Monday, January 11, 2010

The Weekly Strike-1/11-1/17

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the week in politics. Reading political news these days, you'll see an increasing emphasis on election stories and a decreasing emphasis on policy fights, which is deeply unfortunate.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President didn't exactly have the best week. He was still struggling in the aftermath of the attempted Christmas airline bombing, and he took a big hit when Friday's jobs numbers came out. He will try to get back on the right track this week, starting this morning when he meets with his supposed allies, organized labor.

Labor groups are deeply critical about the President's support of an excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans. The way the tax is structured now, all plans that cost more than $23,000 will be subject to the excise tax. Many union members have negotiated high cost insurance plans in lieu of higher wages, so they are understandably angry. The President supports the tax for the same reason that most policy wonks do: it will help lower overall health care costs in the long run. However, the long-run cost argument isn't exactly going over well at the SEIU and AFL-CIO.

There seems to be a pretty reasonable solution on the table. The way the tax is structured now, it could envelope 42% of health care consumers in ten years. The hope, of course, is that the tax would discourage workers and companies from purchasing high cost plans, but 42% is an awfully high number. Apparently, if the threshold is raised to $28,000, only 14% of plans would be subject to the tax by 2019. Combine this increased threshold with some indexing for inflation, and union members will probably be satisfied.

Getting the excise tax problem worked out is one of the last remaining large obstacles to health reform. So the President could do a lot of good for himself if he can reach some sort of agreement with organized labor and their allies in Congress.

Later today, the President will host a dinner with Combat Commanders and their spouses. The Vice President is attending the funeral of his mother, Jean Biden. Condolences to the Vice President for his loss. The rest of the President's schedule this week has yet to be released.

THE HOUSE: The House of Representatives comes back into session this work for its first meeting in 2010. Most of the action this week will be behind closed doors, as health care negotiations between House and Senate leaders are ongoing. The House will consider several bills under suspension of the rules.

The House will also vote dispose of the President's first veto. The President vetoed something, you ask? Why, yes he did! Prior to the end of last year's session of Congress, the House and Senate passed a stopgap funding measure in case the Senate failed to pass a Defense funding bill on time. The Senate did indeed manage to pass that bill on time, so the stopgap funding measure was not needed. Therefore, the President vetoed it. Not exactly a high profile opportunity to issue your first veto. The House must vote to override this veto, which it most certainly will not.

The Senate is still out of session until next week.

ELECTIONS: As you may have noticed, I have added a Senate Elections toolbar on the right side of your screen, reflecting my take on the 2010 Senate map. Right now, I'm projecting 55 Democrats and 40 Republicans in the Senate, with 5 seats rated as tossups. Republicans would have to win every tossup seat, plus all of the Lean Democratic and Likely Democratic seats to take over the Senate.

I currently have three Democratic seats favored to turn Republican. The first is in Nevada, Majority Leader Harry Reid is in serious trouble. He has been trailing unknown opponents all year, and has minuscule favorability ratings. It certainly didn't help that controversial comments were revealed this week in the book "Game Change." Reid apparently said that Barack Obama was electable because he didn't speak "the negro dialect." Ouch. I have some sympathy for Reid here. It was an inartful comment, but he has a strong record on civil rights, and he helped Obama become our nation's first black President. Nevertheless, incumbents with ratings this low will rarely win reelection, and I don't think Reid will be any exception.

I also have the open seat in Delaware (Joe Biden's old seat) as Lean Republican, because popular Rep. Mike Castle is running for the GOP. Unless Joe Biden's son (Attorney General Beau Biden) gets in the race, this seat is toast for the Democrats. If Biden gets in the race, we could move this election into the "tossup" category.

The third likely Republican takeover is in North Dakota, where Byron Dorgan's retirement significantly changed the political landscape. Governor John Hoeven, who has sky-high approval ratings, will announce today that he is running for the Senate for the GOP. Because of his popularity, and the lack of any strong Democratic contenders at this point, I'm currently listing this Democratic-held seat as "Safe Republican," meaning we are almost certain to lose a Senate seat in this November's elections.

I have included next week's Massachusetts Senate election in my rankings, and despite my panicked entry on Saturday, I am listing the seat as "likely Democratic." A poll out yesterday showed Democrat Martha Coakley with a 15 point lead over her Republican opponent Scott Brown in the race to succeed Ted Kennedy. Other polls have shown the race dangerously close, including one that actually showed Brown ahead. But Massachusetts is such a Democratic state, and I just can't see the Bay State electing a the 41st Republican Senator to kill health care reform, Ted Kennedy's singular issue.

That's it for now, please leave us comments, including your thoughts on the Senate rankings. Take care!


  1. Hey Strike! Speaking of seats headed to the Republican side, what's your sense of the Marco Rubio candidacy in Florida, as noted in last Sunday's NY Times magazine?

  2. Hey Anonymous!

    Great question. The seat is currently in Republican hands, and I think the GOP has a solid chance of holding it regardless of whether Crist or Rubio wins the primary, mostly because Democrat Kendrick Meek isn't a great statewide candidate.

    As for Rubio, I would say he's at least even money right now to win the primary against Crist. The right-wing has looked at the Rubio-Crist race as a litmus test of whether conservative insurgent candidates can knock off the GOP establishment. Rubio has a lot of grassroots support from hardline conservatives. Whether that translates into votes, I don't know. But it is far more likely to help him in a closed Republican primary than it would be in a general election.