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Topic: Illinois

New Complaint: The GOP ‘Sanitized’ the Constitution

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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The Whole World Is Watching

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

Hugh Hewitt conducted an hour-long interview yesterday with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, currently in his seventh term in Congress. It is an unusually candid conversation; the transcript is worth reading in its entirety.

Ryan covered the role of the Budget Committee in the rollback of ObamaCare, the broader budget battle coming this fall, the siren song of inflation as a solution, and the relationship of all this to the next election. Here’s an example:

HH: … Jerry Brown is already figuring out how to come with a tin cup to Washington, D.C. and beg for money. What’s the message to those governors in California, Illinois, New York, where they’re broke?

PR: … Look, and no offense to Californians, but those of us from more frugal states, we’re not interested in bailing out people from reckless states. You know, the moral hazard of bailing out states who fail to get their finances under control, why would we want to do that? … States need to clean up their own messes, their own acts, in my opinion. … All we would do is just buy delay, which is painful for everybody. Plus, Washington’s out of money. I mean, 41 cents on the dollar is borrowed here. 47% of that 41 cents on the dollar comes from other countries like China and Japan. We just can’t keep going the way we are. …

HH: Are you ready for the media assault, and I use that term advisedly, when they show children without milk at school. …

PR: Yes, that’s just going to happen. And look, I’ve been around these fights before, so it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for some of us. … It’s just the entire system we have could go down in a debt crisis. You know, we really do have a fiscal disaster coming. And if we blink to these forces of status quo, then it’s over with. The worst painful thing to have occur is us not to do anything, and just go down this path, and watch this debt crisis eat us alive. …

Ryan told Hewitt why he thought Congress would not be allowed to go on “porking the place up”:

What makes me feel better this time around, Hugh, is people pay attention. People are actually paying attention to what Congress is doing. The Internet has been a great equalizer. You can no longer go to Washington and do one thing, and then go home and say you’ve done another. Your words catch up with your actions, and that is a new day in Congress that a lot of people around here just don’t recognize.

It is a critical point, made yesterday in a similar analysis of a different issue, about the changed environment in which Congress is operating. The issues are no longer played out in hallways and backrooms; they are covered by an Internet propelled by the force-multipliers of blogs, portals, and social media. It creates a revolutionary situation, reminiscent of a slogan from the 60s.

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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The Unexpected Triumph of New START

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

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Has the Politically Impossible Become Possible?

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

CBS’s 60 Minutes had a good story on the financial crisis — and in some cases (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona) the financial meltdown — facing the states. “The day of reckoning has arrived,” according to Governor Chris Christie. It has, and the ramifications will be huge.

One unanswered question is whether the nature of the crisis is fundamentally altering the political dynamics, whether today certain things are politically possible that once were not (pension and benefit reforms, sacrifices by public-employee unions, cuts in K-12 education funding, etc.). We’ll find out in the next year or so.

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Private Sector Voicing Outrage at Bankrolling Public-Employee Benefits

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

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A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

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Plan Ahead: How to Stop State Bailouts

This timely and important piece looks at whether it makes sense to set up a bankruptcy procedure for states, a process that currently exists only for cities and other municipalities. Law professor David Skeel makes a compelling case that it would be perfectly constitutional for Congress to set up a bankruptcy system for states. But should we? He argues:

The principal candidates for restructuring in states like California or Illinois are the state’s bonds and its contracts with public employees. Ideally, bondholders would vote to approve a restructuring. But if they dug in their heels and resisted proposals to restructure their debt, a bankruptcy chapter for states should allow (as municipal bankruptcy already does) for a proposal to be “crammed down” over their objections under certain circumstances. This eliminates the hold-out problem—the refusal of a minority of bondholders to agree to the terms of a restructuring—that can foil efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy law should give debtor states even more power to rewrite union contracts, if the court approves. Interestingly, it is easier to renegotiate a burdensome union contract in municipal bankruptcy than in a corporate bankruptcy. Vallejo has used this power in its bankruptcy case, which was filed in 2008. It is possible that a state could even renegotiate existing pension benefits in bankruptcy, although this is much less clear and less likely than the power to renegotiate an ongoing contract.

But if governors of states like California and Illinois won’t cut spending and renegotiate union contracts, would they really put their states into a bankruptcy proceeding?

The risk that politicians won’t make as much use of their bankruptcy options as they should does not mean that bankruptcy is a bad idea. For all its limitations, it would give a resolute state a new, more effective tool for paring down the state’s debts. And many a governor might find alluring the possibility of shifting blame for a new frugality onto a bankruptcy court that “made him do it” rather than take direct responsibility for tough choices.

The nub of the concern underlying Skeel’s proposal is the fear that California and other states will come to the feds looking for a bailout. Without an alternative like bankruptcy, the administration and the Congress might be tempted to give it to them. As a reader points out, we can imagine, just as happened in the 2008 financial meltdown, state officials pleading that they are on the brink of a meltdown, prisons will close, police will be fired, governments will shut down, etc.

It makes sense, therefore, for Congress to think this through now while the election is fresh in their minds. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of bankruptcy for states, but why shouldn’t Republican House leaders explore this and other alternatives, including a straightforward legislation prohibiting state bailouts? Let the Senate Democrats try to filibuster that one, or Obama promise to veto it. The incident that triggered the Tea Party movement, you will recall, was not ObamaCare or massive spending, although these became part of the agenda. It was the mortgage-bailout scheme — the idea that you’d be paying your neighbor’s mortgage. It is this sense of indignation and the call to personal — and state — responsibility that House and Senate GOP leaders should focus on. If they do it now, before the “emergency!” hollering begins, they stand a much better chance of holding the line and forcing California, Illinois, and the rest to fix their own fiscal messes.

This timely and important piece looks at whether it makes sense to set up a bankruptcy procedure for states, a process that currently exists only for cities and other municipalities. Law professor David Skeel makes a compelling case that it would be perfectly constitutional for Congress to set up a bankruptcy system for states. But should we? He argues:

The principal candidates for restructuring in states like California or Illinois are the state’s bonds and its contracts with public employees. Ideally, bondholders would vote to approve a restructuring. But if they dug in their heels and resisted proposals to restructure their debt, a bankruptcy chapter for states should allow (as municipal bankruptcy already does) for a proposal to be “crammed down” over their objections under certain circumstances. This eliminates the hold-out problem—the refusal of a minority of bondholders to agree to the terms of a restructuring—that can foil efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy law should give debtor states even more power to rewrite union contracts, if the court approves. Interestingly, it is easier to renegotiate a burdensome union contract in municipal bankruptcy than in a corporate bankruptcy. Vallejo has used this power in its bankruptcy case, which was filed in 2008. It is possible that a state could even renegotiate existing pension benefits in bankruptcy, although this is much less clear and less likely than the power to renegotiate an ongoing contract.

But if governors of states like California and Illinois won’t cut spending and renegotiate union contracts, would they really put their states into a bankruptcy proceeding?

The risk that politicians won’t make as much use of their bankruptcy options as they should does not mean that bankruptcy is a bad idea. For all its limitations, it would give a resolute state a new, more effective tool for paring down the state’s debts. And many a governor might find alluring the possibility of shifting blame for a new frugality onto a bankruptcy court that “made him do it” rather than take direct responsibility for tough choices.

The nub of the concern underlying Skeel’s proposal is the fear that California and other states will come to the feds looking for a bailout. Without an alternative like bankruptcy, the administration and the Congress might be tempted to give it to them. As a reader points out, we can imagine, just as happened in the 2008 financial meltdown, state officials pleading that they are on the brink of a meltdown, prisons will close, police will be fired, governments will shut down, etc.

It makes sense, therefore, for Congress to think this through now while the election is fresh in their minds. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of bankruptcy for states, but why shouldn’t Republican House leaders explore this and other alternatives, including a straightforward legislation prohibiting state bailouts? Let the Senate Democrats try to filibuster that one, or Obama promise to veto it. The incident that triggered the Tea Party movement, you will recall, was not ObamaCare or massive spending, although these became part of the agenda. It was the mortgage-bailout scheme — the idea that you’d be paying your neighbor’s mortgage. It is this sense of indignation and the call to personal — and state — responsibility that House and Senate GOP leaders should focus on. If they do it now, before the “emergency!” hollering begins, they stand a much better chance of holding the line and forcing California, Illinois, and the rest to fix their own fiscal messes.

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Follow the States, But Only the Right Ones

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

This report makes the point that, unlike the federal government, state officials have had to make hard choices to balance their books. The impression one gets listening to the mainstream media and incumbent politicians is that budget balancing is nearly impossible. The states have shown otherwise:

In the past three years, 29 states have raised fees on, or cut services for, the elderly and people with disabilities, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group. Fifteen states raised sales or income taxes in 2009 or 2010, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington research outfit.

Let’s see if you notice the pattern:

One popular state tactic has obvious—and ironic—national implications. New Jersey, Indiana and Minnesota, among others, have trimmed state spending by sending less money to local governments. That pushes onto local officials politically tough decisions about raising taxes, cutting spending or finding major money-saving efficiencies. …

Now, in Illinois and California, “the political system has done little more than lurch to the end of the fiscal year.” While in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana, governors pushed for real fiscal reform. A sample:

New Jersey’s Chris Christie has cut pensions for future state and local employees, vetoed a tax increase on income over $1 million and cut $1.26 billion in aid to schools and municipalities, which local officials said would drive up property taxes. …

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a second-term Republican and the former White House budget director for President George W. Bush, moved the state from deficit to surplus by paring spending in good times. Indiana swung from a nearly $200 million deficit in 2004, the year Mr. Daniels was first elected, to a $1.3 billion surplus last year. It was not without controversy: On his second day in office, Mr. Daniels issued an executive order that ended collective-bargaining rights for state employees. …

In May, Minnesota lawmakers approved a budget widely seen as a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, because it ratified spending cuts he had made unilaterally and it didn’t raise taxes.

And, likewise, Bob McDonnell got elected in 2009 in Virginia on the promise to balance the budget without raising taxes. And he has done just that.

OK, you see point. These budget balancers and spending cutters are successful Republican governors, all of whom have been mentioned as 2012 presidential contenders. And in the 2010 midterms, their ranks expanded with Republicans elected in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. That’s a lot of GOP governors who have the opportunity to lead on fiscal discipline.

Not only does this dispel the liberal myths that we need massive taxes to balance our books or that the public won’t accept reduced services; but is provides Republicans with a wealth of talent for the 2012 and future presidential races. The country seems poised to get serious on tax and budget reform and has grown weary of a president whose not much into governance. That suggests a unique opportunity for these GOP governors — provided they stick to their  sober approach to governance.

And on the other hand, we have the example of California which has yet to get its spending and public employee unions under control. It’s the beauty of federalism — 50 labratories in which we can see what works and what doesn’t. So far a lot of GOP governors are showing how to do it right.

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The Irresponsible Left’s Deficit-Cutting Plan

We learn from this report:

One of the most liberal members of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission unveiled her own plan Tuesday to balance the budget: Keep Social Security benefits intact, make deep reductions at the Pentagon and raise corporate taxes to target profits and excessive pay for chief executives.

This is important for several reasons. First, it comes from not only one of  the most liberal but also one of the  least influential members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Second, it bears little resemblance to what came out of the president’s debt commission. Third, it reflects a total unawareness that we are in the midst of a war (“she proposes to take virtually all of the cuts from the military, slicing $110 billion from the defense budget in 2015 by reducing troop levels, cutting weapons systems, and scaling back wartime spending”). In sum, it is the perfect distillation of the irresponsible left, which imagines that we can simply decide not to defend ourselves, savage the “rich,” and — presto — become a more secure and prosperous country.

It’s good to know that this is not the starting point for deficit debate (that was the debt-commission plan). It is also a helpful reminder of what the Pelosi Democrats would do if they had their druthers.

We learn from this report:

One of the most liberal members of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission unveiled her own plan Tuesday to balance the budget: Keep Social Security benefits intact, make deep reductions at the Pentagon and raise corporate taxes to target profits and excessive pay for chief executives.

This is important for several reasons. First, it comes from not only one of  the most liberal but also one of the  least influential members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Second, it bears little resemblance to what came out of the president’s debt commission. Third, it reflects a total unawareness that we are in the midst of a war (“she proposes to take virtually all of the cuts from the military, slicing $110 billion from the defense budget in 2015 by reducing troop levels, cutting weapons systems, and scaling back wartime spending”). In sum, it is the perfect distillation of the irresponsible left, which imagines that we can simply decide not to defend ourselves, savage the “rich,” and — presto — become a more secure and prosperous country.

It’s good to know that this is not the starting point for deficit debate (that was the debt-commission plan). It is also a helpful reminder of what the Pelosi Democrats would do if they had their druthers.

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RE: Debt Commission Surprises

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

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Recap

What happened? First the body count. The GOP picked up 64, lost three, and has a net pickup so far of 61. However, about a dozen seats are still undecided. The final total is likely to be in the high 60s. In the Senate, the GOP has six pickups, no losses. Lisa Murkowski seems headed for the win to hold Alaska for the GOP. (Those wily insiders in the Senate were perhaps wise not to dump her from her committees; she will caucus with the GOP.) Ken Buck is deadlocked in Colorado, with Denver all counted. Patty Murray is leading by fewer than 15,000 votes, but much of King County, a Democratic stronghold, is only 55 percent counted. The GOP will have six to seven pickups. In the gubernatorial races, the GOP nearly ran the table. So far, it has picked up seven and lost two (in California and Hawaii), is leading Florida by about 50,000 votes and in Oregon by 2 percent, and is trailing narrowly in Illinois and Minnesota.

Did Obama help anyone? Probably not. He fundraised for Barbara Boxer, but the race turned out to be not close. California seems determined to pursue liberal statism to its logical conclusion (bankruptcy). He made multiple visits to Ohio, and Democrats lost the Senate, the governorship, and five House seats. He went to Wisconsin. Russ Feingold lost, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and two House Democrats. A slew of moderate Democrats who walked the plank for him and his agenda also lost. Those House and Senate candidates who managed to avoid the tsunami – Joe Manchin, for example — will be extremely wary of following Obama if the president continues on his leftist jaunt.

What does it mean? This is a win of historic proportions, the largest in the House since World War II. There is no spinning this one; Nancy Pelosi presided over the destruction of her Democratic majority because she failed to appreciate that not every place is San Francisco. The Senate results should signal to the GOP that picking candidates who can win is not the same as picking candidates who have the least experience and the hottest rhetoric. As one GOP insider said to me last night of Nevada and Delaware, “Thanks very much, Tea Party express.” But before the GOP establishment gets too full of itself, it should recall that the Tea Party ginned up enthusiasm and made many of those big House and gubernatorial wins possible. And finally, the story of the night that had largely evaded discussion before the election is the sweep in gubernatorial races. Key battleground states in 2012 will have Republican governors. About 10 more states will now probably experience what GOP reformist government looks like, and a whole bunch of states may now opt out of the individual mandate in ObamaCare. Oh, and redistricting just got a whole lot easier for the GOP.

You’ll hear that this was a throw-the-bums-out year. But only a few Republicans were tossed. You’ll hear that this is good for Obama; don’t believe it. He and his aggressive, left-leaning agenda have been rebuked. And you’ll hear that Obama is a goner in 2012 and that the GOP has rebounded; that part is poppycock, too. Obama can rescue himself, if he is able and willing. The Republicans can do themselves in if they are not smart and disciplined. And finally,  we are remined that politics is a serious game played by real candidates in actual races. And that’s what makes it so unpredictable and so wondrously fun.

What happened? First the body count. The GOP picked up 64, lost three, and has a net pickup so far of 61. However, about a dozen seats are still undecided. The final total is likely to be in the high 60s. In the Senate, the GOP has six pickups, no losses. Lisa Murkowski seems headed for the win to hold Alaska for the GOP. (Those wily insiders in the Senate were perhaps wise not to dump her from her committees; she will caucus with the GOP.) Ken Buck is deadlocked in Colorado, with Denver all counted. Patty Murray is leading by fewer than 15,000 votes, but much of King County, a Democratic stronghold, is only 55 percent counted. The GOP will have six to seven pickups. In the gubernatorial races, the GOP nearly ran the table. So far, it has picked up seven and lost two (in California and Hawaii), is leading Florida by about 50,000 votes and in Oregon by 2 percent, and is trailing narrowly in Illinois and Minnesota.

Did Obama help anyone? Probably not. He fundraised for Barbara Boxer, but the race turned out to be not close. California seems determined to pursue liberal statism to its logical conclusion (bankruptcy). He made multiple visits to Ohio, and Democrats lost the Senate, the governorship, and five House seats. He went to Wisconsin. Russ Feingold lost, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and two House Democrats. A slew of moderate Democrats who walked the plank for him and his agenda also lost. Those House and Senate candidates who managed to avoid the tsunami – Joe Manchin, for example — will be extremely wary of following Obama if the president continues on his leftist jaunt.

What does it mean? This is a win of historic proportions, the largest in the House since World War II. There is no spinning this one; Nancy Pelosi presided over the destruction of her Democratic majority because she failed to appreciate that not every place is San Francisco. The Senate results should signal to the GOP that picking candidates who can win is not the same as picking candidates who have the least experience and the hottest rhetoric. As one GOP insider said to me last night of Nevada and Delaware, “Thanks very much, Tea Party express.” But before the GOP establishment gets too full of itself, it should recall that the Tea Party ginned up enthusiasm and made many of those big House and gubernatorial wins possible. And finally, the story of the night that had largely evaded discussion before the election is the sweep in gubernatorial races. Key battleground states in 2012 will have Republican governors. About 10 more states will now probably experience what GOP reformist government looks like, and a whole bunch of states may now opt out of the individual mandate in ObamaCare. Oh, and redistricting just got a whole lot easier for the GOP.

You’ll hear that this was a throw-the-bums-out year. But only a few Republicans were tossed. You’ll hear that this is good for Obama; don’t believe it. He and his aggressive, left-leaning agenda have been rebuked. And you’ll hear that Obama is a goner in 2012 and that the GOP has rebounded; that part is poppycock, too. Obama can rescue himself, if he is able and willing. The Republicans can do themselves in if they are not smart and disciplined. And finally,  we are remined that politics is a serious game played by real candidates in actual races. And that’s what makes it so unpredictable and so wondrously fun.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama’s Seat Goes to the GOP

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

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LIVE BLOG: Geography

In 2008, the Republican Party was thought to be headed for minority status as a rump party of the South. Tonight, the governorships of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Mexico are in GOP hands. Senate seats from New Hampshire to Illinois are flipping control. This does not mean that the Democrats permanently have become a rump party of the two coasts. “Permanent” is the stuff of fabulists. It does mean that the GOP now has the chance to prove to voters previously unwilling to give them a try that they can behave more responsibly than the Democrats. Oh, and Dino Rossi is leading in early returns in Washington State.

In 2008, the Republican Party was thought to be headed for minority status as a rump party of the South. Tonight, the governorships of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Mexico are in GOP hands. Senate seats from New Hampshire to Illinois are flipping control. This does not mean that the Democrats permanently have become a rump party of the two coasts. “Permanent” is the stuff of fabulists. It does mean that the GOP now has the chance to prove to voters previously unwilling to give them a try that they can behave more responsibly than the Democrats. Oh, and Dino Rossi is leading in early returns in Washington State.

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LIVE BLOG: Call It Whatever You Want

Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey have gone ahead in two Blue States. If the GOP captures Illinois and Pennsylvania Senate seats, gets more than 55 seats (the most since 1932), and gains governorships from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to New Mexico, it is not a good night for the GOP. It is a historic thumping.

Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey have gone ahead in two Blue States. If the GOP captures Illinois and Pennsylvania Senate seats, gets more than 55 seats (the most since 1932), and gains governorships from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to New Mexico, it is not a good night for the GOP. It is a historic thumping.

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LIVE BLOG: The Son of Exiles

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

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LIVE BLOG: Illinois Turning Red?

In Obama’s home state, the Republican Bob Dold is winning by 8 points over Daniel Seals with 51% of the vote in. This was Mark Kirk’s seat, thought to be at risk. Maybe not. In the IL-17, Democrat Rep. Phil Hare is down almost 20 points with 21% of the vote in. Mark Kirk is down with a third of the vote in. But with House results like these, I suspect there are many GOP votes yet to be counted.

In Obama’s home state, the Republican Bob Dold is winning by 8 points over Daniel Seals with 51% of the vote in. This was Mark Kirk’s seat, thought to be at risk. Maybe not. In the IL-17, Democrat Rep. Phil Hare is down almost 20 points with 21% of the vote in. Mark Kirk is down with a third of the vote in. But with House results like these, I suspect there are many GOP votes yet to be counted.

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LIVE BLOG: Results

We should all understand that it’s unlikely we will have every result tonight. Alaska doesn’t close its polls until midnight, and there will be tens of thousands of write-ins; Washington state is all write-in; and California has 2 million absentee ballots to count. And there might be very close Senate races in Nevada and Illinois.

We should all understand that it’s unlikely we will have every result tonight. Alaska doesn’t close its polls until midnight, and there will be tens of thousands of write-ins; Washington state is all write-in; and California has 2 million absentee ballots to count. And there might be very close Senate races in Nevada and Illinois.

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Where Is the 10th?

The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit has a spate of final polls showing GOP candidates leading narrowly in Nevada, Illinois, Washington, and Colorado. Rand Paul and Pat Toomey are pulling away. California is tightening. But Joe Manchin is leading in West Virginia. Not much good news for the Democrats. Still, it’s hard to see how the GOP can come up with 10 seats.

Let’s say PPP is on the money. The GOP has North Dakota, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania well in hand. Add in Illinois, Colorado, and Nevada. Washington also is doable for the Republicans. So the Senate comes down to a search for the 10th seat. West Virginia? I’ve seen no recent public or private poll (Dem or GOP) showing the Democrat contender behind. California? Carly Fiorina is close, but, again, there is no poll out there showing her in the lead. This is not to say that one of these states won’t fall to the GOP in the conservative-rich turnout on Election Day. But unless one of those GOP contenders pulls an upset, prepare to hear a lot of recriminations about Delaware. If so, it’s a lesson to keep in mind for 2012.

One caveat: if, in fact, we’re talking about an election not like that of 1994 but like that of 1928 (which Jay Cost suggests is more analogous), the rising tide will lift all boats and perhaps swing some marginal Senate seats the GOP’s way. Yes, Senate races tend to be more differentiated than House contests and are often determined on the merits of individual candidates. But if the electorate is dark Red, there are only so many Democratic votes for Barbara Boxer, Joe Manchin, and the rest to work with. For those of you who recall 1980, the liberal Senate lions fell one after another, to the shock of the network anchors and liberal intelligentsia. In a wave year, lots of marginal candidates are swept in and lots of dead wood swept out.

The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit has a spate of final polls showing GOP candidates leading narrowly in Nevada, Illinois, Washington, and Colorado. Rand Paul and Pat Toomey are pulling away. California is tightening. But Joe Manchin is leading in West Virginia. Not much good news for the Democrats. Still, it’s hard to see how the GOP can come up with 10 seats.

Let’s say PPP is on the money. The GOP has North Dakota, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania well in hand. Add in Illinois, Colorado, and Nevada. Washington also is doable for the Republicans. So the Senate comes down to a search for the 10th seat. West Virginia? I’ve seen no recent public or private poll (Dem or GOP) showing the Democrat contender behind. California? Carly Fiorina is close, but, again, there is no poll out there showing her in the lead. This is not to say that one of these states won’t fall to the GOP in the conservative-rich turnout on Election Day. But unless one of those GOP contenders pulls an upset, prepare to hear a lot of recriminations about Delaware. If so, it’s a lesson to keep in mind for 2012.

One caveat: if, in fact, we’re talking about an election not like that of 1994 but like that of 1928 (which Jay Cost suggests is more analogous), the rising tide will lift all boats and perhaps swing some marginal Senate seats the GOP’s way. Yes, Senate races tend to be more differentiated than House contests and are often determined on the merits of individual candidates. But if the electorate is dark Red, there are only so many Democratic votes for Barbara Boxer, Joe Manchin, and the rest to work with. For those of you who recall 1980, the liberal Senate lions fell one after another, to the shock of the network anchors and liberal intelligentsia. In a wave year, lots of marginal candidates are swept in and lots of dead wood swept out.

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