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.
Topic: Roland Burris
Two races in Illinois and Pennsylvania exemplify the difficulties Democrats are having these days. Regarding the Illinois Senate race, the Chicago Sun Times reports:
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk said the arrest this week of a Giannoulias family friend and bank customer brings the amount of money Broadway Bank has lent to criminals to $52 million.
State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Kirk’s Democratic opponent for U.S. Senate, has said that as chief loan officer of his family’s bank from 2002 to 2006, he did not check loan applicants’ arrest records.
Kirk, a North Shore Republican, calls that “reckless.”
And in a Friday news dump, Giannoulias announced he was giving back all the campaign funds he received from “bank fraudster Nick Giannis and his family.” So to sum up: to fill the seat of Roland Burris, the Blago appointee (whose seat and the potential purchase thereof is the subject of the criminal trial later this year), the Democrats have nominated a banker who lent millions to mobsters, whose bank is on the verge of going under, and who pleads ignorance about his clients’ criminality. This is in a year in which backdoor deals, a series of ethics issues (e.g. Charlie Rangel, Eric Massa), and a general anti-insider sentiment has ensnared the Democrats. It’s hard to imagine a less appealing candidate for the Democrats. And frankly, if they aren’t lucky, Giannoulias and the other ethically challenged Democrats are going to become the poster boys — and the unifying message — for many Republicans outside Illinois.
Then there is Pennsylvania. Before we get to the Senate and gubernatorial races, both of which look promising for Republicans, there is a House special election. As Politico reports:
The special election to fill the House seat of the late Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha will pit a candidate who fully embraces Murtha’s legacy against a Republican political newcomer who’s aiming to nationalize the election. Pennsylvania Republicans anointed businessman Tim Burns on Thursday as their candidate to face Murtha’s former district director, Mark Critz, in the May 18 election. Burns has been running on a down-the-line conservative platform of opposition to the stimulus, health care legislation and government spending.
And if the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika push through ObamaCare, this may be an early warning sign (well, another warning sign after Scott Brown) as to just how angry the electorate is and how willing the voters are to flip a seat that, in a normal election year, would be relatively safe for Democrats.
This is the stuff of wave elections — the collision of ethics scandals, voter anger, fiscal mismanagement, and, don’t forget, a floundering president. How big the wave will be depends, I think, on just how serious the Democrats are about dealing with their ethically challenged members and how determined they are to take the plunge on a monstrous health-care bill that voters generally loathe.
You almost wonder whether Karl Rove has infiltrated the Democratic Party. How else to explain how the Democrats could nominate to replace Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich, the banker for Tony Rezko? As the Chicago Tribune explained, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias beat back a feisty challenger who made hay out of Giannoulias’s “handling of the state’s college loan program, which lost $150 million; and of loans Giannoulias gave to controversial recipients while working as vice-president of his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank.” Those controversial recipients include Rezko and some figures of organized crime. The Chicago Sun Times explained:
Among the loans Giannoulias has gotten heat for:
* More than $10 million from 2001 to 2005 to alleged Father & Son Russian mobster team Lev and Boris Stratievsky. Father Lev has passed away. Son Boris is in jail facing money-laundering charges. Broadway funded development projects some on the South Side — that tenants and city attorneys complained were roach motels. Broadway has been unable to collect on the loans.
* About $12.9 million to convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango for a Miami Beach hotel and a Hollywood, Fla., restaurant, among other ventures, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Broadway has sued Giorango and his partner, Demitri Stavropoulos, convicted of running a betting operation in Chicago, seeking to get the money back. Giannoulias initially downplayed his relationship with Giorango, noting the loans to him started before he joined the bank. Later he said he went to Miami to meet Giorango and inspect the property, and that another $3 million loan to Giorango was for a South Carolina casino.
It’s hard to believe this is the candidate whom the Democrats wanted as their nominee. As Ben Smith dryly noted, Giannoulias “is about as un-changey as you get.” The Republicans are obviously delighted to have such a target-rich opponent. I suspect this will be another seat added to the political gurus’ ”leans Republican” lists.
And if all that weren’t enough to worry the Democrats, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes:
Based on the current numbers 885,268 voters were cast in the Democratic primary for Senate compared to 736,137 on the Republican side. Those numbers are awfully close to each other for a state that’s overwhelmingly Democratic.
For sake of comparison the last time there were competitive Senate primaries on both sides in Illinois, in 2004 when Barack Obama was nominated, there were nearly twice as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as the Republican one. 1,242,996 voted in the Democratic race to 661, 804 for the Republicans. Last night’s turnout is yet another data point on the enthusiasm gap, showing that Republicans are much more excited about this year’s elections than Democrats, even in a deep blue state.
It’s a long way to November, but Republicans will soon seize on this as a highly gettable seat with symbolic value. Had it not been for Massachusetts, one could say that the flip in the Illinois seat previously held by the president would be a political tsunami. But it seems as though in this election season, it might simply be par for the course.
You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.
The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.
Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.
Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.
Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.
Pete, your focus on the fundamental corruption at the heart of the Senate bill is, I think, exactly right and that corruption rather extraordinary. In the days after the Senate cloture vote on the health-care bill, you would think the mainstream media would be touting the bill’s benefits and focusing on the huge “win” for the president. But instead the buzz in both the mainstream and conservative media has not been about the merits of the “historic” legislation but about the backroom deals necessary to achieve its passage, which its sponsors assure us will usher in a wonderful era of improved health-care access and care.
We’re going to remember for years to come the names of the deals, just as surely as did the infamous Bridge to Nowhere become part of the political vocabulary: Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback, U Con, Bayh Off, Handout Montana, and Gator Aid. Vermont and Massachusetts got billions more in Medicare funding. Sen. Roland Burris managed to slip in some funding for none other than ACORN, under the guise of improving minority community health. The scope and number of the deals are breathtaking, but it goes beyond the unseemliness of the average pork-barrel bill.
After all, this is not merely a transportation appropriations bill where the whole point is to dole out federal monies and the “game” is for each lawmaker to grab as much of the pie as possible for his own constituents. That might be distasteful to legislative purists and raise doubts as to whether all the money is being wisely spent. But it’s just about spreading the largess. In a case of transportation pork, one district gets a bike path and another doesn’t get the highway off-ramp, but neither district probably needed the project anyway.
In the case of health care, however, the bill rests on the premise that we are improving access to care and working toward a healthier society, reducing the problem of haves and have-nots. For decades that is how health-care “reform” has been sold by liberals.
But instead, what we “get” for health-care sweetheart deals is a new regime of rationed care, which will primarily impact the elderly. The nauseating plethora of backroom deals and special carve-outs for this or that state in health-care “reform,” therefore, is more egregious, and thus more politically toxic.
A central feature of this bill is the $500B cuts in Medicare funding, including slashing the popular Medicare Advantage plan and the imposition of a newly beefed-up Medicare Advisory Board, which will be empowered to devise new ways of cutting payments to doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health-care providers. In the absence of any real reform measures, the only feasible way to control costs is limiting care—i.e., rationing. Medicare already denies medical claims at double the rate of many large private insurers. And with $500B or so less to work with, many more Medicare claims will be denied.
This is what the Cornhusker Kickback and the rest of the bribe-a-thon are enabling. The Senate bill spared voters in a few states the harshest impact of the new care-depriving regime so that the same regime could be foisted on the entire country. Connecticut voters get $600 million in additional Medicaid benefits, Vermont voters get $10B in health-care centers, and hospitals in North Dakota and Iowa get richer Medicare reimbursement rates. Those deals made possible reduced rates of reimbursement and Medicare funding for the rest of the country, rates so paltry and unacceptable to a few key senators that they had to use all their pull to spare their own states. If it is unacceptable for them, why must the rest of the country live with it?
The colorfully named backroom deals may well induce a fiery public backlash, complicating the bill’s passage and negating any political benefit derived by its proponents. Voters will discover not only the ugly side of secret deals; they may also figure out that the moral justification for health care has been jettisoned by those who used their clout to squeeze care for millions of voters while sparing themselves the worst of that backlash.
It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real. John McCormack reports: “Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid’s ‘manager’s amendment,’ unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.” And your problem is? Really, this is a graft-athon, so it’s only fitting that the senator selected by the most notoriously corrupt governor in America (a senator, by the way, who also lied about his connection to that same governor, only to be given a stern look and a slap on the wrist by his colleagues) would insert into the bill an earmark for “the Office of Minority Health” to be voted on in the middle of night so as to deliver a goodie bag for the most notoriously corrupt organization in America. It’s as if there were a conspiracy to see if Jon Stewart can be left speechless.
Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still “absolutely” qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.
A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he “will look into” which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.
This is what comes from a legislative process as noxious as this. (It almost obscures another issue: why do we fund health care by race?) Dana Milbank dubs it the ”cash for cloture” bill. Indeed, it may replace the infamous transportation bill that gave us the “Bridge to Nowhere” as the symbol par excellence of congressional graft. He explains:
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) even disavowed Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. “Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here,” he reported.
The accusations must worry Democrats, for Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), facing a difficult 2010 reelection contest, went to the Senate floor to declare: “I’m not happy about the backroom deals.”
I think Burris isn’t likely to be worried or embarrassed. But perhaps it’s just a bit too ludicrous to defend, so the conference committee might see fit to lose the ACORN handout. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can come up with an appropriate substitute to satisfy the junior senator from Illinois. Maybe a public-works project to improve and expand this structure.
Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling observes that Sen. Michael Bennet is trailing all Republicans in a potential 2010 race, one by as much as nine points. He notes that this “is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn’t do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year. The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn’t have to be that way.”
James Capretta and Yuval Levin explain ReidCare: ”In other words, rather than build on the failed cost-control model of Medicare, they now want to actually further burden Medicare itself. Why take a roundabout path to failure when a direct one is available? The irrationality of this solution is staggering. But, of course, it’s a solution to Reid’s political problem, not to the nation’s health care financing crisis.”
The New York Times thinks ReidCare is in trouble too: “Democratic leaders hit a rough patch Friday in their push for sweeping health care legislation, as they tried to fend off criticism of their proposals from a top Medicare official, Republicans and even members of their own party. . .Republicans said [the Medicare actuary's] report confirmed what they had been saying for months. ‘It is a remarkable report,’ said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. ‘It is a roundhouse blow to the Reid plan.’” We’ll see.
Dana Milbank thinks Senate Democrats could find a better leader. He explains that “as his public-option gambit demonstrated, merely dangling proposals, regardless of how meritorious they may be, doesn’t cause them to become law — and it may cause Democrats from more conservative states, such as Lincoln’s Arkansas, to lose their jobs.” And lose his own as well. Millbank thinks his caucus might be happier with Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer. Well, they might get their wish, given Reid’s polling.
Looking at the dismal polling on ObamaCare and the CBS polling showing Obama leading George W. Bush by only a 50-to-44-percent margin, James Taranto argues that ”these results almost surely represent a backlash against Obama and Congress’s Democrats. Their insistence on pushing ahead and forcing on the country a health-care scheme that by now is almost as unpopular as it is monstrous is without a doubt a major factor here.” And it might be that a cold, ultra-liberal president who blames his problems on his predecessor really isn’t what they all had in mind.
An excellent development, and perhaps a sign that the Obami are waking up to the reality of the thugocracy of Iran: “More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. . .President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program.”
Obama is still sliding: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -16. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”
It’s the “international community” after all: “Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.”
Politico reports that a “wave of ethics problems for Capitol Hill Democrats makes GOP strategists optimistic that they can do to Democrats what was done to Republicans in 2006: paint a picture of a majority party corrupted by its own power.” Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ethics probe is ongoing; Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson has been accused of using his post to try to wring campaign donations out of the credit-card industry; the Justice Department is still rummaging around in the lobbying scandal surrounding the PMA Group, which threatens to ensnare Reps. Jack Murtha, James Moran, and Pete Visclosky, among others; and in the Senate, Max Baucus’s girlfriend scandal is growing while Sen. Roland Burris got slapped on the wrist for lying about his contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
All in all, it’s quite a track record. In and of themselves, scandals don’t usually take down a majority party, but we saw in 1994 and 2006 how the corruption issue played a significant role. The incumbent party must play defense, its supporters are a bit down in the dumps, and challengers get to play the “Washington outsider” card. And in this case, the Democrats will have Nancy Pelosi’s words hung around their necks:
“Thanks to Nancy Pelosi’s lapses in judgment, the rap sheet on the Democratic-led Congress is getting longer by the day,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When the speaker promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ she probably didn’t think she’d be fighting off hypocrisy charges four years later heading into the 2010 elections.”
The Democrats could, of course, throw the miscreants overboard and at the very least take away key committee chairmanships while the matters are investigated. But they seem to show no interest in doing that. I suppose the congressional generic poll numbers will have to get even worse before that happens.