Publications

The Politics of Travel, Corn, and Health Insurance

As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, the preeminent public concern with government appears to be TSA airport screening, with polls showing a majority of Americans supporting new and more intrusive security measures, but with a very unhappy minority, including more frequent travelers making a lot of noise (Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight has a very detailed breakdown on polling data, trends, and past experience with tightened airport security).  Opponents of full-body screening are probably not going to help the popularity of their cause by slowing down TSA operations during tomorrow’s so-called Opt-Out Day.

Meanwhile, prospects for a harmonious lame-duck session seem as remote as ever.  While some observers perceive an increased possibility of a consensus proposal by the Deficit Reduction Commission, acceptance of any such proposal by Congress still remains extremely unlikely.  The one bipartisan deficit-reduction idea that is gaining steam at the moment is an effort led by Tea Party favorites Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, in conjunction with environmentalists, to block extension of tax subsidies for ethanol production, a proposition that will create problems for Republican presidential wannabees who will soon be spending a lot of time in Iowa.  Meanwhile, more and more conservatives appear to be eager to sign onto a “no” vote on increasing the public debt limit, which could force an government shutdown early next year.

Another contentious issue hanging fire is the pledge by Republicans in both chambers of Congress to pursue a repeal of health reform legislation.  Ezra Klein has a succinct summary of the political and substantive problems this effort will run into:

For now, Republicans have been talking about which policies to repeal. They want the 1099 tax gone, or the individual mandate reversed. But when they actually have to repeal anything, they’re going to have to talk about what functions they want repealed. Repeal the individual mandate, for instance, and you make it possible for the irresponsible to freeload on the system, and impossible for the responsible to get insurance at low rates. You also make it impossible to end discrimination based on preexisting conditions. And do Americans really want that repealed?

The answer lies somewhere between “no” and “hell, no.” And as Klein notes, Republican claims that they have other ways to protect the uninsurable (mostly involving the old chestnut of state-run high-risk pools, which typically offer bad policies at very high premiums) may not look too good when fully explained.  Meanwhile, absent some national policy on pre-existing condition exclusions, another Republican hobby-horse, allowing interstate sales of insurance products, could actually erode existing state protections by creating a “race to the bottom” of insurers to low-regulation states.

Indeed, whatever else happens, the repeal effort could produce the sort of public awareness of the realities of health reform that pro-reform education efforts have so far failed to generate.

Three weeks after Election Day, the 2010 cycle refuses to end.  Joe Miller continues to seek a way to block a formal declaration of victory for Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Senate race, even as Republicans begin to pull the rug from beneath him.  Tom Emmers lost a key court battle in his fight to prevent final certification of Democrat Mark Dayton as winner of the Minnesota gubernatorial race.  And the number of unresolved House races is now down to four (two in CA and two in NY); if the current leaders win those races, the final count of House GOP gains will be 63.

Turning to the 2012 cycle, the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics web page has unveiled a study demonstrating that party control of governorships has (at least since 1968) had virtually no impact on which party wins a given state in presidential elections.  The write-up of this study is amusingly sprinkled with election-night quotes from media pundits claiming that Republican gubernatorial wins would have a massive impact on the outcome in key states in 2012.

And for those who can’t wait for the presidential election to get fully underway, I’ve done a fairly elaborate piece for TNR on the GOP presidential landscape coming out of the midterms. Long story short, no prospective candidates did that much good for themselves during the midterms, with the main impact being the erosion of conservative activist willingness to accept candidates they don’t like on electability grounds.  This could be bad news for Mitt Romney, or for any establishment cabal determined to pre-select a nominee or veto someone like Sarah Palin.

Speaking of Palin, tonight we will learn if her daughter, Bristol, will win the annual competition on the top-rated network TV show Dancing With the Stars, despite relatively low marks from the show’s professional judges, thus creating a brouhaha over Republican ballot-box-stuffing and probable cries of persecution from both Palins and their fans.