Earmarks for Me, Not for Thee

Conservatives who are excited about Republican victories in last night’s elections should read this article in the Politico and remember that the GOP has a long way to go before it has any credibility as a small government party. The piece takes a close look at the House select committee on earmark reform, which Republican leaders created among much fanfare after the Nov. 2008 election to combat pork barrel spending projects. Yet the committee still hasn’t delivered a report on earmark spending that was supposed to be completed in February, and more tellingly, eight out of the 10 members of the committee have requested earmarks themselves this year. This is a great example of the futility of Republicans when it comes to reining in government — they talk a big game about cutting spending, take symbolic measures like creating a committee, but don’t deliver anything tangible.

Commenting on the article, David Hogberg asks three questions:

First, does it make much sense to have an earmark reform panel dominated by members who earmark?

Second, is the GOP ready to reach out to the Tea Party movement (which is clearly anxious about the size, scope and honesty of government) or is it a party that is engaged in “business as usual”?

Third, is this what Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was referring to when he recently said the following about the Tea Party movement on CNN: “It’s going to be a difficult road to walk with these relatively new entrants into the political system and work with them to show them that, by and large, we are the party that represents their interests?”

I would add a fourth: if Republicans can’t kick their spending habit when they have absolutely no power, than how can we expect them to control themselves should they return to power?

Winning in the Northeast

One of the themes after the 2006 and 2008 election cycles was that Republicans had become a purely regional party that could not win in the northeast. Chris Christie’s victory in the heavily Democratic New Jersey proves that this is not the case. Christie won not because he was such a stellar candidate, but because the Democratic Governor, Jon Corzine, was absolutely incompetent at his job. When you eliminate all the purely partisan voters on each side, the non-ideological voters left over who swing elections vote on the basis of competence. Republicans lost in 2006 and 2008 not because the country had moved so far to the left ideologically, but because they didn’t govern the country well. So the major lesson to take from last night as it relates to 2010 and beyond is that everything will ultimately hinge on what kind of job Democrats do running the country. The results so far do not bode well for them.

Christie Wins

While it would be one thing for the White House to write off tonight’s election results if it were only about Bob McDonnell’s landslide in Virginia, it will be a lot more difficult for the administration to dismiss Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey. The Garden State is solidly Democratic territory that has voted Democratic in every presidential election after 1988 and every governor’s race after 1997. In 2008, Obama won the state by 15 points, and as of this writing, Christie is up by 5 points — so that’s a 20 point swing. Obama made a number of trips to New Jersey to stump for Jon Corzine, including two in the closing weeks of the campaign — and it wasn’t because he thought the weather was pleasant in the state this time of year.

Even if we don’t see the New Jersey election results as a rejection of Obama, at the very minimum what they show is that his campaign appearances can’t carry a Democrat across the finish line, even a candidate with a huge money advantage in a solidly blue state. And if Obama — with all of his star power and highly-touted political organization — can’t deliver in New Jersey, then why would a moderate Democrat running for re-election next year in a red district where Obama is unpopular to begin with tie himself to Obama? Why would a red state Democrat vote with the Democratic leadership on issues such as health care legislation and “cap and trade”?

Exits Give Christie 25-Point Lead Among Independents

According to CNN exit polls, Chris Christie won the indpendent vote 58 percent to Jon Corzine’s 33 percent, and independents comprised 27 percent of the electorate in the New Jersey governor’s race. If these numbers hold up, it would be great news for Christie. The most recent Public Policy Polling survey had Christie with a 6-point lead, and it gave him a 23 point edge among independents. By contrast, the final Monmouth University/Gannett poll that had Corzine winning by 2 points gave Christie just a 10 point lead among independents.

McDonnell Wins

In what isn’t much of a surprise, Republican Bob McDonnell has just been declared the winner of the Virginia governor’s race. Anticipating the defeat, the White House and Democrats have spent weeks trying to throw loser Creigh Deeds under the bus as a weak candidate. But with that said, Democrats had won every major election in this state since 2005, and last year Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win since 1964. The narrative was that the state was trending to be a Democratic state, yet McDonnell has pulled off a victory by what looks like a massive margin. It may not mean everything, but it isn’t nothing, either.

ABC: Top Dems Say Health Care Won’t Get Done This Year

ABC news reports:

Senior Congressional Democrats told ABC News today it is highly unlikely that a health care reform bill will be completed this year, just a week after President Barack Obama declared he was “absolutely confident” he’ll be able to sign one by then.

“Getting this done by the by the end of the year is a no-go,” a senior Democratic leadership aide told ABC News. Two other key Congressional Democrats also told ABC News the same thing.

The item also notes:

Asked directly by ABC News, “Will you pass health care reform this year?” Reid pointedly did not answer “yes.”

Instead, he replied, “We are not going to be bound by any timetables,” adding, “We are going to do this as quickly as we can.”

If true, this raises several problems for Democrats. For one, if lawmakers go home for December recess, there will be more opportunities for constituents to express their disapproval, raising the chances that moderate Democrats get cold feet. Also, the more it stretches into next year, the more the 2010 midterm elections start becoming a factor.

Talking Health Care With Gov. Pawlenty

With his second term set to expire at the end of next year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is widely considered a likely contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. Pawlenty took a step toward raising his national profile recently when he formed a political action committee, called Freedom First. Last Friday, TAS‘s Philip Klein spoke to Gov. Pawlenty over the phone to get his reaction to the Democrats’ current health care push. The following is a transcript of the exchange.

TAS: To start with, since I’m sure you’ve already read the 1,900 page House health care billâ€_

Gov. Pawlenty: I stayed up all night reading it.

TAS: Okay, well, what’s your reaction to it?

Gov. Pawlenty: Well, I think both in detail and in philosophical direction, I think that it’s a very misguided piece of legislation. I think this effort is going to go down in history as one of the biggest bait and switch tactics in modern political history. You have a promise that we’re going to tackle costs and make health care more affordable. I think this bill and the Senate counterpart are going to spend more government money — not less. It’s going to cost premium payers more — not less. And it’s a big deception.

TAS: Can you talk for a bit about the expansion in Medicaid? In the Senate bill, Medicaid eligibility is increased to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, and on the House side it’s 150 percent. From the perspective of a governor, how would that affect things at the state level?

Gov. Pawlenty: Well, it will vary from state to state, because different states have assumed different levels of responsibility or initiative for those populations, but as a general rule, it’s going to cost the states more money, and in many cases it’s going to cost the states dramatically more money. It’s another unfunded liability from the federal government, which they will manage as a big federal bureaucracy without much innovation, without much ability to reform and without much ability to improve.  We’ve seen that already in the existing Medicaid program, and now they want to expand it and send some of the bill to the states. I would add that every major entitlement program that the federal government currently runs is on a pathway to bankruptcy or insolvency. That includes Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. With that track record, why in the heck would we give them another one to run and manage? In addition to moving in the direction of having the federal government take over the health care system or additional parts of it, it is just directionally flawed and philosophically flawed. 

TAS: On the Senate side, there’s a provision that would allow states to opt out of the government plan. As governor of Minnesota, if the Senate legislation were to pass as currently designed, would you recommend that the state of Minnesota opt out of the government plan or opt in?

Gov. Pawlenty: First of all, let’s call this what it is. This isn’t opt in or opt out, this is government-run health care, and their rationale for having a government-run health care plan is that they want to quote “keep the private sector honest.”  That’s what the president and Democratic members of Congress have said, and it is ludicrous. If you take that logic to the next step then, if we don’t like the price of toothpaste are we going to have government-run Wal-Marts or government-run Targets? If we don’t like the price of gasoline is government going to takeover the filling stations and oil refiners in the country like they have done in South America? I mean, it’s a preposterous mindset. So, they obviously want some sort of government-run plan, and they’re thrashing about trying to get the camel’s nose under the tent, or foot in the door. They couldn’t get it straight up in the bill, so now they’ve focused on triggers, opt ins, opt outs. I think it should be out of the bill completely because I think it’s a bad idea. The opt out is a sham. It’s a charade. The word out of Washington is that if you were to choose to opt out as a state, you can opt out of the benefits, but you can’t opt out of the tax increases to support the benefits. So all you’d be doing is paying for other states’ participation in the program. I don’t like it. I would prefer that it didn’t exist. I would like Minnesota to opt out, but it looks like they’re not really allowing you to opt out. It’s a sham. They’re allowing you to opt out of the benefits, but they’re not allowing you to opt out of paying for it.

TAS: What about their argument that it’s not going to derive money from general tax revenue, but only from the premiums it collects? In other words, that it will be self-sustaining and won’t need government revenue?

Gov. Pawlenty
: First of all, I don’t believe that. But second of all, managing and operating a plan with the full force and effect of the government and the police powers of the government to compete with private enterprise on the marketplace gives them enormous advantage and they can probably intimidate some of their competitors. And if they’re going to go into the marketplace and essentially dictate pricing of what they’re going to pay providers, that gives them that big of an advantage, and it’s frightening that they think that’s okay from a philosophical standpoint.