The New York Times Editorial Board on Pelosi’s move to become House Minority Leader
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Perhaps the only thing more demoralizing than this week’s midterm loss of Congress is Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she will seek the Minority Leader’s position. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Pelosi would be the first Majority Leader since Sam Rayburn in 1948 to accept a demotion to Minority Leader.
Let me be clear. Nancy Pelosi has been a remarkably effective speaker in terms of getting things done. I wrote previously that Pelosi, Reid and Obama have done more in two years than most presidents do in two terms, and it’s worth noting that even more would have been accomplished if the bills that passed by Nancy Pelosi’s House would have passed the Senate.
But despite legislative success, Pelosi has often been an inarticulate spokesperson for Democratic causes and, as a female San Francisco liberal, she has been a lighning rod for the opposition party, not unlike both Newt Gingrich in the late 1990′s and Tom Delay in the last decade. Her term as Speaker ended with a historic defeat propelled by the fact that many of the candidates won by effectively nationalizing the elections and running against the Speaker.
A few months ago, I wrote about the irony of 2010, which is that losing the House and Senate might be a better outcome for Barack Obama’s electoral fortunes (if not his legislative ones), by allowing him to draw distinctions between himself and the Republicans. I still believe that this is true, but it is undoubtedly less true now that Harry Reid kept his position as Senate Majority Leader and the effect of electing more Democrats could be the return of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
There has been much discussion about the center of gravity shifting in the party with the defeat of many of the conservative Blue dogs and the survival of more liberal Democrats in safe districts that tend to support Pelosi, but this isn’t about ideology. It’s a raw political calculation. The next Minority Leader can be liberal or moderate, but I think it’s clear that the Democrats have a better chance at electing Democrats and regaining power with someone other than Nancy Pelosi leading the party.
It’s time for Pelosi to step down and welcome a new generation of leadership to protect the gains of the last two years and build a new foundation for electoral success in the future. Early indications are that this won’t happen, but there’s still time for a competent challenger to emerge.
Here’s Rachel Maddow on the accomplishments of the Democrats in the past two years.
It may be cold comfort at this point, but Americans will be seeing the benefits of the legislation of the past two years for a long time.
Maddow points out how Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats decided to use the political capital that they built up over the two election cycles. Equal pay for women, a children’s health care expansion, ending subsidies to corporate banks for college loans, a major national service program expansion, the largest investments in energy and education in the country’s history, health care for 30 million more Americans, regulation (however tepid) of the banks to mitigate the possibility of another financial crisis, significant increases in assistance for veterans… I’m sure I missed something.
There will be significant debate about this for years. Would it have been better to go for incremental change and try to hold on to power for another election cycle? Maybe. Was it not the effort and the goals, but the specific deals that were cut that decreased the popularity of the legislation? Yes, I think so.
But one thing is certain: you can criticise Nancy Pelosi for a lot of things, but it’s hard to say that she’s been ineffective as a Speaker of the House when it comes to getting things done. In two years, the conservatives’ unholy triumvirate of Obama, Pelosi and Reid accomplished more than most teams accomplish in two presidential terms.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that they got all of this done despite the fact that the Republican party as a whole decided that they would rather see the three of them fail than to resolve the issues that have been plaguing us as a country for years.
Just think of how much more effective this video would have been if there was an all night Republican filibuster happening on the Senate floor right now…
I’ve been wanting to write about the Democrats punting on tax cuts ever since it became clear that this was the plan, but haven’t had time.
Here’s a nice little piece from Rex Nutting on the issue.
The roots of this issue go back to the early Bush Administration when the Republicans were working on their tax plans. Congressional Republicans (for parliamentary reasons as well as to hide the disastrous long term effects of their tax cutting spree) setup the tax cuts to expire after 2010. As a result, in 2011, taxes will increase to the levels they were during the Clinton Administration for all income brackets, on capital gains and on dividends. The estate tax will also revert to Clinton levels along with a number of additional smaller changes.
In typical fashion, the Republicans are in favor of extending all Bush tax cuts forever, but offer no plan to pay for those tax cuts. These are the same people who have been complaining incessantly about the deficit for 2 years (they apparently discovered it as soon as a Democrat was elected president), but they have no plan to cut it and, in fact, they are insistent that $3 trillion be added to it in the form of tax cuts.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have a slightly less irresponsible plan, which is that the tax cuts should be extended for 98% of the people, but allowed to expire for the top 2-3%. They’re out there campaigning on the fact that they’re opposed to the additional $700 million and hoping the American people ignore the approximately $2.5 trillion that they’re in favor of adding.
I’ve talked about this issue in detail here. Basically, my take on the tax cuts is that they should be allowed to expire for all income levels because we just can’t afford them as a country. We have a $9-$10 trillion deficit on the books for the next ten years and these tax cuts represent $3-$4 trillion of this. The defcit is one of the biggest and most intractable issues in American politics and in one action (in fact one inaction) $3 trillion could be wiped off of that deficit. At the same time, as I’ve been arguing for some time, the economy still needs stimulus in the short term and I’d be okay with extending all of the tax cuts for two years and then letting them all expire. This is the optimal compromise and has been endorsed by experts like Obama’s former OMB Director Peter Orzag.
Th Republicans’ budget gimmickry allowed the Democrats to craft a great political plan around the tax cuts. Since all tax cuts would expire in 2011, the plan was to allow only the middle class tax cuts come to a vote. It was assumed that the Republicans would filibuster this attempt, effectively holding 98% of Americans’ tax cuts hostage to the top 2% (which some 60-75% of Americans oppose) and giving the Democrats a clear contrast and a great issue to run on.
This looked good until the Senate Democrats met two weeks ago and found that (surprise!) their caucus was divided on the issue. They decided to punt the vote on taxes into the lame-duck session.
It’s really unbelievable. Somehow, faced with a multitude of options, the Democrats managed to do the wrong thing for their party as well as for the country.
I’m as partisan as the next guy (perhaps more so) and I would love to have an issue to bash the Republicans over the head with, but more importantly I want to do what is right for the country and for the economy. Whether you think that decreases in tax rates are stimulative or not, the reality is that we’re nearing the end of the year and individuals and businesses are setting their business plans for next year. After two years of debate and legislation over changes to health care, financial regulation, energy, etc it’s time for some certainty: certainty over what the rules are and certainty over what the tax rates will be.
The bigger picture here is that we elect leaders to lead and they should do that, not wait for the results of the election and then tell us what they think. The Democrats held large majorities in the House and Senate and the Presidency for 2 years. Saying that they ran out of time or that they don’t want to vote on raising taxes because the Republicans will attack them on it is ridiculous, cowardly and irresponsible. The Republicans are going to attack on taxes no matter what. Democrats: whether you’re giving out tax breaks to 98% of people or just extending all tax cuts for everyone, let us know where you stand. Give people a reason to vote for you. Take tough votes and then defend them.
Don’t act so cowardly. I’ll be voting for you because I’d rather have the cowards than the hypocrites, but I can’t speak for everyone else. This year, you might want to consider giving the other people a reason to vote for you, not just against the other side.
Two new polls indicate that the narrative of the unavoidable tsunami for Democrats may be exaggerated.
Both the New York Times and Politico have polls released today that show some nuance that isn’t picked up in the “Democrats are doomed” coverage.
In the New York Times poll, 55% of people say that they think their own Representative should be replaced, an extraordinarily high number since, in most years, people often say that Congress should change, but still want to re-elect their own representatives. That’s a very ominous number for the Democratic party, which holds a 70 plus majority in the House. Still, in a pattern that is becoming common, the poll found that voters disapprove of Congressional Republican’s performance (73%) more than Congressional Democrats’ (63%). Their generic ballot shows Republicans with a 2% lead, but a significant number of voters still undecided.
Meanwhile, Politico’s poll provides a regional take on the races. While they find likely voters evenly split between the parties, they break this split up by region, showing that Democrats hold a 5 point advantage in the Midwest and Northeast, a 20 point advantage in the West, but (most ominously) a 24% disadvantage in the Mountain West, which has been seen as a significant area of future for growth for the party.
Politico also details the enthusiasm gap, with 95% of usual Republican voters saying that the intended to vote as opposed to 87% of usual Democratic voters saying they intend to vote.
That last stat is perhaps the most revealing. Republicans hate the Democrats with a passion and are can’t wait to toss them out. Democrats, meanwhile, don’t like the Republicans, but they’re not thrilled with the Democrats either. In an indication of the difference in profile between Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, Pelosi’s approval disaproval numbers are 31/52. Boehner’s meanwhile are 16/21, with a majority either not knowing who he is or not having an opinion one way or the other about him.
The bottom line from these two polls? This thing isn’t over yet, but if the Democrats can’t figure out a way to motivate their base, it will be soon.
With Labor Day being the traditional kickoff for election season, the prognosticators are out with their projections for the midterm elections. Two weeks ago, I linked to an interview with election expert Charlie Cook, this week Larry Sabato updated his Crystal Ball projections and Nate Silver has also recently updated his Senate Rankings. No one has any good news for the Democrats.
Both Cook and Sabato are predicting a Democratic takeover of the House this year. Silver has the Republicans picking up 6 to 7 seats in the Senate, but many have predicted that the losses could be greater and that the Senate is now in play.
While a complete analysis of why the Democrats are in such dire straits is beyond the scope of this post, here are the broad strokes and narratives I see. Let’s start with the structural issues: the party of the president almost invariably loses seats in the midterm elections and in bad economic times, voters tend to punish the incumbent party. Given that times are bad and Democrats are the incumbents, this isn’t good news for them. Also, somewhat ironically, the Democrats are a victim of the success that they had in the 2006 and 2008 elections: 53 out of 253 Democratically held seats are in districts where Republicans were holding those seats five years ago. 48 Democratic representatives are running in districts that voted for John McCain (all but one of which voted for George Bush in 2004 as well). In addition, midterm election voters tend to be older, whiter and more Republican (none of which helps the Democrats).
Add to this mix a strong effort on the part of Democrats to push through their agenda, an agonizing long year in which coverage of the suasage making and payoff of every special interest that was involved in order to pass Health Care Reform was on full display while the country desperately wanted the Congress to focus on job creation, an economy that has stopped the bleeding but shows scant signs of creating enough jobs to make a dent in the unemployment numbers, the resurgence of the Republican right and the resulting gap in enthusiasm that poll after poll has shown significantly favors the Republicans and you have a recipe for disaster.
Republicans need to pickup 39 net seats for a majority and Cook predicts a net gain of 35 to 45 seats by Republicans, “with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome.” His more recent comments indicate that the results could be significantly worse. Larry Sabato is predicting a 47 seat pickup.
With 435 House seats, it’s difficult to do a detailed analysis, but a look at the Senate forecasts gives a picture of where the country is right now. In what was once considered a prime opportunity for the Democrats in Pennsylvania, former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak has been running consistently behind financier and former Congressman Pat Toomey. As Al Hunt points out, while Specter was defending his country in the Iraq war, Toomey was selling derivatives, the complex instruments most responsible for the financial crash. Still, Toomey has led Sestak by a margin of over 5 points since mid-July and Nate Silver now rates this seat at an 88% chance that Toomey prevails.
In Colorado, similar dynamics are at play. When Tea Party candidate Ken Buck won the Republican primary, many people believed that he would be the next Sharron Angle, giving appointed Senator Michael Bennett a much better chance at the seat. Silver now ranks this seat at a 77% chance of Republican takeover.
In New Hampshire and Ohio, just a few months ago considered opportunities for Democrats to pick off Republican seats, Silver now rates the races at 23% and 18% chances of Democratic pickups, respectively. Even Nevada is ranked by Silver as a 59% chance of an Angle win (which seems generous to Angle given the ability of Nevada voters to choose “None of the Above” for the seat).
As Al Hunt notes, the Democrats’ Senate firewall consists of the generally reliable Democratic states of California, Washington and Wisconsin, that are in play this year. Increasingly, it looks like the outcomes in these three states may determine whether the Democrats retain control of the Senate or whether we will be looking at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cook has commented that everything would have to go the Democrats way in order for the Republicans to gain 10 seats, but this has not been uncommon during wave elections. Also, if the Republicans come within a one vote margin, keep an eye on Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (who generally votes like a Republican anyway) and Joe Lieberman (who has historically delighted in sticking his finger in the eye of other Democrats). If either of these guys decide to switch parties after a tight margin, they could hand the Republicans the Senate.
Ironically, although recent polls have shown the Republicans holding an unprecedented 10% lead in the generic polling for Congress, those same polls consistently show that the Republican party is less trusted than the Democratic party. Charlie Cook puts it well when he explains that it is possible for the Republicans to be winning even though they are not as trusted because the election “isn’t about them.” It’s about the Democrats.
My take on the mood of the country is that many of the American people have seen what one party rule by the Democrats looks like and they’ve rejected it. Although they don’t like the Republicans any more than the Democrats, they figure, with Obama having veto power, the Republicans won’t be able to screw things up as badly as they might be able to with a Republican president. Given the level of disgust they have, they’re willing to take a chance.
This week the Democrats New York Times detailed Democratic plans to concentrate money in about two dozen vulnerable Democratic sates and let the remaining Democrats fend for themselves, effectively trying to create a firewall that would allow them to narrowly maintain power. Expect to see similar attempts in the California, Wisconsin, Washington and possibly Illinois Senate seats.
Certainly it’s possible for the Democrats fortunes to change in the next few months, but it’s hard to see what the catalyst for that change would be. The debate over the Bush Tax Cuts should be illuminating, but it’s hard to see it as a game changer. Campaigns generally help to focus people’s attention, clarify their viewpoints and make them remember why they voted for someone in the first place, but if the public has already written the Democrats off, then changing their minds will be a tall order.
This could get ugly.
Last week, Robert Gibbs set off a firestorm when he said what everyone already knows on Meet the Press: the Democrats could lose the House his year. This set off howls of protest from House members who feel that they have put their careers on the line for President Obama and that he has not shown the same level of commitment to them.
Meanwhile, prognosticators are reading the tea leaves for signs of how the electorate will respond in 2010 and whether this election will resemble the wave elections of 1994 and 1996 or the smaller, but significant, losses of the Reagan Republicans in 1982.
The irony of this all is that a favorable outcome for their respective Congressional parties may be a liability for the both President Obama and Republican presidential candidates in 2012.
Let’s stipulate up front that the loss of the House would be a clear setback for Obama and would put his agenda going forward in peril. Losing the House could also have long term implications for Democrats, since incumbency brings inherent advantages (such as a re-election rate that hovers in the 96% range) and having power in the present significantly increases a party’s chance of having power in the future.
For Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have been extremely helpful in pushing forward his agenda. Although he is not reaping the benefits in the polls, he has been remarkably successful at enacting policy. In less than two years, he has passed a budget that sets new priorities for the country, as well as the trifecta of a stimulus plan, health care reform and financial reform. A (much watered down) energy bill is on deck. The House of Representatives has been a key part of this effort, moving first on all four issues and providing a liberal push as counterweight to the slow moving, inherently conservative Senate. To lose control of the House would be a dramatic blow to Obama’s ability to enact new programs going forward.
On the Republican side, there is probably no one as reviled as Nancy Pelosi. The Republican faithful would like nothing more than to take Pelosi and Reid out of power and hand the Democrats a historic defeat.
But any careful observer can see that that taking or keeping control of the House may not in the best long term interests of Obama or of the Republican hopefuls in 2012.
For Obama, a Republican House would provide a useful foil for him in making his 2010 case for re-election, just as Newt Gingrich was for Bill Clinton. With the defeat of most moderate Republicans over the past five years, the party now consists of mostly hard line libertarians, extreme social conservatives and a gang of formerly independent statesmen who have been so cowed by the Tea Party that they act just like the Rand Paul wing of the party. In recent polling, only 32% of Americans believed that the Democrats in Congress could be trusted to make the right decisions. The only group who polled lower were the Republicans at 26%. The entire key to the 2010 elections (and by extension the 2012 elections) will be to make the contest a choice of two competing ideologies instead of a referendum on Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
For Republican presidential candidates, the situation is equally clear. Running in 2012 against Pelosi, Reid and Obama would be a much easier campaign to frame than one in which Republicans had any measure of control or claim to responsibility for the situation.
In addition, there is plenty of evidence that Congressional Republicans are not quite ready for prime time. Every other time John Boehner opens his mouth he says something that shows how out of touch he is. For the past two years, their policy has been based on one thing: saying no to everything proposed by Obama, Pelosi and Reid. They complain incessantly about Democratic proposals, but didn’t have anything particularly serious to offer on the major issues of the day (health care, financial regulation, energy). They regularly bemoan deficit projections, but the closest thing they have to a plan is conservative wunderkind Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, a serious plan to balance the budget to be sure, but one that relies on privatizing both Social Security and Medicare, as well as raising taxes on the middle class while slashing them for those with higher incomes (all policies that have found very little support among the American people) At last count, Ryan’s Roadmap was endorsed by nine Congressmen.
Perhaps the bigger issue is that, beginning next year, the focus of the country will most likely be on developing a long term deficit reduction plan. As discussed here before, the bi-partisan Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission will release its findings at the end of the year. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015. This plan should shift the conversation significantly. While their will be a debate on the specific plan, the report should make clear that the current path is unsustainable, that taxes and revenues need to increase and that budgets will need to be cut. This will be an opportunity for Obama to move to the center, provide a plan to decrease the projected long term deficits and refashion himself into the pragmatic candidate that he ran as in 2008.
If the Democrats do maintain control, it will be an opportunity for them to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility that they have lost over the past two years and do it in a way that preserves Democratic priorities. But this process will be difficult to enact because of the fractious nature of the Democratic party, what will surely be smaller margins in the House and the complete lack of a credible partner in the Republicans.
On the other hand, if the Republicans take the House this year they will be forced to provide their own alternate plan to balance the budget. Given American’s historical aversion to sacrifice and the slim menu of choices available, this plan is likely to be unpopular and Obama can take advantage of the contrast to frame a choice between two competing visions of the country. If Republicans try to compromise and implement some real austerity programs with Obama’s support, this could be win-win for both parties, but it will make it much more difficult for Republicans to argue that Obama is a dangerous socialist. If, on the other hand, there is a long lasting standoff, Obama will be able to turn up the heat with the bully pulpit, returning to the stump to campaign against the vision of the party in power.
In the meantime, the fight for the House goes on and you can expect to see Obama and the Republican presidential hopefuls giving it their all.
But don’t be surprised if there are a few people in the White House (or in the Romney campaign) who don’t shed too many tears if their side loses.