Obama Admin Revives “Death Panel” Debate

The New York Times reports that the administration has brought back the end-of-life planning provision that triggered last year’s “death panel” debate.  The measure allowed doctors to be paid for providing voluntary counseling to patients about deciding what kind of life-sustaining treatment they’d want if they were no longer in a condition to make decisions about their own care. As I wrote at that time, this is the reality of what happens when government is involved in medical care — suddenly the state gains an interest in individual decisions. And given that government at all levels is spending $1.1 trillion a year on health care, roughly half of which is federal Medicare spending, decisions about what they decide to pay and not pay for is going to have a major impact on medical care. 

The Democrats’ dropped this provision in the Senate Finance Committee last summer because the “death panel” talk was generating too much negative attention to the then fledgling bill. But now, it’s back — and not surprisingly, it was revived by none other that Donald Berwick, the Medicare administrator who if you recall, was recess-appointed, because his self-professed love of Britain’s health care system and fondness for rationing made him unconfirmable. So though it isn’t a surprise, this news is it’s another example of how the Obama administration plans to achieve through regulation what it could not pass through legislation.

Poll: Americans Have Contradictory Views on Health Care

A new CNN poll shows that the public is still overwhelmingly opposed to ObamaCare. Yet when you break down the individual provisions, they hold views that are contradictory from a policy perspective. On the one hand, Americans oppose the mandate to purchase health insurance by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin, and yet by an even wider 64 percent to 35 percent margin, they favor preventing insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Regardless of political ideology, health care policy experts generally agree that you cannot force insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions if you aren’t requiring all people to purchase insurance — otherwise the market will break down.

Learning from the 111th

Agree or disagree with their policies or tactics, one thing that’s for sure is that the 111th Congress was one of the most productive ever — the $862 billion economic stimulus package, national health care, financial regulation and repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” are just a few of the significant pieces of legislation to get through. Democrats and the Obama administration realized that political power was fleeting, and they decided to push through as many liberal priorities as they could during that short period in power. They put real points on the board during that time. ObamaCare alone is the most significant achievement since the creation of Medicare in 1965. Contrast this with the way Republicans operated when they had unified control. President Bush was able to get temporary tax cuts passed which we now know will require continued bargaining with Democrats to maintain. When Bush proposed to actually do something real on Social Security, Republicans in Congress ran scared under Democratic demagoguery, and ended up losing power the next year anyway. In their defense, Republicans did not have a 60-vote majority in the Senate like the Democrats had for that window before Scott Brown’s victory. Yet that still doesn’t explain why when he did flex his legislative muscle, Bush did so to fight battles on liberal turf — passing the “No Child Left Behind” law that increased the federal role in education and the Medicare prescription drug plan that had been the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society (until the passage of ObamaCare). While conservatives are celebrating the end of the ram and jam ways of the 111th Congress, they should also hope that Republicans learn something from it, and actually advance conservative policies when in power.

The Downside of Redistricting for Conservatives

Yesterday the Census Bureau announced the new distribution of House seats reflecting population data from its 2010 survey. As a number of news outlets have noted, the reapportionment combined with Republican gains in state legislatures and governorships last month have given an edge to the GOP. In total, Republicans have control over the redistricting of 196 Congressional seats, compared to 49 for Democrats — the rest will have to be done on a bipartisan basis.

While this would seem to benefit Republicans at first blush, it could be a hindrance for conservatives who are hoping for a Republican majority that governs as conservatives. The overarching criticism of the last Republican House (1995 – 2007) was that they came to change Washington but ended up becoming a part of it — embracing the culture of out of control spending and desperately clinging to power. There were a number of explanations for how this happened, but redistricting was a contributing factor to this decline. Republicans who felt their seats were protected developed an arrogant entitlement mentality and thought they could keep getting reelected as long they didn’t rock the boat. I’ll never forget listening to Beltway Republicans in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections who were arguing that the GOP would maintain control of Congress, largely because of redistricting.

This is an area where the Tea Party movement could play an important role. If GOP members fear they may lose in the primary if they stray from conservative principles, then it will be a lot harder for incumbent Republicans to hide behind redistricting.

Romney’s Conservative Problem

The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling is touting a new poll in various states showing that Mitt Romney has weaker favorability ratings than his Republican rivals. This doesn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t change my view that given his competition, Romney is still the frontrunner for the nomination. The problem is that even though conservatives — for good reason — are skeptical about Romney, to beat him, they’ll have to rally around another candidate. Otherwise, the conservatives will just split their vote up in a crowded field and Romney will be the last man standing, just like John McCain in 2008. It’s true that in a followup, PPP noted that the electorate in 2012 is trending more conservative than the one that nominated McCain. But that still doesn’t answer the question — who is going to beat Romney? Tim Pawlenty? Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Mike Huckabee? As long as conservatives are fighting over the answer to that question, Romney can sneak in. And this would be highly problematic, because as I’ve written before, a Romney nomination would kill the movement to repeal ObamaCare.

GOP Caves on START

The START treaty advanced in the Senate, winning a cloture vote 67 to 28, clearing the way for final passage.

The following Republicans voted for the treaty: Sens: Lamar Alexander, Bob Bennett, Scott Brown, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Johnny Isakson, Dick Lugar, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich.

New Apportionment Would Have Boosted GOP in Last 3 Presidential Elections

Earlier this morning the Census Bureau announced the new distribution of Congressional seats among the states following the 2010 Census, and based on recent history, the shift would seem to benefit Republicans when it comes to presidential elections.

The Census found that traditionally Republican states gained more population over the past decade than states that have typically been Democratic strongholds.

States that have gone Republican in all three elections gained a total of eight seats (Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Utah) and lost two (Louisiana and Missouri) for a net gain of six seats. By contrast, states that have gone consistently Democratic gained just one seat in Washington, but lost seven (Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York) for a net loss of six seats. That’s an overall net change of 12 seats favoring Republicans.

Among the remaining states that have swung over the course of the last three elections, Florida and Nevada gained a combined three seats, while Iowa and Ohio lost three.

If the new allocation of Congressional seats had been around during this past decade, George Bush would have gained a net of 14 electoral votes over Al Gore and 12 votes over John Kerry. In 2008, John McCain would have also gained a net of 14 over Barack Obama.

Census Announces List of States’ Congressional Seat Gains/Losses

The Census Bureau just completed its one duty specifically described in the Constitution — to count the number of people living in the United States and apportion them to determine how many Congressional seats go to each state.

Here’s the breakdown of the 18 states which gained or lost seats.

GAINS:

Arizona +1

Florida +2

Georgia +1

Nevada +1

South Carolina +1

Texas +4

Utah +1

Washington +1

LOSSES:

Illinois -1

Iowa -1

Louisiana: -1

Massachusetts -1

Michigan -1

Missouri -1

New Jersey -1

New York -2

Ohio -2

Pennsylvania -1

Now it’s up to state legislatures to carve up their maps into Congressional districts.

Chris Christie in Perspective

There’s a bit of a debate going on over at the Washington Post about Gov. Chris Christie, with Ezra Klein arguing that he’s only popular in small doses, and Jennifer Rubin responding that Republicans adore him. I’m surprised that Ezra would point to Christie’s 51 percent approval rating to back up his thesis. Considering that Christie was only elected with 48 percent of the vote, that he’s presided over brutal spending cuts in a liberal (or at least center-left) state, and is an officeholder at a time when Americans hate all elected officials, a 51 percent approval rating is pretty solid.

Ezra also notes his staff’s strategy of trying to capture YouTube moments of him confronting people at town hall meetings. But this isn’t merely about self-promotion, it serves an actual governing purpose. In the past, governors haven’t been able to make the type of cuts he has because they’ve been afraid of taking on the unions. By creating these viral YouTube moments which show him sounding like a responsible guardian of the state’s finances pitted against greedy and unreasonable public sector employees, he changed the dynamic and made these cuts possible. Ezra looks down on Christie’s 51 percent rating, but the approval rating for New Jersey’s teacher’s union is down at 39 percent (or 32 percent among non-public employee households).

Ultimately, this conversation is irrelevant within the context of the 2012 presidential race. I’d be willing to bet any amount of money that he doesn’t run this time around. Taking nothing away from him, the fact that he’s even being talked about as a possible candidate says more about the weakness of the Republican field. The guy has said repeatedly that he isn’t going to run, hasn’t taken any of the steps that would suggest he may do so, and he hasn’t even been governor for a year yet.

While we’re on the subject of Christie though, I’d highly encourage you to watch this ’60 Minutes’ segment on the Day of Reckoning for state budgets, which featured him.