So Much for That “White Backlash” Theory

It’s become an article of faith in certain liberal circles that President Obama has triggered a racially motivated backlash among whites, which has contributed to his low approval ratings. But new Gallup data undermines that theory.

Of the course of its polling, Gallup asked Americans whether they approved or disapproved of Obama’s handling of 13 different issues. As it turns out, race relations was the one issue on which a majority of Americans –53 percent — approved.

Rounding out the bottom was immigration at 29 percent and the federal deficit at 31 percent. Just 40 percent approved of his handling of health care policy.

This poll suggests that Obama’s political problems stem from his unpopular agenda and the objectively bad economy, rather than race.

Obama No Longer Welcomes Health Care Fight

Days after the passage of the new health care law, President Obama visited Iowa and offered some brash words for Republicans who planned to campaign against it:

This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about. And now that it’s passed, they’re already promising to repeal it. They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November.

Well I say go for it… If they want to have that fight, I welcome that fight.

But with the 2010 campaign season now at hand, the White House is singing a different tune, the Los Angeles Times reports:

In an effort coordinated with the White House, congressional leaders are urging Democrats to focus less on bragging about what they have done – a landmark healthcare law, a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation and other far-reaching policy changes – and more on efforts to fix the economy and on the perils of Republican control of Congress.

One year after many town hall meetings were upended by raucous anti-government protesters, congressional Democrats are trying to ensure that this summer’s debate sheds a more flattering light on their party as they navigate a bruising midterm election campaign….

The article goes on to include this quote:

“Our candidates’ job is not to sell the accomplishments of the past but to send a message that strikes a chord,” said a senior Democratic advisor who did not want to be identified while discussing strategy. “I am not one who thinks our candidates should go out and sell healthcare reform. They have to stay focused on jobs, the economy and shaking up Washington.”

Poll: Just 3% of Arabs Empathize With Jewish Holocaust Victims

Just 3 percent of Arabs say they empathize with Jewish Holocaust victims, according to a new poll (PDF) released by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, in conjuction with Zogby.

The survey polled 3,976 people in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

It asked respondents, “When you watch a movie or a program about the Jewish Holocaust, which of the following is closest to your feelings…”

The most popular response, from 59 percent, was “Resent it as I feel it brings sympathy toward Israel and the Jews at the expense of Palestinians and Arabs.”

Another 29 percent said they had “mixed feelings.

Rounding out the bottom, a mere three percent of Arabs say they “Empathize with the Jews who suffered under the Nazis.”

Jamie Kirchick has more on the rest of the poll, here.

Unemployment Woes

This morning brought us yet another weak employment report, with the economy losing 131,000 jobs in July. It’s true that 143,000 job losses can be accounted for by the end of temporary cenusus jobs, but still, private sector job growth of 71,000 was still weaker than than expected. The unemployment rate remained at 9.5 percent.

Politically speaking, the difficulty for Democrats is that there are only two more job reports between now and the November elections, so they’re running out of time to change minds about their stewardship of the economy. And at this point, it’s increasingly unlikely that even one gangbusters report would change public attitudes — it would probably take a series of several months, or even quarters, of economic data.

Starving ObamaCare

One of the most popular debates in Washington these days is whether this year’s midterm elections will be a repeat of 1994, when Republicans rode a wave of anti-big government sentiment to retake Congress, delivering a blow to a young liberal president. But the natural follow-up question is whether a new Republican majority could produce an encore of 1995.

When the Republican majority set out to slash government spending that year, it encountered stiff resistance from the White House that ultimately triggered a government shutdown.

Ever since Democrats rammed through President Obama’s overwhelmingly unpopular national health care law, conservatives have been grappling with ways to undo it. One problem is that the strategy of repealing the law isn’t viable until 2013, when there’s a chance to inaugurate a Republican president. In the meantime, other conservatives are pinning their hopes on a successful legal challenge to the law’s mandate forcing all Americans to purchase government-approved health insurance policies. But however strong the constitutional arguments may be, that strategy leaves ObamaCare’s fate in the hands of judges who have already discarded federalism and stretched the Commerce Clause to the point of meaninglessness.

With tremendous uncertainty surrounding both these avenues, another strategy is emerging that would give the GOP an opportunity to deliver a more immediate blow to the health care law. Should Republicans regain control of Congress, they could theoretically use their new power of the purse to deny Obama the funding needed to administer his signature accomplishment. This prospect is already gaining steam among opponents of the law. The new group DeFundit.org has gotten more than 90 candidates and current members of Congress to sign a pledge supporting stripping ObamaCare of money.

There are a lot of scenarios for how a defunding push could play out, especially based on whether Republicans gain control of one or both chambers of Congress. But in the end, such a strategy could result in a replay of late 1995, when a budgetary standoff led to a government shutdown.

Newt Gingrich, who as House Speaker was a central figure in the standoff leading to that shutdown, has been one of the most vocal proponents of the defunding strategy, and he presented the idea during an April breakfast hosted by TAS.

“A simple majority can refuse to fund,” Gingrich said. “So if [John] Boehner is Speaker and Mitch McConnell is majority leader, all you have to do is write it into the appropriations bills. If the president vetoes the appropriations bills, you repass them. The president has got to go to the country and convince the country…to spend money on a program that has a 20 percent margin of disapproval.”

He continued, “So the president has to somehow make it into a positive political issue to veto the appropriations bills. The only person who can close the government is the president. If you’re determined to pass the appropriations bills, he has to decide to veto a bill you have passed.”

The idea would be to gut ObamaCare by denying the money needed to implement its sweeping provisions. “There are 159 new offices, agencies, and commissions in this new bill,” Gingrich explained. “All you say is, we’re not gonna fund them. And you have in effect, stopped the project.”

REP. TODD TIAHRT OF KANSAS is the ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The spending bill that emerges from his committee would ultimately be the one that would include the funding associated with the new health care law.

Shortly after the signing of the new law, Tiahrt called for House-Senate talks on how to defund the legislation. In a phone interview with TAS, he agreed it was theoretically possible to stop ObamaCare in its tracks through the appropriations process. Even spending that is considered “mandatory” still needs to be implemented by an agency.

“If there’s no money to administer it, nothing gets done,” Tiahrt said, echoing Gingrich. “If the money is not there to write the regulations, the regulations won’t be written.”

Logistically, a member could offer an amendment to the committee that targeted a provision of the law, adding the language, “No funds shall…” The amendment would have to pass out of committee to be included in the bill that goes before the larger chamber. Tiahrt said he used this method last year to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of funding needed to regulate live-stock emissions, which he said would have crippled cattle production.

While he said he supports presenting an amendment that would defund the law in its entirety, his comments suggested it would be more likely that Republicans would target specific aspects of the bill.

In May, the Congressional Budget Office released a new analysis estimating that $115 billion in discretionary spending has been authorized under the new law for the next decade. But the office cautioned that it couldn’t issue a more thorough estimate because in many cases the legislation simply says that Congress shall allocate whatever sums it deems “necessary” to implement given provisions, without specifying how much those sums would be. One Republican staffer on the Hill described discretionary spending as the “low-hanging fruit” for defunding.

“It’s possible to defund the whole thing,” Tiahrt said. “It’s possible to defund sections of it. It would be more likely that some of those things that were done as special provisions to capture one or two votes are more vulnerable than others.”

For instance, he noted the “Louisiana Purchase” of $300 million in Medicaid money, inserted as Democrats were courting Sen. Mary Landrieu to vote for the Senate bill. Another example is the increased funding for Internal Revenue Service agents to audit businesses and individuals to enforce mandates.

Yet Tiahrt admitted that “there are some things in the health care law I approve of,” and cited funding for community health centers as an example. “The whole idea here is we need to find sections that are not effective, or are in the wrong direction for the recovery of our economy and our nation, and put those to the test through the amendment process,” he said.

If the Republicans control both chambers of Congress and choose to defund the administration’s chief legislative achievement, it would trigger a showdown with President Obama. If they control just one body of Congress, the conflict would still occur, but it would be between the two chambers.

“Regardless of if Republicans control one body or both bodies, there could be a standoff,” Tiahrt said. “And the standoff means no funding. So for those whose objective is to reform, repeal, and replace the health care system, that’s a good opportunity.”

Tiahrt said that ultimately, it was a matter of having the will.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to have strong leadership in the House and Senate,” he said. “There are tools available. We can talk about different strategies, but unless you have strong leadership and people who are willing to withstand criticism from the administration, and probably from the national media, it would be difficult to get it done. So we can’t send representatives and senators to Washington who cower in the face of conflict. We have to have courageous members.”

HOW REPUBLICANS CHOOSE to proceed should they win a majority in at least one chamber largely depends on how they view the legacy of the 1995 government shutdown. Gingrich himself emphatically rejects the conventional wisdom that the event was a huge defeat for the GOP, allowing President Clinton to reclaim the center by portraying Republicans as extremists.

“Everybody in Washington thinks that was a big mistake,” Gingrich said. “They’re exactly wrong. There had been no reelected Republican majority since 1928. Part of the reason we got reelected, and we were reelected, remember, with [Bob] Dole losing the presidency…is our base thought we were serious. And they thought we were serious because when it came to a show-down, we didn’t flinch.”
He also said the shutdown helped lead to practical accomplishments, such as a balanced budget and welfare reform.

In today’s climate, Gingrich said, Republicans could win the battle with Obama. “A Republican Congress could calmly and forcefully say, ‘We are not going to fund bigger government, more debt, and socialized medicine,'” he said.

But Michael Cannon, a Cato Institute health policy analyst and fierce critic of ObamaCare, disagrees.

“I don’t think that anyone but Newt Gingrich believes that that was a success,” Cannon said of the government shutdown. The reason why congressional Republicans were reelected in 1996, he argued, was simply that in most years, the public tends to reelect incumbents. “If he thinks that’s evidence of success of his government shutdown, then I think he must be smoking something.”

Instead of helping the cause of limited government, the government shutdown created an opening for Democrats to associate lower taxes with being uncompassionate, Cannon said. To avoid the same mistake this time, he suggested that if Republicans take back the majority, they should force the administration to defend the aspects of the law that generate the most public opposition.

“If you want to be successful, you have to make sure you’re doing it in a way that is going to make the law unpopular and not make you unpopular,” he said. “And to do that, you can’t defund the whole thing. You have to pick something that is crucial, that will cause major problems for proponents of it.”

One of the most effective tactics Republicans could use, he said, would be to pass an appropriations bill that includes the more restrictive language on abortion championed by Rep. Bart Stupak, who ultimately caved and supported a bill that did allow for public funding (though he vehemently denies it). Such a move would provoke a fight in which pro-choice Democrats would once again have to choose between ObamaCare and limits on private abortion coverage. (Given that the health care law has government subsidizing private policies, a broad number of private policies would be subject to such restrictions for the first time.) On top of that, public funding for abortion is something that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to.

“If you put the Stupak language in an appropriations bill, you can win the message war and remind the public that this is what ObamaCare does, and that it’s always going to do this unless you repeal it,” Cannon said. Even if Republicans ultimately flinch, “We could spend weeks and weeks talking about how ObamaCare covers abortion and making it less and less popular.”

While he said that he thinks it would be “fantastic” if a full defunding strategy worked, it could provide Democrats with an opening to win a battle that gets framed as uncompassionate Republicans versus compassionate Democrats.

“Nothing short of repeal is going to be worthwhile,” he said. And according to this line of argument, a fight that reinforces the unpopularity of ObamaCare will make repeal more likely in 2013 than a fight that makes opponents of the law look bad.

The only thing that could change the dynamics, Cannon said, would be a Greek-style financial crisis that would make it easier for Republicans to publicly defend more drastic steps.

ALTHOUGH HE DEFENDED the government shutdown, Gingrich acknowledged that one of the lessons he learned from the conflict with Clinton was, “You have to consistently communicate.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted during the 1995 government shutdown recorded a 65 percent disapproval rating for Gingrich. Especially harmful were comments he made after being asked to sit at the back of Air Force One on a trip to assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. Gingrich called it a “snub” from the Clinton White House and said that it was “part of why you ended up with us sending down a tougher continuing resolution.” The media seized on the narrative that the House Speaker shut down the government because of his bruised ego, prompting the New York Daily News to publish a front-page cartoon depicting Gingrich as a toddler throwing a tantrum, with the headline “Crybaby.”

The key is to think of defunding ObamaCare as one of several avenues to undermine the legislation, and not as some sort of magic bullet. Getting rid of the law for good will require persistence, conviction, and resolve among elected officials, but the only way to foster that is to sustain public opposition. Otherwise, the inertia of the welfare state will cement ObamaCare in place as an entitlement, crippling our health care system and handing over another massive financial burden to future generations.

Coburn & Hatch Introduce Bill Barring Abortion Funding Under ObamaCare

Sens. Tom Coburn and Orrin Hatch have introduced legislation today that would bar federal funds from being used to help fund abortion under ObamaCare.

The 9-page legislation, which can be viewed below, would replicate the language originally introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who had originally fought for more restrictive abortion language before notoriously caving to help clear the passage for the new health care law. The bill has 25 co-sponsors.

The new legislation comes on the heels of a report by the Congressional Research Service, which found that contrary to Democrats’ claims, neither the language in the health care law, nor Obama’s executive order, ensures that public funding won’t be used to subsidize abortions.

Social Security to Start Running Annual Deficits Over Next Two Years

Five years ago, when President Bush made his pitch to reform Social Security, the program was projected to start running annual deficits in 2018.

But in its yearly report released today, the Social Security Trustees have projected that due to the weak economy, the program will be paying out more benefits than it collects in taxes in both 2010 and 2011. Anticipating that the economy will recover, the trustees project that program will return to surpluses for a few years, but then, starting in 2015, it will begin consistently running deficits every year.

Defenders of the status quo in Social Security argue that the program is perfectly fine until its trust fund becomes exhausted, which is now projected to happen in 2037. But as I’ve noted before, to draw such a distinction is to pretend that all of the money doesn’t ultimately come from the same bank account (or in this case, the collective bank accounts of American taxpayers).

The Social Security program is financed primarily by payroll taxes. When the amount of tax revenue collected exceeds benefits, the surplus is theoretically put in the trust fund. But in reality, the federal government uses that surplus to finance ongoing government operations, and puts a stack of bonds — or IOUs — in the funds instead. So, while it’s true that for about 27 years, there’s theoretically enough money within the system to keep paying beneficiaries, over the next two years and then consistently after 2015, that money will have to come from somewhere — at a time when the nation is already suffocating under a mountain of debt.

To make the program actuarially solvent over a 75-year period, the trustees note, “the combined payroll tax rate could be increased during the period in a manner equivalent to an immediate and permanent increase of 1.84 percentage points, scheduled benefits could be reduced during the period in a manner equivalent to an immediate and permanent reduction of 12.0 percent, general revenue transfers equivalent to $5.4 trillion in present value could be made during the period, or some combination of approaches could be adopted. Significantly larger changes would be required to maintain solvency beyond 75 years.”

CA Judge Overturns “Prop 8”

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker has struck down Proposition 8, the popularly approved ballot measure in California that banned same sex marriage, ruling that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.

Walker concluded:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.  Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Read the full decision here.

Missouri Says “No” to ObamaCare

As Democrats in Washington began their drive toward national health care last year, Jane Cunningham, a state senator from St. Louis County, could tell that something was stirring in Missouri.

“I started getting phone calls from constituents that were more concerned than I had ever heard before in my entire decade in the legislature,” Cunningham said in a Tuesday phone interview with TAS. “They were frightened and they were angry and they wanted us to find some kind of relief for them from what the federal government was proposing.”

In response, she got together with other state legislators, and, borrowing language from the American Legislative Exchange Council, sponsored a bill to put a health care ballot measure before voters.

Yesterday, by an overwhelming 71 percent to 29 percent margin, voters in the bellwether state approved the resulting initiative known as Proposition C, which is aimed at protecting Missouri residents from the mandate that will force individuals to purchase health insurance policies approved by the government, or pay a penalty.

“Missouri is the first public referendum on ObamaCare in the nation,” Cunningham said, noting that efforts to shield residents from the affects of ObamaCare are underway — at various stages — in 42 states. Oklahoma and Arizona have similar initiatives on their ballots in November.

Skeptics of these initiatives say that they lack real teeth, because ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have to determine whether the federal government has the right under the Constitution to dictate to individuals that they must buy a product.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that a Virginia-based lawsuit against the mandate should move forward, rejecting an attempt by the federal government to have the case thrown out on procedural grounds. Without addressing the merits of the underlying arguments about the constitutionality of the mandate, the judge concluded that it represented a novel use of the Commerce Clause that no court has yet ruled on.

Cunningham dismissed those who tried to down play the significance of the vote.

“We feel in Missouri like we are fighting for citizens all around the country that feel like we must draw a line in the sand between what are state and individual rights, and what are federal rights and responsibilities,” she said.

Yesterday’s vote was a direct result of citizens demanding their lawmakers take action, and then implementing a campaign for the measure once the legislature approved putting it on the ballot, she said. Cunningham recounted that grassroots organizations had held five rallies at the capitol, gathered on street corners, marched in parades, and called radio shows.

One of those citizen activists was Annette Read, a stay at home mom from the St. Louis area who used to spend her time designing jewelry and selling items online. She told TAS that she hadn’t been politically involved until 2008, when she and her twin sister were so fed up with excessive government spending that they decided to do something about it.

They began to organize and started attending Tea Parties last year, and things really took off when Read put her information on the website of Glenn Beck’s 9/11 Project as a local contact. “We were found by a lot of people, this happened all on its own,” she said.

The organization that they formed last year, I Heard the People Say, now claims 3,000 members in their database, and has its own website.

“When we started gaining membership, the feedback was overwhelming that people were most concerned about what was happening with the potential health care changes,” she said.

Last August, she met with Cunningham and several other state lawmakers to talk about the Health Care Freedom Act, and joined the campaign to win passage through the legislature, and then to win approval by voters. A lot of the work has consisted of raising public awareness, an effort that included having volunteers send out mailings from their own houses.

“You wouldn’t want to come over right now,” she said, laughing at all the Prop C-related materials in her home.

Patrick Tuohey, who worked for pollster Frank Luntz in the 1990s before moving into the corporate world, became active in Missouri politics when he returned to the Kansas City area in 2005. About two months ago, once Proposition C was on the ballot, Tuohey became manager of Missourians for Health Care Freedom, which was hastily formed to raise money and help lead the statewide campaign. Most of his time, he told TAS, was spent helping grassroots activists and providing them with materials such as yard signs. Though starting last Monday, the group began taking out radio ads.

Supporters of ObamaCare have been dismissive of the vote in Missouri, arguing that it occurred during low-turnout primaries, and on a day in which the Republican races garnered more attention.

“The assumption that those critics would make is that this would not have passed on a November ballot,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s true. I think this would pass in Missouri whenever we put it on the ballot.”

As evidence, he noted that originally the measure was intended to be on the general election ballot in November, but Democrats fought it, fearing that it would help boost turnout among conservatives.

Last August, when citizens lashed out at their representatives in town hall meetings throughout the nation, Democrats wrote them off as angry mobs sent by insurance companies. When Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the nation, elected Scott Brown in January on a pledge to be the 41st vote against the health care bill, the Congressional leadership used a series of complicated parliamentary maneuvers to ram the legislation through anyway, convincing themselves that it would become popular over time.

Though Democrats may be tempted to dismiss last night’s result in Missouri, history has proven that they’ve ignored public opposition to national health care legislation at their own peril.

USA Today: Obama Approval Sinks to 41 Percent

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that President Obama’s approval rating has sunk to a new low, at 41 percent. While he’s still at 45 percent in the separate Gallup tracking poll, any time a sitting president is in the low 40s territory a few months before the midterm elections in any major poll, it should be worrisome to his party.

Interestingly, even worse than his approval rating on the economy (39%) is his approval rating on Afghanistan (36%), with Americans turning increasingly against the war. Yet with Republicans remaining broadly supportive of the general war effort (especially with Gen. David Petraeus at the helm), I imagine they’ll run more against Obama as an inexperienced commander in chief than against our continued commitment itself.