Political Animal


April 17, 2014 3:23 PM The Conspiracy To Bypass the Electoral College

When I wrote earlier today about the heads-we-win, tails-you-lose tendency of conservatives to alternate between claims of large natural popular majorities and anti-democratic schemes to “constitutionalize” policies so that popular majorities cannot disturb them, I was not aware that one of the most outlandish proponents of the “center-right nation” hypothesis was now warning against the nefarious Power of the People.

That would be Dick Morris. At Salon, Digby has great fun with this charlatan’s latest crusade:

It is widely acknowledged that Dick Morris is the worst pundit in America. It’s truly not up for debate. He’s so bad that even Roger Ailes was embarrassed by his hilariously wrong predictions in the 2012 election and let him go. (Karl Rove was said to be similarly fired but turned back up on the network almost immediately. Morris did not have his contract renewed.) But Morris is the quintessential “wingnut welfare” king, a man so entrenched in the right-wing infrastructure that it literally doesn’t matter how wrong he is about everything, he will continue to be gainfully employed as a pundit by someone….
Take his latest offering in upside-downism: He claims that in their latest nefarious vote fraud scheme, George Soros and his Democratic minions are preparing to steal elections from Republicans by having states adopt the national popular vote to determine electors in the Electoral College.
Yes, you read that right. Using the national popular vote to determine who wins the presidency would be stealing elections. Let that sink in for a minute.
He’s talking about the Center for Voting and Democracy’s proposal for an Interstate Compact to abide by the national popular vote, a proposal that has been adopted by 10 states, many of them run by Republicans who foolishly have failed to see why this is a plot to only elect Democrats.

I’ve written about said Compact here, but did not view it as a partisan issue:

You’d have to figure the only hard-core opposition to this idea would be from small battleground states like New Hampshire (4 EVs), Iowa (6 EVs) and Nevada (6 EVs), who would no longer demand much presidential general election attention. But these states obviously have other ways to exert influence, as three of the four “privileged” jurisdictions (guaranteed an early start) in the presidential nominating process. Maybe the rest of us should insist they not get a second bite of the apple every four years.

But no, says Morris, in a sloppy piece of argumentation even for him: a national popular-vote system would enable Democrats to win an advantage via “big-city machines” that would roll up huge margins the virtuous burghers of suburban, exurban, small-town and rural America could not overcome. You half-expect him to start fulminating against Boss Tweed.

In any event, Morris seems to think Republicans absolutely have to have a thumb on the scales via the distorting effect of the Electoral College. That’s perfectly in line with the sense you get from many Republicans that it’s only fair they get other thumbs on the scales through restrictions on voting or the Senate filibuster or limitless corporate campaign contributions—or ideally, from courts that rule progressive legislation as unconstitutional. As is often the case, Morris provides a caricature—but still a reflection—of arguments other conservatives are embarrassed to make.

April 17, 2014 2:21 PM Lunch Buffet

Sorry, got a little tied up in trying to remember my Con Law classes from many long years ago in writing the last post. I don’t have a staff of research assistants like George Will undoubtedly has at his disposal.

Here are some lightly researched midday news/views treats:

* New York City considering $15 minimum wage for employees of national retail chains.

* Sean Trende outlines a remote scenario by which Democrats could actually gain Senate seats in November. Didn’t seem too likely in 2012, either, did it?

* Society of Actuaries estimates 2015 insurance premium hikes unlikely to hit the double-digit levels—nationally, at least—so many conservatives are predicting.

* Interesting Vogel/Winger report at Politico about big-money “sponsorship” arrangements between Tea Party groups and talk-radio gabbers.

* TNR’s Marc Tracy examines the sudden rock-star celebrity of economist Thomas Picketty.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Yahoo exec dropped after unsuccessful 15-month tenure earns $58 million severance package. Nice work if you can get it.

As we break for lunch, here’s the Byrds with a classic trippy song from 1967: “Eight Miles High.”

April 17, 2014 1:51 PM The Constitutional Excuse For Subverting Democracy

To anyone puzzled or confused about the preferred Tea Party self-identification buzzword “constitutional conservative,” George Will has done a fine job in his latest column spelling it all out, by way of touting a new book by Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation. Progressives believe the Constitution provides a process that facilitates democracy. Conservatives understand that it’s a safeguard against the limitation of “natural” rights by democratic majorities.

This sounds reasonable if you accept the rather cartoonish idea that progressives do not acknowledge any limitations on popular majorities, or that the two sides mean roughly the same thing when they talk about individual rights. Here Will is not as forthcoming as he might have been, but his extensive discussion of the alleged incorporation of the Declaration of Independence into the Constitution—an invariable touchstone for Constitutional Conservatives—alludes to the common conservative belief that via the Declaration certain divinely granted or naturally endowed “rights”—particularly the untrammeled enjoyment of private property and the “right to life” of zygotes—trump the founding document itself.

You can think of it as a vastly more sweeping conservative version of the “penumbra” theory whereby Justice Douglas identified an implicit “right to privacy” in the Bill of Rights. And indeed, critics of Douglas’ opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (itself a precedent for Roe v. Wade) have sometimes compared it to the “substantive due process” concept of the Lochner v. New York decision under which progressive social and economic legislation was routinely struck down as violating immutable private property rights until Lochner was overturned in 1937. It’s no accident that Will’s hero Sandefur is a latter-day defender of Lochner.

I’m no constitutional lawyer, and so won’t go into the argument over Lochner (or for that matter, Griswold) in detail, but it’s worth noting the practical effect this idea of supra-constitutional limitations on democratic majorities has on conservative political argumentation. When they aren’t describing America as a “center-right nation” or predicting perpetual Republican electoral landslides, or indulging in a “populist” appeals whereby “real Americans” are told they are being illegitimately outgunned by voter fraud or voter bribery, conservatives are prone to retreat into this impregnable fortress of constitutionalist theory which prohibits as a matter of fundamental law most progressive legislation. This redoubt makes it psychologically very easy to rationalize restrictions on voting, or mendacious campaign ads, or unlimited campaign spending by wealthy individuals, or abuse of the filibuster or other anti-democratic mechanisms. After all, conservatives are simply defending themselves against laws and policies that really ought to be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional—you know, like the Lochner-era courts routinely did with progressive legislation up through the early New Deal.

It’s at bottom just another heads-we-win-tails-you-lose proposition whereby American conservatives tend to support the constitutional arguments that in any given circumstance happen to support their policy goals.

April 17, 2014 12:52 PM Jack Kingston and The Welfare

Having discussed the Romney-Ryan campaign’s 2012 “Obama’s gutting welfare reform” ad a good bit lately, I should mention that the idea that welfare bums are loafing around when there are plenty of fine jobs available has hardly gone away since then. Here’s a new ad from Georgia Republican Senate candidate Jack Kingston:

The ad appears to assume that the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program don’t exist any more. It also suggests, of course, that a major reason for high levels of unemployment (it’s currently at 7.0% in Georgia, above the national rate) is that a significant number of people are deliberately choosing a “hand-out,” ignoring all those “help wanted” signs the ad features. I don’t know of any serious economists anywhere on the political spectrum who actually believe that proposition. They may think food stamp benefits are too high or are being abused, but not that they provide some sort of comfortable hammock preferable to wages and EITC eligibility.

More broadly, Kingston is weaving a narrative that unites him (you know, the guy who drove that battered station wagon around coastal Georgia to build a business many years ago, not the powerful appropriator able to raise millions from lobbyists to pay for his saturation ad campaign) and Republican primary voters as virtuous workers angry at those people, often just referred to as The Welfare.

Anyone who believes there is no racial subtext to this ad has either never been to Georgia or is loafing around a crack pipe.

April 17, 2014 12:15 PM Racism Is a Matter of Legitimate Debate, Not a Slur

I suppose I should feel flattered that the imperious Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto devoted the bulk of his column yesterday to various drive-by criticisms of my TPMCare piece last week on racism in politics. He seems exercised by my use of arguments that cannot simply be dismissed as thinly disguised efforts to boost minority turnout, though there’s a disembodied aspect to his attempted takedown, since he does not mention the Jonathan Chait essay that supplied the context for my response (nor, oddly, does he supply a link to either one).

In any event, most of Taranto’s take boils down to “so’s your old man.” He accuses me of “especially crude racial stereotyping” for referring to the GOP’s “bleached constituencies” (I was referring to districts, not “voters” as Taranto assumes). “Bleaching” is a technical term for the common practice in redistricting of seeking to remove minority voters to increase the odds of Republican victory; it is a counterpart to “packing,” which refers to the consolidation of minority voters in the minimum number of seats to reduce Democratic voter efficiency. If “bleaching” is a “crude racial steretoype,” then it’s one that appears in most of the academic literature on redistricting, not to mention court decisions.

Taranto spends much more time seeking to rebut my suggestion that the Romney/Ryan campaign’s gratuitous 2012 ad accusing the Obama administration of “gutting” welfare reform work requirements had a racial subtext. I only offered one authority for my characterization of the ad as blatantly false, he says: a Politi-fact assessment. Well, it was the same judgment offered by CNN’s fact-checkers; by GOP welfare reform architect Ron Haskins; and since Obama was being accused of undoing Bill Clinton’s work, it is probably relevant that the 42d president blasted the ad as false, too. I actually can’t think of anyone other than Heritage Foundation warhorse Robert Rector, author of the “gutting” myth, who offered much of a defense of its accuracy.

Speaking of Clinton, Taranto wonders if I think he was a racist for making welfare reform a campaign issue in 1996. That’s an odd question, since the effect of Clinton’s signing of welfare reform legislation that year was to make it a non-issue in that election. But it misses the point: I don’t think supporting welfare reform is an “objectively racist” tactic, particularly in the context Clinton offered it, based on “making work pay” incentives and other “work supports.” And context is everything in judging the racial content of political appeals. The unmistakable underlying theme of much of the GOP’s 2012 critique of Obama is that he was an unreconstructed “race man” seeking to undermine the bipartisan fiscal, economic and social reforms of his predecessors in order to tend to the needs of his government-dependent voting coalition, much of it composed of minority voters. Anyone surveying how the GOP campaign treated not only welfare reform but Obamacare—as a redistribution of resources into “a massive government program that’s not for you”—would have to be willfully blind to suggest there was no racial subtext.

And that’s the big point Taranto misses in my column. I go out of my way to disavow any claim that any particular Republican, or Republicans generally, are motivated by racial animus. That is not, I argue, even germane to the question of whether this or that strategy or message or policy has a disparate racial effect, politically or substantively. Nor do I claim that all GOP strategies, messages or policies are “objectively racist.” I simply suggest that’s a matter for legitimate argumentation, not a deadly racial slur that ought to be ruled out a priori as poisonous or libelous, or as eliminating any motive for conservatives to take “actual” racism seriously (which was the thrust of Chait’s essay).

Chait says it’s “insane” to deny that it’s possible to support conservative policy prescriptions without racist motives. I agree. But it’s equally insane to look at the landscape of American politics and fail to see the intimate connections between past and present racial appeals, and particularly the contemporary reliance of Republicans on stimulating grievances against minorities, “losers,” the “47%,” the “lucky duckies,” and various other euphemisms for people who differ from white middle- and upper-class voters in ways that cannot be ascribed to differences in philosophy or economics. In an earlier essay on Chait’s piece, I argued that antipathy towards “losers,” based on the natural but morally corrosive desire to treat one’s own more fortunate position as attributable to virtue and hard work, was probably the more fundamental touchstone of the conservative protest against equality than anything specifically to do with race. If we are not allowed to discuss these things because we are supposed to assume politics is all about pie charts and noble aspirations for our country, political discourse will indeed be remote from what we see and hear every day.

April 17, 2014 10:43 AM Looking At All the Evidence In Predicting Elections

In looking at specific upcoming election contests, it’s logical to consider all sorts of contextualizing factors: party registration, prior election results and trends, turnout patterns, primary challenges, fundraising, economic conditions and presidential approval ratings. This last factor (generally thought to incorporate the one just before it), along with a limited history of “six-year” problems for parties holding the White House for two terms, is central to the widespread belief that Democrats won’t be able to hold onto many or even any of the red-state Senate seats up this year in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

But the indicators that are often ignored in all the electoral fundamentalism are actual polls comparing the actual candidates—not their parties or their presidents. Today FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enton takes a stab at assessing the predictive value of early Senate polls as contrasted with presidential approval ratings.

More than six months from the midterm elections, current polling and past precedent are competing for our trust. I analyzed which measure is more indicative come November, and it turns out that polls are a more robust metric even though their numbers are still sparse and there’s still so much time remaining before the election.

This is very good news for Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, who has been written off regularly by prognosticators but stubbornly leads in a lot of the polling. As we get closer to Election Day, the significance of current polling increases—but so, too (arguably) do the presidential approval rating numbers and turnout indicators. The bottom line is that in normal circumstances all the evidence should begin to converge late in an election cycle. But when it doesn’t, your best bet, where it’s available in quantity and quality, is current candidate polling rather than this or that “theory” about how things are destined to transpire.

April 17, 2014 10:08 AM Surprise: Fighting Health Coverage Works!

The most-discussed if least unexpected news of the morning is additional evidence that states which cooperated with the Affordable Care Act by setting up their own purchasing exchanges and taking advantage of the optional Medicaid expansion are reducing the ranks of the uninsured much more rapidly than states which didn’t cooperate—more than three times as rapidly, according to data from Gallup.

You could certainly say this particular result of Obamacare was unintentional. In the House-passed legislation, the federal government would have run all the health insurance purchasing exchanges. And more obviously, the Medicaid expansion was not designed to be optional. The state-run exchanges have mostly (though not always) turned out to be more effective than those operated by the feds against the will of the “host” state. It’s not entirely clear how much damage state obstruction and propaganda have wrought in discouraging Obamacare enrollment. But the rejection of the Medicaid expansion in states with the highest uninsured rates has been a very big deal. Remember the role of sabotage next time you read that the Affordable Care Act isn’t working as planned.

April 17, 2014 8:48 AM Daylight Video

I don’t think one day was enough to do justice to the “acid rock” legacy. So here’s Jimi Hendrix again, with “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”

April 16, 2014 6:20 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

My Wednesday morning energy surge subsided, or maybe it was just sucked out of me by reading a day’s worth of dog-bites-man stories. By the time some interesting stuff (see below) appeared late in the day, it was just more than I could quickly absorb.

Here are the remains of the day:

* The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto spends a lot of space sniping at my TPMCafe column on racism from last week. I guess if he can wait a week to take me on, I can wait a day or two to respond.

* Pew’s latest “State of the News Media” report tries to grapple with the new effusion of online news enterprises against the background of continuing declines in traditional news-gathering and ad revenue. More about that tomorrow, too.

* Susana Martinez basically confirms every negative thing said about her in Andy Kroll’s Mojo profile of the New Mexico governor via her shrill overreaction to a relatively mild piece.

* At Ten Miles Square, Jonathan Bernstein runs through all the reasons Obamacare’s basic structure guarantees it bad publicity and poor polling numbers.

* At College Guide, Clare McCann notes new CBO numbers indicating the Pell Grant program is—temporarily at least—still some distance from insolvency.

And in non-political news:

* Pope Francis offers a couple of kids in the crowd at St. Peter’s Square a ride in the Popemobile.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with one more piece of hallucinogenic music. It’s a long one, but great fun: Procol Harum’s “In Held Twas I.”


April 16, 2014 5:49 PM Give ‘Em What They Want

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball did a piece over the weekend assessing the relative performances of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz at a big Tea Party event in New Hampshire, and her perspective is worth noting:

Paul began on a thundering note, invoking Thomas Paine and calling on listeners to “stand like men and women of courage and fight for your freedom.” He barely mentioned healthcare reform, focusing instead on his pitch to broaden the appeal of the GOP by changing the way it is perceived.
“If you want to grow the movement, we cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people, and Wall Street,” he said. Paul went on to argue against indefinite detention, to mock Justice Department terrorist profiling, and to argue for more lenient sentences for marijuana dealing—nontraditional conservative subjects that seemed to perplex the audience.
Cruz, on the other hand, told the crowd only what he knew it wanted to hear. His speech, unlike Paul’s, was infused with personality, beginning with cute stories about his young daughters. Of his defiant five-year-old, Caroline, who likes to play a game she calls “attack the Daddy,” he mused that she must be taking her cues from Senate Republican leadership.

Ball compared their approaches in NH with the subjects they each chose for their big moments on the Senate floor, with Paul focusing on use of drones—not a big priority even for the conservatives who actually oppose it—and Cruz, of course, demanding a “defunding” of Obamacare.

Which flavor of “constitutional conservatism” did the Tea Folk of the Granite State prefer? It was no contest:

In interviews with a dozen audience members, I could find only one who preferred Paul to Cruz.

People prefer being told they are not just right, but damned right, and if Republicans spent all their time explaining why Tea Folk are damned right, then they’d win more elections, right?

April 16, 2014 4:58 PM The Obama-Biden Job Training Initiative

I was probably one of the few general-purpose gabbers in the country who got excited during the 2014 State of the Union Address when the president announced he’d asked Joe Biden to head up a major effort to overhaul federal job training programs. Conservatives sometimes pay lip service to such programs, but really believe employers themselves—and the harsh realities of market forces—are the only source for effective job training. And many liberals are suspicious of training programs as a poor substitute for more direct interventions to create or retain the jobs for which workers are already equipped.

Whatever you think of their importance, though, it’s hard to deny that existing federal training programs represent a hodgepodge of poorly coordinated and inadequately funded efforts operating in their own little bureaucratic ghetto. So I looked forward to a fresh look at them, and perhaps even a rare bipartisan initiative.

Well, I should have known better. The administration has now announced the fruits of Biden’s labor today, and as one might have expected, they are limiting themselves to what they can do within existing resources without congressional approval:

Striving to show action on jobs, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are trumpeting $600 million in new competitive grants to spur creation of targeted training and apprenticeship programs that could help people land well-paying jobs.
Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker arrived Wednesday afternoon in Pennsylvania, where Biden and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., were waiting to greet them. Obama and Biden were to make the grants announcement at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in the western Pennsylvania borough of Oakdale….
The programs that Obama and his Pennsylvania-born vice president are announcing do not need approval from Congress because they will be paid for with money that lawmakers have already authorized for spending….
The larger of the two grant programs will put nearly $500 million toward a job training competition run by the Labor Department that is designed to encourage community colleges, employers and industry to work together to create training programs that are geared toward the jobs employers need to fill. Applications will be available starting Wednesday.
The training is part of an existing competitive grant program for community colleges that prepare dislocated workers and others for jobs….
The Labor Department is also making an additional $100 million available for grants to reward partnerships that expand apprenticeship programs.

Now there’s nothing wrong with either of these initiatives. Community colleges are indeed an important and underfunded source of vocational training, and some of them have found innovative ways to partner with employers, trainers, unions, and other entities crucial to the job market. And I’ve long thought apprenticeships—a big part of the job preparation scheme in other countries, notably Germany—were an under-utilized avenue for skills training.

But this isn’t quite the top-to-bottom overhaul, supported by national-scale funding, I originally hoped for (not that House Republicans would have easily gone along in any event).

I suppose it is safe to say that appropriately scaled jobs initiatives rather than symbolic gestures is an endemic problem for this administration. Again, Obama is not the main problem here, but it would be nice to hear more recognition from the president and the vice president that this country is in a profound economic and moral crisis over the growing disconnect between the economic rewards distributed to capital as opposed to labor. Even if it is difficult for any one administration, especially one dealing with a hostile U.S. House of Representative, to take major steps to deal with this crisis, it needs to be explained every single day as the context for what can be done.

April 16, 2014 4:22 PM Abortion and Evolutionary Biology

Tom Edsall focuses today on the much-observed differences between the trajectory of public opinion on two religion-inflected hot-button cultural issues of recent years, same-sex marriage and abortion. The trend lines in favor of marriage equality are unmistakable—not only a rapid movement from “pro” to “anti” sentiment, but one accompanied by massive generational differences that appear to doom the “traditional marriage” position over time—and are largely absent on abortion, where, despite occasional efforts (especially by antichoicers) to spin small trends (usually based on subtle differences in how questions are asked) into something bigger, public opinion appears to have been fundamentally stable for decades.

Instead of probing around the edges of public opinion on abortion, Edsall instead leaps into conjecture that opposition to reproductive rights are based generally on evolutionary biology, and specifically on male efforts to restrict or otherwise control women’s naturally central role in reproduction. At National Review’s The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru legitimately complains that Edsall doesn’t deal with the consistent absence of gender differences in opinion on abortion, and also doesn’t explain why evolutionary biology doesn’t incline the same men who supposedly dictate abortion policy to insist on limiting the prevalence of lesbianism, another threat to the “natural order” of things.

Ponnuru, author of the antichoice tome Party of Death, likely regards his own position as being based on a combination of religious belief and science, which, as a Catholic, he considers mutually reinforcing. So he’s not terribly open to the idea that his desire to outlaw abortion is merely the product of an evolutionary impulse to control women, and has little or no rational content at all.

Now as it happens, I am, despite my recently acquired reputation as someone inclined to promiscuously accuse conservatives of racism, usually willing to take seriously the arguments—including religious arguments—people offer for taking the positions they choose to take on public policy topics. In fact, I’ve had quite a few arguments with fellow prochoicers who refuse to accept as genuine any rationale for opposing legalized abortion other than a generalized hostility to women or to women’s sexuality. But acknowledging that people can genuinely oppose abortion on religious grounds is not the same as denying that their religious views can be affected by secular attitudes towards women or sex or women having sex. The more I think about the very sudden enlistment of many millions of conservative evangelicals in the antichoice movement, mostly during the 1980s, the more it seems plain to me that it reflects a backlash to the liberalized sexual and gender trends that accompanied legalized abortion more than any mass self-education on embryology or thunderstruck reading of the random biblical quotations trotted out to justify Christian Right positions. But that’s very different from the claims cited by Edsall suggesting that the whole antifeminist cause is just a rearguard action dictated by male chromosomes.

Culture—including religion—matters a lot in politics. Wishing it away is a mistake. But the very good news for progressives is that culture—even religion—is more malleable than genetics. I sometimes despair of the abortion wars ever ending. But just as the antichoice (most recently becoming an anti-birth control) movement among conservative evangelicals seemed to come out of nowhere and sweep all before it, a contrary trend is entirely possible some day, and that’s also true among Catholics whose faith has built-in if slow and creaky mechanisms for changing doctrine. That seems a more optimistic scenario than waiting for men to rid themselves of a savage evolutionary hangover.

April 16, 2014 2:06 PM Lunch Buffet

I’m feeling better than I have in weeks, and awoke all rarin’ to blog—but couldn’t seem to force the political gods to generate much real news.

Here’s what I have for midday snacking:

* Mark Pryor has now led Tom Cotton in four straight polls of Arkansas voters, despite massive CW that he is toast.

* Iraq, Somalia, the Phillipines, Sri Lanka and now Syria comprise top five on Global Impunity Index of countries where journalists murdered and killers stay free.

* Oklahoma public school district adopts “secular” curriculum for study of Bible—developed by president of Hobby Lobby. Now what sort of intoloerant atheists could object to that?

* At The Atlantic, Emma Green wonders if new Tennessee law protecting “religious expression” in schools will actually protect bullying of gay kids.

* IRS considering new rules to treat employer-sponsored “perks” like job-site food and gym memberships as taxable compensation.

And in non-political news:

* AC/DC retirement rumors shot down.

As we break for lunch, here’s some 60s trippiness from Small Faces, with “Itchycoo Park.”

April 16, 2014 1:43 PM The Candidate’s Best Friend: Cash On Hand

We’ll soon be getting into the meat of the 2014 primary season, with North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio voting on May 6; Nebraska and West Virginia on May 13; and Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon and Pennsylvania on May 20. Polling is still sparse in most states, and polling of primaries is a risky venture in any case. But you can often separate contenders from pretenders late in the game by looking at their financial resources.

First quarter fundraising numbers for the fiery Senate race in Georgia show a pretty significant division of the field, particularly in terms of cash on hand for any sort of late push. I’m sad to report that Rep. Paul Broun heads into the home stretch with only $224,730. It’s beginning to look like it will take a scattered vote and an intense level of turnout among his devotees to vault everybody’s favorite wingnut to a runoff. Another early favorite, Karen Handel, also continues to struggle financially, with $386,795 on hand. (It’s beginning to become apparent that David Perdue’s presence in the race has sapped Handel’s past fundraising base in the network of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, David’s cousin.) Perdue has $700,000 on hand, but has likely already bought some ads, and also has the capacity to throw more personal money into the campaign whenever he wants. Meanwhile, Jack Kingston, the wily appropriator who is buying himself a conservative reputation, has $2.1 million on hand despite heavy ad spending. And most surprising of all, Phil Gingrey has $2.4 million. Gingrey, however, is having to deal with a stunning profusion of attack ads from an outside conservative group (largely funded by Joe Ricketts) that initially looked like its focus would be going after Democrat Michelle Nunn.

Speaking of Nunn, she now has $3.9 million on hand, following the obvious strategy of quietly campaigning while waiting for the GOP candidates to tear each other apart. And as noted before, those Republicans still have to get through a runoff after May 20.

April 16, 2014 1:09 PM The Awful Specter of a New Health Care Cost Spiral

If you want to remain anxious about something related to health care policy over the next few months, you’d be advised to focus not on the familiar Obamacare statistics of people covered or even short-term insurance premium trends, but on indicators that ol’ debbil, medical cost inflation, might be returning. Sarah Kliff has the basics from her new perch at Vox:

A four-year slowdown in health spending growth could be coming to an end.
Americans used more medical care in 2013 as the economy recovered, new reports show. Federal data suggests that health care spending is now growing just as quickly as it was prior to the recession.
“We’re at the highest level of growth since the slowdown began,” Paul Hughes-Cromwick, a senior health economist at the Altarum Institute, which tracks health spending. “You have to go back seven years to see growth like this.”
More health spending can sometimes be a good thing: it might reflect more Americans gaining health insurance and seeking out needed medical care as the economy recovers.
But it also present challenges for the government. More than a quarter of the federal budget already goes towards health programs. That number could rise if health care costs started growing faster than the rest of the economy again.

The cross-talk over resumed medical inflation reflects an older debate: was the four-year slowdown a product of the recession, or of the cost-containment features of the Affordable Care Act? And either way, is a new strategy for cost-containment urgently needed?

Any clear sign of renewed medical inflation will almost certainly lead both conservatives and progressives to ramp up the volume on their own prescriptions, with the former arguing for a more “market-oriented” system relying on competition among private actors (supplemented by disincentives to “over-utilization” of medical services) and the latter calling for a more aggressive public role in squeezing the profit margins of both providers and insurers. There could also be renewed attention to less prominently discussed cost-boosting factors, like the rapid consolidation of hospitals and other health care providers that the Washington Monthly’s Phil Longman warned would almost certainly touch off a cost spiral unless measures are taken to enforce antitrust laws and regulate providers much as we do “common carriers.”

The maddening thing, of course, is that Obamacare critics will blame the Affordable Care Act for any renewed medical inflation, even as they fight the very provisions—such as greater scrutiny of medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals reimbursed under Medicare—that might help bring and keep costs under control. Let’s hope the initial alarming numbers turn out to be premature, or just wrong.

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