Nervous Nelson to Air Ad

Under fire for his health care vote and on the heels of a poll showing him trailing a potential rival by 31 points, Sen. Ben Nelson is taking out a television ad tonight to defend his vote.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports:

As a fresh poll measured the political cost of Sen. Ben Nelson’s health reform vote, he prepared Tuesday to take his case directly to Nebraskans during Wednesday night’s Holiday Bowl game.

Nelson will air a new TV ad in which he attempts to debunk opposition claims that the Senate legislation represents a government takeover, and he makes the case for health care reform.

“With all the distortions about health care reform, I want you to hear directly from me,” the Democratic senator says in the ad.

Nelson, dressed in an open-necked shirt and sweater, speaks directly into the camera during the 30-second ad.

The message will be launched during the Nebraska-Arizona football game and continue to air statewide for an undisclosed number of days.

Nelson doesn’t face reelection again until 2012. Needless to say, if an incumbent is forced to take out an ad almost three years before facing reelection, it typically isn’t a good sign.

And if his constituents aren’t happy with his vote on health care now, just wait until they have to sit through one of his ads during Nebraska’s bowl game.

Re: Baucus

The problem is that there is no evidence of Sen. Baucus being drunk other than the video itself, and the thing is that Baucus has a tendency to mumble (as Dave Weigel noted). I’ve seen him speak throughout the year over the course of the health care debate and was familiar with his speech pattern, so I didn’t think anything of it when I watched the video, and was surprised to see it gain so much attention. I just saw it as a Drudge-generated controversy on a slow news week. True, I have no way to prove that he wasn’t drunk, and you can draw your own conclusions from the video. For me, it just isn’t conclusive enough.

Tehran John

Via Fox:

Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead. 

While representatives for Kerry have so far not confirmed whether he intends to travel to Tehran, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry said the country’s parliament is already considering the Massachusetts Democrat’s official overture.

Leading Pro-Choice House Dem Open to Senate Abortion Language

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a key pro-choice Democrat in the House, has indicated to the Huffington Post that she’s willing to vote for a final health care bill that includes the abortion language in the Senate version. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is likely to lose some pro-life Democrats in the House if the final bill includes the Senate language, thus maintaining the support of liberals such as DeLauro will be crucial to getting the merged bill through the House. In the first go around, the House bill passed by a narrow 220 to 215 vote.

Rasmussen: After HC Vote, Nelson Trails in Reelection Bid by 31 Points

As a result of his vote for the Senate health care bill, Sen. Ben Nelson now trails Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman in a hypothetical reelection race by a two-to-one margin, or 61 percent to 30 percent, a new Rasmussen poll finds.

There are several caveats worth considering. Rasmussen polls have a tendency to be more favorable to Republicans; the election isn’t until 2012; and we don’t even know whether Heineman will challenge him.

With that said, there are a number of troubling signs for Nelson.

Among the poll’s findings:

— Just 17 percent of Nebraska voters approve of the Medicaid deal Nelson cut to secure his vote for the health care bill.

— 64 percent of Nebraskans oppose the health care legislation and 53 percent strongly oppose.

— 65 percent “say that coverage of abortion should be prohibited in any plan that receives government subsidies.” The language in the bill that Nelson voted for did not include such a prohibition.

–And another killer number for any incumbent: just 40 percent have a favorable view of Nelson, while 55 percent have an unfavorable view.

NYT Obscures CBO Report on Double Counting of Medicare Cuts

Last week, I wrote about a Congressional Budget Office memo — released too late to affect the outcome of the health care vote — that said Democrats couldn’t use the same money from cutting Medicare both to reduce the deficit and extend the life of the Medicare trust fund.

Today, the New York Times writes about the issue — on A20. Yet instead of just reporting a simple truth that blows a hole in health care claims made by Democrats, including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Times muddies the waters as if the issue is just one big giant source of confusion without any clear answer.

The headline muses, “Expanding Health Coverage and Shoring Up Medicare: Is It Double-Counting?” And the article opens with: “At the heart of the fight over health care legislation is a paradox that befuddles lawmakers of both parties.”

Really? Befuddles? I thought the CBO was pretty clear when it wrote: “To describe the full amount of (Medicare Hosptal Insurance) trust fund savings as both improving the government’s ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings and thus overstate the improvement in the government’s fiscal position.”

And the position was echoed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which actually implements the program.

Yet to the Times, it’s some giant paradox.

A Battle to the Death in Iran?

The Washington Post editorializes that “Iran’s political crisis now looks like a battle to the death between the regime and its opposition.” With shards of information and video footage, and no active free press to report, it’s very difficult to patch together how much danger the regime is in. But the one thing that has to be seen as encouraging to those who want regime change in Iran is that the nationwide protests that broke out after June’s election were not simply a one off event that was quelled with a single crackdown. Demonstrations have continued on and off for months, with varying degrees of energy, and events have once again reached a boiling point. You can watch a round up of videos from Iran’s Ashura holiday protests on Sunday — many graphic — here.

NY Murder Rate Lower Than When “Mad Men” Roamed the Streets

As the year approaches a close, the New York Times reports that the city is set to have the lowest number of homicides since reliable statistics began being kept in 1962.

I’ve been criticial of Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a number of issues, but the one thing he does deserve credit for is that he built on the successes of Rudy Giuliani in reducing crime.

The number of murders peaked in New York City at 2,245 in 1990. In 1993, the year Giuliani was elected, there were still 1,946 murders. By 2001, his final year in office, that number had dramatically declined to 649, or to about a third of the level at the beginning of his mayoralty.

But under Bloomberg, that number shrunk even lower, the Times notes: “As of Dec. 27, there were 461 murders; the current record low happened in 2007, when there were 496.”

How Seriously Should We Take the Christmas Bomber?

At this early stage, in which information we have is relatively limited, it’s important to use caution when commenting on the attempted terrorist attack outside of Detroit on Christmas Day, but there are a few issues that the incident does raise.

One question is whether we should be more scared of Al Qaeda (assuming they are somehow linked to the attack) or less scared because the attack was bungled in a fashion worthy of a slapstick comedy? In some circles, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab quickly became known as the “crotch bomber.”

My early reaction is that, yes, the bomber was unable to pull it off and elements of the story lend themselves to mockery. But, at the same time it does show that terrorists are still intent on attacking America and they are constantly concocting ways to find holes in our security measures and testing new methods.

The idea of smuggling in a bunch of explosive materials into a plane, assembling a bomb aboard, and blowing it up in a seat of the plane where it could set off a chain of events that would bring down the whole plane, is nothing new. Just read this Washington Post story dated July 21, 1996, titled, “New Devices May Foil Airline Security,” which describes a nearly identical scenario. Ramzi Yousef, one of the planners of the first World Trade Center bombing and nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, made a similar attempt onboard Philippine Airlines Flight 434, which was supposed to be a test for a larger attack on more planes. So a botched attempt this Christmas doesn’t mean that terrorists won’t be able to figure out something that works at some point down the road.

While people have differerent perspectives on how concerned we should be about this attempted attack — and how big a threat terrorism is in general — most people seem to be in agreement that the subsequent security measures imposed by the TSA are idiodic. This would be a good time to reevaluate how we think about airline security — and perhaps discuss emulating the Israeli model. Israel, rather than relying on these silly rules, turns to observation and human intellegence. Security workers ask a number of questions to passengers, and they are trained to pick up on anything suspicious. They also don’t take anything for granted, because they assume that anybody could be a potential security threat. In my personal experience, there have been times traveling to Israel when I glided through security rather easily, and other times when I’ve been questioned extensively by two different security workers. I’d much rather that sort of system than our reactive approach in which one person tries to set off a bomb in his shoe, and so then we have to take off our shoes. Then somebody puts a bomb in his pants, but since we can’t have people take off their underwear, we have to make arbitrary rules about when you can go to the bathroom during an international flight.

Should We Be Mad at Republicans?

There’s been a lot of anger among conservatives directed at Republicans leading up to the health care bill passing the Senate this morning. Is this anger justified? My answer is yes, but I mean that in a different way than other conservatives.

Much of the criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has centered around him not playing hardball, and not doing more to obstruct passage of the health care bill during the Senate debate — and ultimately breaking the vow to force a vote on Christmas Eve (as opposed to this morning). As far as I’m concerned, while this may have been more emotionally satisfying in some respects, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome. Democrats control 60 votes, and if a so-called moderate like Sen. Ben Nelson is going to sell out so easily, then there is very little McConnell could have done to affect the outcome at this late stage in the game. He also deserves credit for keeping the Republican caucus united in opposition, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

At the same time, I’m not going to let Republicans off that easy, because conservatives should be angry at them. The reason why we have a liberal in the White House and why Democrats control overwhelming majorities in Congress is that Republicans failed badly when they were in power. Democrats were in a position to push a government takeover of the health care system, because when Republicans controlled things, they didn’t advance free market solutions. After Hillarycare was defeated in 1994, the sentiment was that they dodged a bullet, and could go back to ignoring the issue — while Democrats were quietly plotting for the next time they were in control. Sure, health savings accounts were a good thing, but they were narrow in scope, and far overshadowed by the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the form of the Medicare prescription drug plan.

By the time this year rolled around, Democrats were in power and Republicans were discredited. Meanwhile, all of the special interest groups (insurers, drug manufacturers, hospitals, the AMA and AARP) were on the side of those in power so they could carve up the pie at the expense of the rest of us. It was going to be an uphill battle to begin with, but Republicans dithered for months, and settled on a strategy that ended up focusing on protecting Medicare from cuts rather than going after something like the individual mandate, which would have struck a blow at the heart of Obamacare.

By the time it got to the Senate floor, I don’t think any tactical decisions by McConnell could have made up for more than a decade of Republican blundering. The Democrats had the votes and a willingness to cut whatever backroom deals they needed to. They were willing to do this despite the fact that public opinion has been overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, and even though a number of Democrats put their seats in serious peril by voting for this legislation.