Obama Gets No Bump from SOTU Speech

Going into President Obama’s first State of the Union speech, Gallup noted that annual speeches to Congress rarely affect presidential approval ratings (in large part because the audience tends to be skewed toward those who already support him). It turns out that despite his oratorical skills, our current president is not different in this respect from his predecessors.

We now have data from Gallup tracking polls based on interviews taken in the three days following President Obama’s speech on Wednesday, and his ratings now stand at 48 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval — exactly where he was in the three days of polling proceeding the speech.

What this tells us is that Obama has reached the point in his presidency at which he’ll no longer be able to boost public opinon through talking — he’s being judged based on his objective performance. Monthly job reports will have much more impact on public perception than anything he can say or proposal he could make.

Obama Misleads on Integrating GOP Health Care Ideas

In speaking to House Republicans today, President Obama made a number of disingenuous claims about integrating their proposals into the health care legislation.

For instance, Obama said:

“From the start, I sought out and supported ideas from Republicans. I even talked about an issue which has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I’d be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn’t get a lot of nibbles.”

The operative word here is “talked.” Republicans tried and failed to get Democrats to address tort reform. Not only do both bills exclude medical malpractice reform, but the House bill actually sets up incentives that discourage such reform at the state level.

Obama today:

“Creating a high-risk pool for uninsured folks with preexisting conditions. That wasn’t my idea, it was Sen. McCain’s, and I supported it, and it got incorporated into our approach.”

The high-risk pool “incorporated” in the Senate bill would only be a temporary measure that would be in effect until 2014, when the federal government would start requiring insurers to cover those with preexisting conditions. McCain’s proposal on high-risk pools was meant as a substitute for taking the drastic step of imposing such regulations at the federal level, which distorts the entire insurance market to address a problem that affects a small percentage of Americans. Requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions is popular in isolation, but inevitably leads to skyrocketing premiums, which leads to an individual mandate forcing healthy people into the insurance pool, which leads to subsidies, which leads to higher taxes. But regardless what side of this debate you’re on, the reality is that Democrats didn’t adopt the high-risk pool idea to incorporate Republican ideas, it’s just something to hold people over until the regulatory regime takes over in 4 years. (And remember, the reason they delayed implementation so long was that by postponing the bill’s major spending provisions, they made the legislation appear cheaper over the Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year budget window).

More Obama:

“Allowing insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines to add choice and competition and bring down costs for businesses and consumersâ€_. That’s an idea that was incorporated into our package.”

This is another misleading statement. The impetus for the conservative proposal to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines is that many states have imposed so many benefit mandates on health insurance that there are parts of the country where it’s difficult to buy a basic medical plan with affordable monthly premiums. Obama argued during the campaign (and reiterated today) that free interstate purchase of insurance would be a bad idea, because insurers would flock to states with the least regulations. Again, regardless of what side of the debate you’re on, all the Senate bill would do would be to allow states to form “compacts” with one another allowing for the purchase of insurance among any states that form a compact. The problem is that Obamacare would impose a new federal regulatory regime, in which there would be minimum benefit requirements imposed at the national level. So even if states did agree to form these compacts with one another, all it would mean is that individuals could have the “choice” of purchasing government-designed insurance policies on a government-run exchange in their own state, or instead choose among government-designed insurance policies offered on the government-run exchange in another state.

Today’s back and forth between Obama and Republicans was great theater, but that’s all Obama excels at. If he thinks his ideas on health care are superior and wants to continue to discard alternatives, that‘s his choice. But he can’t credibly argue that he’s made a concerted effort to integrate opposing ideas into the current legislation.

Obama Makes Stunning Math Error Touting GDP Figures

President Obama, speaking to today’s Republican retreat in Baltimore, had this to say about this morning’s GDP numbers:

“The latest GDP numbers show that our economy is growing by almost 6 percent. That’s the most since 2003. To put that in perspective, this time last year, we weren’t seeing positive job growth, we were seeing the economy shrink by about 6 percent. So you’ve seen a 12 percent reversal during the course of this year.”

Oh, where to start? For the sake of ease, let’s just say the GDP of country A is $100. If it declines 6 percent, that would bring it down to $94. Then, if it bumps back up by 6 percent, that brings the GDP to $99.64. That is not, in fact, a 12 percent reversal!

Re: Price of Obstructionism

There’s a much better indication of whether obstructionism is politically costly to the minority party: does the public support or oppose the policies that they’re obstructing? “The Party of ‘No'” isn’t a good label to have if a President’s agenda is very popular, but when the minority party is opposing something like the health care bill — which just 30 percent of Americans want passed, according to a CNN poll — it’s quite beneficial.

Reid Files Cloture on Controversial Obama Labor Nominee

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed cloture on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be solicitor of the Department of Labor. While her nomination hasn’t received that much attention, I wrote about her record in New York in a piece that appeared in the December/January issue of the print magazine:

(Obama) also tapped two women with close ties to unions — Patricia Smith and Lorelei Boylan — for other top positions within the department. While working for the New York State Department of Labor, Smith and Boylan spearheaded a controversial program in which the state partners with unions and other liberal community groups to police workplaces.

“Just as no one wants to live in an area riddled with crime, nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where workers are paid sweatshop wages,” Smith said when announcing the program in January 2009. “New York Wage Watch will increase labor law compliance by giving regular people a formal role in creating lawful workplaces statewide, and thereby improving the quality of life in their communities. It will also help law-abiding employers, who struggle to compete with businesses that undercut them by violating the law.”

But in practice empowering “regular people” actually means that the government is deputizing unions to help police workplaces.

“New York Wage Watch is labor law enforcement at the purest, most grassroots level,” boasted Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in the press release announcing the program.

Boylan, who runs the initiative, was nominated by Obama to head the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, but her nomination was withdrawn in October. Smith, who actually devised the Wage Watch program in New York, was appointed by Obama to be solicitor of labor. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) placed her nomination on hold, meaning that Democrats will need 60 votes to move it forward. Her status was still in limbo as of this writing.

Americans for Limited Government has more on Smith here. The group notes that the Solicitor of Labor position is “the third highest official and the person with the final word on all legal advice in the Department.”

Timeline on Health Care Remains Up in the Air

The day after President Obama’s State of the Union Address brought plenty of tough talk from Democrats, but no clear roadmap or timeline for passage of health care legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted, “We’re going to do health care reform this year.”

While saying that they still intended to act on health care, Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “[T]he three top issues on our agenda this year are jobs, jobs and jobs.”

Yet following a meeting with the Democratic caucus later in the day, Sen. Max Baucus declared, “I’m not saying it’s going to be done tomorrow. But I’m also saying it’s going to be done before spring, summer. We’re moving expeidiutiously. And expeditiously means quickly, solidly, thoughfully.”

The Myth of Majority Rule

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, laying the groundwork for the possibility of using reconciliation to ram a health care bill through Congress, put a different spin on the maneuver yesterday: “Majority rule, we call it.”

The “majority rule” talking point has has been gaining traction among liberals who have been on a long crusade against the filibuster in the Senate. Ezra Klein chimed in with this lesson:

[I]t’s always worth noting that the radical vision of filibuster opponents is … majority rule. The majority rule that Congress used until very recently, the majority rule that is explained to children when they learn about the American government, and the majority rule that we use to run, well, everything else. Scott Brown, for instance, got 51 percent of the votes in Massachusetts, not 60 percent. In fact, you never hear anyone say that we’re a more polarized country now, so we should subject elections to a 60 percent requirement. Majority rule works just fine, thanks.

Ezra is right that children are taught about “majority rule.” But then they grow up to be big boys and big girls, and they learn that the reality is much more complicated.  They’re taught that we live in a republic rather than a pure democracy, and that our founders put a number of protections in place to make sure that the majority didn’t trample over the minority. And the founders also made it intentionally difficult for sudden, sweeping, change to get implemented in the heat of passion.

If the founders wanted majority rule, they would have created a parliamentary system, with everything decided by the House, where representation is based on population. Instead, they created something called the Senate, where lots of smaller states with less people in them could get equally represented, and be in a position to block objectionable legislation being pushed by the big populous states.  They also inserted the idea of a supermajority in the Constitution — for instance, two-thirds requirements for amending the Constitution or overriding a presidential veto.

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote repeatedly about the need to protect minority rights. In Federalist No. 10,  he addressed complaints “that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

In Federalist No. 51, Madison wrote: “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”

While the filibuster was never in the Constitution, the practice is as old as Congress istelf. “In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster,” the U.S. Senate website explains. “As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.”

The rule of cutting off debate by invoking “cloture” didn’t emerge until 1917, when it required a two-thirds majority. The threshold wasn’t lowered to 60 votes until 1975.

And while Ezra complains that the use of the filibuster has increased over the decades, it’s also worth noting that the existing entitlement programs were imposed by supermajorities. The Social Security Act received 77 votes in the Senate and the legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid passed with 68.

If liberals are genuinely interested in majority rule, however, instead of focusing on legislative shortcuts, maybe they should be concerned about the fact that just 30 percent of Americans want Congress to pass a health care bill similar to the one currently being pushed by Democrats.

“Parachute” Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference today, vowing to continue efforts to have the government takeover the health care system:

“You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”

Landrieu Says Obamacare on “Life Support”

President Obama’s State of the Union address failed to deliver the kind of guidance that many Democrats were hoping for on how to proceed on health care, the Politico reports:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said health care reform “is on life support, unfortunately,” and the president should have been more specific with how Democrats should move forward.

“He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done,” Landrieu told reporters. “Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pyror said that it was “a real possibility that health care is at a stalemate and you can’t solve it this year.” He added that, “It is hard to see how last night fundamentally changes it.”

CNN: Independents Tired of “Hope”/Health Care Talk

Last night, CNN did a focus group during the State of the Union Address, and it provided further evidence of the skepticism toward President Obama among independents. As always with focus groups, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But a few things worth noting in the video below. First, whenever Obama mentioned “hope,” independents reacted negatively, and during the health care portion of the speech, while the reaction meter for Democrats turned up, the reaction among independents dropped like a rock.