NY-20 The Spin Wars

From National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions:

“As the latest vote totals reflect, there still remain thousands of absentee and military ballots that have to be counted. Rest assured that Republicans will ensure that the integrity of the election is protected and every vote is counted.  As it stands now, there is a Republican advantage in the number of absentee and military ballots that have been returned. 

“With that being said, Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections.  That is a testament to the strength of Jim’s campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability that Americans are demanding in the wake of the AIG scandal.

“Less than 150 days ago, President Obama carried New York’s 20th District, and former Congresswoman Gillibrand was handily reelected in this district by a margin of 62-38 percent, despite the fact that her Republican opponent spent $6 million trying to defeat her.  For the first time in a long time, a Republican candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters. This was hardly a common phenomenon in 2008, particularly in the Northeast.”

From DNC Chairman Tim Kaine:

“Scott Murphy embraced President Obama’s message of change and his plans to fix our economy and create jobs, and as a result  he stormed from more than 20 points down to winning a majority of votes cast tonight.  Scott’s performance tonight in an overwhelmingly Republican district, where Republicans enjoy a registration advantage over Democrats of more than 70,000, represents a repudiation of the failed politics and policies that Republicans continue to embrace.  We are confident that when all the ballots are counted, Scott will expand his lead and become an ally to President Obama in Congress who will help the President create jobs and turn our economy around.”

The Return of the Bride of Recount

If you’re worried that the Franken-Coleman fiasco is nearing a conclusion, fret no more — Murhpy-Tedisco is coming to a theater near you. With all precincts in for the NY 20th congressional district’s special election, Democrat Scott Murphy is clinging to a 65-vote lead, 77,344 to 77,279. The AP is reporting that there were 6,000 absentee ballots returned yet to be counted.

Coleman Attorney: “We’re Going To Appeal”

Blasting today’s ruling by a three-judge panel as an “April Fool’s Day Order,” Norm Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg just said on a conference call they would have no choice but to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Ginsberg said the court’s order was an “unprincipled decision” because it called for a different standard for ballots than was followed on election day, and that separate standards were applied in different counties.

He cautioned that today’s order is not the final opinion, which is anticipated next week once the court looks at the ballots and rules on other matters, but assuming the final opinion doesn’t change the decision they made today, he said, “we’re going to appeal.”

“[The decision] continues to disenfranchise thousands of Minnesotans whose votes should be counted, whose votes would have been counted had they lived just in a different jurisdiction,” Ginsberg said.

Court Hands Coleman Major Setback

The Star Tribune reports:

In a potentially decisive ruling, a panel of three judges today ordered up to 400 new absentee ballots opened and counted, far fewer than Republican Norm Coleman had sought in his effort to overcome a lead by DFLer Al Franken.

The ballots also appear to include many that Franken had identified as wrongly rejected as well as ballots that Coleman wanted opened.

Given that Coleman needed to overcome a 225-vote Franken lead, this ruling is a big blow.

Not Just Me

Chris Cillizza had a similar reaction to the Washington Post poll as I did earlier.

He writes:

What’s clear from the Post poll is that while Obama still gets the benefit of the doubt — in a substantial way — from voters, the underlying premise of his plans to rebuild the nation’s economy remains a somewhat risky move politically as voters are genuinely conflicted about significantly adding to the size of the national debt.

Obama vs. GOP Alternative

After last week’s fiasco in which Republicans released an alternative budget blueprint without any numbers, Rep. Ryan today provided a glimpse of how the GOP alternative, to be released in full tomorrow, would stack up against the Obama budget. The chart below looks at the long-term debt as a percentage of GDP from now until 2080. President Obama’s budget itself extends through 2019, and the rest of the sharp red line that sails off the chart is based on CBO projections. Looking at the chart, it seems that debt would still grow under the GOP plan over the next decade, but would hover in the low 60s as a percent of GDP, as opposed to the Obama plan, which would bring it to 82.4 percent by 2019, according to the CBO. Ryan didn’t offer more details in remarks today (see video below), but he promised, “a budget that is lower on spending, that is lower on deficits, that is lower on taxes, that is lower on debt and higher on jobs.”

Worse Than France

Liberals accuse conservatives of being alarmist when we talk about America evolving into a socialist welfare state, but judging by at least one measure –debt as a percentage of GDP — we’re well on our way. If the Obama budget gets enacted, our debt will surge to 82.4 percent of the economy by 2019, according to CBO projections. To put that in context, that would make us far worse than where Canada (62.3 percent), Germany (62.6 percent) and France (67 percent) are today, according to the CIA World Fact Book. In fact, it would place us 11th in the world, between Bhutan* (81.4 percent) and Egypt (84.7 percent).

* The Bhutan figure is somewhat misleading, because India finances nearly three-fifths of Bhutan’s spending. India ranks 14th on the debt/GDP list, at 78 percent.

Obama Polling

A lot of conservatives have tried to suggest that President Obama’s approval ratings are sinking as Americans get to know what he’s really about while liberals believe that not only is he popular, but he has a broad mandate to implement his liberal vision for the country. If today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll is any indication, both views are wrong.

Conservatives are wrong bacause Obama’s approval rating still stands at 66 percent; 60 percent approve of the way he’s handling the economy; five times as many people believe the country is heading in the right direction as did last fall (though the number is still low at 42 percent); by a 58 percent to 25 percent margin, Americans still trust Obama more than Republicans to handle the economy; and while high majorities of Americans blame banks, Bush, business, and consumers for the state of the economy, only about a quarter blame Obama.

So, all told, Obama looks to be in good shape for now. However, Democrats shouldn’t get to cocky about their position. The polls also show that on issues such as taxes and spending, the country is much more divided. Asked about his handling of the deficit, only 52 percent of Americans approved of Obama (while independents disapprove by a 50 percent to 45 percent margin).

When asked, “Which of these do you think is more important right now – (increasing federal spending to try to improve the economy, even if it sharply increases the federal budget deficit); or (avoiding a big increase in the federal budget deficit, even if it means not increasing federal spending to try to improve the economy)?” Americans chose increasing spending, but only by a 49 percent to 48 percent margin. This is significant because right now, while we’re in the midst of a deep recession and in full crisis mode, the hunger for government spending is likely at its peak.

Also interesting is that when asked whether Obama is “an old-style, tax-and-spend Democrat” or  “a new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public’s money” — only 32 percent say he’s old style, while 62 percent say he’s a new-style Democrat. Anybody who is paying close attention to his actual policies knows that he is a big government liberal, but most Americans aren’t looking at CBO data or examining his proposals in detail. While that allows him to paper things over with rhetoric right now, once we get a few years of actual deficit numbers, most Americans will see his true colors.

Right now, the president is telling people that we live in a dream world in which we can spend all of this money to get ourselves out of the recession, drastically increase spending on health care, education, and energy, without facing consequences. But eventually, the unprecedented level of debt we’re amassing will come back to bite us either in the form of higher taxes or massive inflation, or a combination of both. At that point, deficits will become much more important to Americans, who have a much more restrained view of the role of government than liberals would have us believe.

So, while conservatives are wrong to think Obama’s popularity is declining, liberals are wrong to confuse his current popularity with a popular mandate to drive our debt through the roof while radically remaking the American economy. As I’ve written before, the big question is how many permanent programs (such as government-run health care) Obama can force through before Americans wake up to what’s going on.

Social Insecurity

The Washington Post has a story out today on what I believe is one of the most overlooked aspects of the economic crisis — that rising unemployment is pinching payroll tax revenue. For years, the government has collected more in Social Security taxes than it pays out, which has allowed it to use the surplus to fund other government operations. But now, the CBO estimates that the surplus is expected to virtually disappear next year, reaching just $3 billion, and that by 2017 it will start running deficits. Sure, there’s a “trust fund” that isn’t projected to run out until 2041, but that is only comforting to those who pretend that the money doesn’t ultimately come from the same piggy bank.

And then there’s this:

“This is not a problem for Social Security, it’s a problem for fiscal responsibility,” said Christian Waller, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He said the new estimates would force President Obama and his budget director, Peter Orszag, “to stay on track in what they have set out to do, and that is rein in deficits.”

Yeah, and they’re doing a good job of it, too — so good, in fact, that the projected cumulative deficits over the next decade are only $9.3 trillion (as opposed to $4.4 trillion they would be under current law).

Murtha: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.”

One word — wow!

“If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district,” Mr. Murtha said. “My job as a member of Congress is to make sure that we take care of what we see is necessary. Not the bureaucrats who are unelected over there in whatever White House, whether it’s Republican or Democrat. Those bureaucrats would like to control everything. Every president would like to have all the power and not have Congress change anything. But we’re closest to the people.”