Reid has the solution.

The outgoing Democratic leader told Talking Points Memo that he's paved the way for what would be a historic change of the Senate's rules, allowing Supreme Court nominees to bypass a 60-vote procedural requirement and be approved by a simple majority. 
"I really do believe that I have set the Senate so when I leave, we’re going to be able to get judges done with a majority," he said. "It’s clear to me that if the Republicans try to filibuster another circuit court judge, but especially a Supreme Court justice, I’ve told 'em how and I’ve done it, not just talking about it. I did it in changing the rules of the Senate. It’ll have to be done again."

Reid's comments come as Senate Republicans have refused to give Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote for more than eight months. They argue that the vacancy from Justice Antonin Scalia's death should be filled by the president's successor.

Reid, who has previously floated changing the rules in 2017, added to TPM that if Republicans "mess with the Supreme Court, it'll be changed just like that in my opinion. So I’ve set that up. I feel very comfortable with that.”

Not just a threat but a promise.  We'll see how the future plays out, but I'm hoping the Dems are ready to move to nuke the filibuster.

Breaking Obamacare: Missions Accomplished

The news, just before the election, that Obamacare premiums will jump an average of 22%, is just bad for Democrats across the board no matter how you slice it. Republican governors refusing to take money set aside to soften the blow for consumers through expanded Medicaid and health insurance companies bailing out of the single-plan market have largely succeeded in damaging the system in enough states to put the burden on shifting costs to premiums as Sarah Kliff explains.

Premiums are rising on the Obamacare marketplaces largely because the people who signed up for coverage were sicker than the insurance companies expected. This led some health insurers (like Aetna and UnitedHealth) to leave the marketplace. The insurance companies that stayed behind realized they’d have to charge higher premiums in order to cover their members’ medical bills.

What does this mean for Obamacare customers? Most Obamacare enrollees (83 percent) receive subsidies that limit the amount they have to spend on premiums. They only have to spend a certain percent of their income, and then the government will cover the rest.

These people will likely be somewhat insulated from the premium increases. But the premium hike could still be disruptive. These people might have to switch to a new plan if another insurer is offering a lower premium than the one they currently use.

But another 17 percent of Obamacare enrollees don’t receive premium subsidies. And these people are going to be in a really tough spot. They’ll need to decide whether they want to continue spending more to buy their same coverage — or if the insurance doesn’t provide enough value at the higher price.

What does this mean for the future of the law more generally? That’s really hard to tell right now — but there seems to be two plausible interpretations of the data.

One is that this is a one-time course correction. When Obamacare launched, premiums were much lower than analysts had expected. Insurance plans are now bringing their premiums more in line with expectations, and after they do that, they won’t have to make these big rate increases again.

The other is that this is the start of a series of higher rate increases for the health care law — that these new, high premiums might encourage some healthy people (especially those without subsidies) to leave the individual market. Subsides act as a powerful counter-balance to this second scenario, though, by capping enrollees’ contributions.

In either case, these numbers are bad news for Obamacare — we just don’t know how bad, exactly, the news is at this point.

Keep in mind that Republicans and health insurance companies are extremely eager to make the second scenario real, figuring that if they can wreck the system badly enough, and make their own constituents and customers suffer enough, that they will demand a full repeal of Obamacare to be replaced by a Republican "plan" of some sort.

The fact any Republican plan wouldn't actually lower premiums at all but dramatically cut coverage and put millions of Americans back in jeopardy of medical bankruptcy every year, well, somebody has to pay for it, after all.

I don't think this will cost Clinton the race, it's too late for Trump at this point.  But if I'm a Republican strategist in a Senate or House race, or a governor's contest in a red state, I just got handed the lifeline that could very well keep Congress in GOP control and put GOP governors in Missouri, NH, Vermont and WV with more empty promises of "Forcing Clinton to repeal Obamacare".  Hell it might even save Mike Pence's chair in Indiana and even Pat McCrory's job in NC.

We'll see if there's enough time left to affect downticket races.

Frankly Stein's Monster, Con't

Even this late in the game we have third party stupidity from people who should know better (i.e. anyone not named H.A. Goodman) involving Jill Stein and voting for the Green Party as a magical cure-all from the horrific Clinton administration that hasn't happened yet. Today's contestant is Vox's Ben Spielberg.

There is both a principled and strategic component to voting choices in presidential elections. In principle, citizens should cast their votes for whichever candidate’s views align most with their own. Strategic voting, on the other hand, includes a voter’s assessment of the probability that various voting choices will lead to desired outcomes. 
These components are related to some degree; voters are more likely to agree about which candidate to vote for if they agree in principle on which candidate is best. Yet principled and strategic voting are not the same. One might believe a third-party candidate to be optimal, for example, but still vote for a major party candidate because of the higher probability that the major party candidate will win the election. 
This decision can be a self-fulfilling prophecy —third-party candidates would be more electable if their supporters decided to vote for them — but it can also be rational, depending on how one evaluates the differences between major party candidates and the downside risk to voting for a bad nominee. 
I believe social justice advocates committing to vote for Hillary Clinton in the present election have a misguided strategy — I’d argue that good policy in the United States is set back more by strict lesser-evilsism than by the possibility of a Trump presidency. (In short, millions of people are suffering under the status quo, and I think a pledge to vote for a Democrat who won’t fundamentally change that just because she’s better than Trump deprives us of the bargaining power we need to challenge the status quo in the long run.) But I respect that others evaluate the trade-offs inherent in third-party voting this year differently. Their reasoning is generally coherent.  
What isn’t coherent, however, is many Democrats’ ridicule of the Jill Stein candidacy on principle. If they believe what they say they believe — that America needs aggressive action to dismantle institutional racism and sexism, combat climate change, end mass incarceration, promote a richer democracy, and achieve economic justice — they should acknowledge that Stein is the candidate who, if elected, would be most likely to advance those goals. Stein’s platform is significantly better than Clinton’s, and, unlike with Clinton, there’s little reason to doubt that what Stein currently says gels with what she’d actually support if she became our next president.

So if you really cared, you'd vote for Stein instead of Clinton, and that if Trump ends up president, that's actually better "policy" for marginalized groups.  Come to think of it, that's actually H.A. Goodman's exact argument before he went full alt-right and dedicated his platform to destroying Clinton and everyone who votes for her.

I really do love such helpful advice from holier-than-thou liberals about voting.


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