Final 2014 Midterm Election Predictions

The final Fix Senate rankings are here    The Washington Post

With a little under a week to go before Election Day, it is time to make last-minute predictions once again.

You can see my earlier predictions from January here, and from October here.

Overall, the trends have moved slightly, but not significantly, toward Republicans. The generic poll numbers have not significantly moved, but the enthusiasm gap steadily has increased, as the GOP is relatively excited to come out and voice their displeasure at the polls.

GOVERNORS

I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Governor’s races in my previous post, and won’t do so here either, other than to make quick predictions on a few key races. In the races not mentioned, I expect the incumbent/heavily favored to win.

Alaska: Walker (I), in close race.

Colorado: Hickenlooper (D) anb Beauprez are going neck-and-neck; I was ready to call it for Hickenlooper a few days ago, but right now…I wouldn’t bet a nickel on either side. True tossup. Guess? Republicans pull it out.

Connecticut: Polls are tied; my gut says Foley (R) ousts Gov. Malloy.

Florida: I have no idea; really. I would not be surpised to see a recount.

Georgia: Deal (R), but less than 50%, so heads to runoff.

Illinois: Polling all over the place; low confidence, but I think Rauner (R) pulls it out.

Kansas: Another true tossup; gut tells me Brownback (R) wins, though deserves to lose.

Maine: LePage (R), by the skin of his teeth.

Massachusetts: Baker (R); a stunning turn of events.

Michigan: Snyder (R)

New Hampshire: Hassan (D), in a race closer than predicted.

Rhode Island: Fung (R) has run a great race, but I predict he loses to Raimondo.

Wisconsin: Walker (R), but closer than predicted.

HOUSE

In my earlier post, I predicted a gain of 5-8 House seats. The polls have shifted recently, with several Democrat incumbents now in tough races, as both parties rush to pour money into these districts. That is good news overall for Republicans, who could steal a few seats that were considered safe by Democrats, including several in the completely blue region of the North East. Polls in states like New York are showing GOP surges late…that is a sign of good things.

PREDICTION: Gain of 8-12 House seats, up from 5-8 earlier this month.

SENATE

All the real fun is still with the Senate.

The Senate prediction models (538, NY Times Upshot, Washington Post, Realclearpolitics, Huffington Post, Wang,Larry Sabato, and the new AoSHQDD) have slightly moved toward Republicans in the past month, including Dr. Wang’s site, which had heavily favored Democrats last go around.

The short term shift of polls toward Democrats died a quick death, with most of the polls trending toward the GOP over the past several weeks. In that last week before election day, we have seen several polling units show last-minute surges for Republicans. That has solidified some of the ratings changes below:

1. ARKANSAS

Arkansas has trended GOP over the past several months, and Tom Cotton should be considered the heavy favorite. This race looks very close to being over.

RATING: Likely GOP.

2. NORTH CAROLINA

This race is sitting with a razor-thin margin. Kay Hagan has had a lead for months, but that has been slowly, but steadily, narrowing. Several polls show the race tightening or even at the moment. If momentum matters, Tillis will pull it out. As it were, I still have to give a light edge to Hagan, based on her long-term lead. One caveat though: Hagan has polled consistently in the low 40s for the entire campaign; in the RealClearPolitics average, no incumbent has ever won re-election with a rating below 45% going into election day. Hagan will try to become the first.

RATING: Slight Democrat lean.

3. LOUISIANA

This race is likely heading for a runoff in December. Cassidy is trailing slightly in the three-way race for next week, but in head-to-head with Sen. Landrieu, shows a solid lead. He is likely to win the race in December.

RATING: Likely GOP in runoff.

4. Alaska

Alaska is notoriously hard to poll, because of its sparse population. But there has been some decent polling there in recent weeks, and the news is not good for Democrats. Dan Sullivan has opened a small, but persistent, lead over Democrat Senator Mark Begich.

RATING: Leans GOP

5. Iowa

Iowa was considered the ‘firewall’ for Senate Democrats’ hopes to hold the Senate, along with Colorado (see below). Bruce Braley was a unanimous choice as a strong candidate to hold the seat. However, conservative Joni Ernst has run a strong campaign, attacking Braley on both policy and personal issues. Surprisingly, Ernst appears to have the tiniest amount of momentum at this point.

This is another race that a late GOP surge makes me a believer.

RATING: Leans GOP.

6. Colorado.

Along with Iowa, this was considered the Democrat firewall to hold the Senate. Cory Gardner has disrupted that strategy. Gardner is a solid candidate, who has run a clean campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Udall has led for most of the year, but recently Gardner has taken a slight, but consistent, lead. Udall has had several hiccups of late, but he still has a lot of money and a strong ground game.

Like Iowa, we are seeing a GOP surge late…and that should take Gardner over the top.

RATING: Leans GOP.

7. New Hampshire

Honestly…I did not think we would be talking about New Hampshire at this point. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a relatively popular Senator, with no major scandals. Fmr. Sen. Scott Brown is a relative usurper, moving from Massachusetts just earlier this year. But key issues, including foreign policy, have made this race competitive. Shaheen still holds a steady lead though, and I presume she will pull it out.

RATING: Leans Democrat.

8. Michigan

Of all the races for the GOP, this is by far the most disappointing. I openly advocated for Terri Lynn Land, but she has run a horrendous campaign, where her messaging has been off, her campaigning has been lackadaisical, and she has allowed herself to become mired in silly controversies time and again. Unlike every other Republican on this list, she has actually outspent her opponent, to little or no avail. Gary Peters is not a good candidate, but in a blue state, you don’t have to be a good Democrat candidate to beat a mediocre Republican.

RATING: Solid Democrat.

9. Kansas

This is a race nobody can honestly predict. All the fundamentals should mean Sen. Pat Roberts wins re-election. The polls are not great in this race, but like Sean Trende has said on Twitter, until I see solid evidence, you have to bet on Roberts.

The GOP has ridden to Roberts’ rescue in the last few weeks. And former Sen. Bob Dole pulled out all the stops. My guess is, by the skin of their teeth, that will be enough.

RATING: Leans Republican.

10. Georgia

Georgia wasn’t listed in my last prediction…because I never seriously considered it in play. However, just to show the flux in polling, a surge for Nunn gave her a tiny lead during the interim. Perdue’s polling appears to have rebounded, and he seems to have a small lead. This race looks like it is going to a runoff, but once there, Perdue will very likely comfortably win. However, Perdue has surged enough in recent days, he is achingly close to avoiding a runoff all together by reaching the 50% mark.

RATING: Leans Republican.

PREDICTION: I think the last two weeks have slightly shifted the electorate. Where as some races were true tossups at that time, like Iowa and Colorado, those races now appear to be leaning Republican, if not out right over. For example, the Des Moines Register poll, often considered the premier poll in the state of Iowa, gives Joni Ernst a outside-the-margin-of-error lead of 7 points, and calls the race over. That would have been an unthinkable claim at the beginning of the month.

I think Republicans are going to be very, very disappointed in races in New Hampshire and North Carolina. In New Hampshire, Scott Brown has run an excellent insurgent campaign, very much like this win in 2010 in Massachusetts. However, the GOP was a little late in coming to his aid, and he will probably lose by a point or two.

In North Carolina, Thom Tillis had run a terrible campaign through out the summer. He disastrously remained in the North Carolina state legislature, which not only gave him bad press, but allowed Kay Hagan to pound him on the campaign trail for months. Tillis has done a nice job in recent weeks, both on the trail and in the debates. I think he is going to fall just short though.

When all is said and done, I predict the GOP takes 8 seats, to get to a 53 seat majority in the United States Senate.

OVERALL:

In recent days, a lot of political pundits are already setting up the ‘expectations’ game for both political parties. The Washington Post said the GOP will need a ‘reality check’ after winning. Nate Cohn in the New York Times is that the success in the midterms tells us little about the electorate for 2016.

In general, that is true. The midterm elections really have no significant bearing on what will happen in a Presidential elections. We have to look no further than 1986 Democrat Party victory, after which George H.W. Bush shellacked Michael Dukakis; or 2010, when the GOP had a wave election, only to be overcome by Barack Obama once again in 2012.

Victories this year, mostly in states favorable to the GOP, doesn’t really prognosticate for future victories.

This comes with a couple caveats however. Note how far the GOP has come since just JANUARY. See my predictions from January here, which aligned nicely with those of other pundits throughout the blogosphere. Democrats expected to hold both Colorado and Iowa, with Ken Buck thought to be the expected candidate in the former, and nobody giving Joni Ernst a chance in the latter. New Hampshire was not supposed to really be in play. North Carolina was the one race where Democrats can be happy with their plans.

In short, pundits are moving the bar greatly in these last few weeks. Simply put, virtually nobody predicted the GOP would take both Iowa and Colorado, both blue-leaning states in the era of Obama. And many, if not most, prognosticators thought Democrats would gain seats in the House, or at worst, stay even; instead, the Democrats are guaranteed to lose House seats, and some of those seats may be in relatively ‘safe’ Democrat districts.

The repercussions for 2016 and beyond simply cannot be predicted right now. But the short answer is this: the GOP looks like it is doing their job: elevating their ground game, recruiting strong candidates, and then running relatively err0r-free campagins. The Democrats, on the other hand, tried to depend on past victories in the ground game, recruited some poor to terrible candidates, and have run campaigns full of gaffes and mistakes.

Whether this is a true ‘wave’ election is a matter of opinion. But there is no doubt, this is going to be a solid victory for Republicans, who now have to look forward both on policy and 2016 to make this election matter.

This was cross posted at Neoavatara

Election Predictions, October 2014 Edition

I have personally avoided writing too much about the 2014 election cycle for a simple reason: there hasn’t been much to say.

One can go back and read what I wrote in January, and little has changed. Structurally, this is an election that favors the GOP, with battles being fought on friendly territory. GOP should, by any reasonable measure, pick up enough seats to take the Senate. Democrats are facing headwinds because Barack Obama is not popular, and Obamacare still lacked any traction among the populace. And the GOP was nominating higher quality candidates than in past cycles.

I think most of this remains true.

What has changed? Well, Obamacare is slightly less of an issue today than 9 months ago. Some liberals have argued that the issue has completely shifted. I don’t believe that is the case. What I do believe is that the issue is ‘baked in’; meaning that those people who have made up their minds on the issue have already picked which side they support. Obamacare issue ads are unlikely to move the electorate at this point.

The bigger issue has been the plummeting of faith in the presidency of Barack Obama. His approval numbers are around 40%, which is similar to George W. Bush’s numbers in late 2006. On issues as wide-ranging as the economy, immigration, and foreign policy, Republicans are now favored over Democrats. That is a shift even when compared to earlier this year.

One common refrain has been, “Why haven’t we seen a GOP wave yet then?”. It is a legitimate question, which actually has legitimate answers. In 2010, the wave only really began in late September. Likely, most people simply aren’t paying attention until then. Furthermore, unlike past years, the number of seats that can potentially switch is much smaller, especially when talking about the House. Simply put, even if there was a wave, it is hard to move immovable objects.

So where are we, with little more than a month to election day?

GOVERNORS

Not going to spend a ton of time on this, but worth a few comments.

In my home state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is going to shellack the Democrats by approximately 20 points. A remarkable recovery for a man who was hovering below 50% approval just a year ago.

Wisconsin should once again be close, but Gov. Scott Walker again holds a consistent small lead over his Democrat challenger. This election looks a lot like the last two races, where Walker looks to be in trouble, but pulls it out in the end.

The Florida race between Gov. Rick Scott and Fmr. Gov. Charlie Crist has been back and forth all cycle. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a few thousand votes makes the difference in the end.

Sam Brownback is in serious trouble in Kansas, though he is within the margin of error. If he can convince enough Republicans to give him another chance, he could pull it off. My guess right now is that he loses.

Martha Coakley is once again running a poor campaign in Massachusetts, and her GOP challenger Charlie Baker is taking advantage. Coakley probably leads, but not by much. Could be a photo finish.

Gov. Nathan Deal has struggled in Georgia against Democrat Carter, and the polls have shown it. My guess is Deal pulls it out in the end with a last-minute conservative surge helping pull him to the finish line.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has led virtually the entire way against Democrat Mark Schauer, even in the blue state. That bodes well for Snyder.

Illinois has been a lot of fun to watch. Gov. Pat Quinn is under investigation for multiple offenses, not to mention corruption charges. Illinois has one of the worst records economically over the past four years, and the state is still under a mountain of debt. Even still, Republican has struggled to pull ahead consistently. This is a tough race to call, another true tossup.

PREDICTION: If forced to, would predict Democrats to pick up 2-3 Governors seats overall, with the at-risk GOP seats most likely PA, ME, and KS. If interested in each individual race, Larry Sabato‘s run down is excellent.

HOUSE

Easiest prediction: The GOP will hold the House of Representatives.

Considering the generic ballot, and the structural realities, it is frankly impossible for Republicans to have a huge wave. Why is that? Because we are basically in a scenario where we are living with the previous wave, the 2010 midterm election. That election basically showed what a realistic high water mark is for the GOP. In 2012, the GOP lost 8 House seats. The most likely result is the GOP wins 5-8 seats in this cycle, basically reaching the high water 2010 mark again.

PREDICTION: Gain of 5-8 House seats.

SENATE

All the real fun is with the Senate.

The Senate prediction models (538, NY Times Upshot, Washington Post, Realclearpolitics, Huffington Post, Wang, Larry Sabato, and the new AoSHQDD) have been all over the board. I think one take away? If you see a model having huge swings, it is best to ignore it until right before the election, because its predictive value is very, very low.

In the middle of September, there appeared to be a suddens shift toward the Democrats, with several models showing the likelihood of Democrats holding the chamber to be better than even. That lasted for about 48 hours. The reality is nothing fundamentally changed, but poll variables were shifting the dynamics.

Models such as those by Professor Wang deviated widely, which led 538’s Nate Silver to take pot shots at him. For example, on September 25th, Wang’s model had Begich as a 99% favorite in Alaska. The next day, it gave him a 23% chance. Such deviations are signs of a poor model.

In any case, the larger issue is nothing has really changed that much, but there have been some state by state variability. Here are the races I think that are most important. Please note that I am no longer even discussing Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota, which are likely locks for the GOP. I also think Kentucky and Georgia have basically trended away from the Democrats. Barring any ‘black swan’ even, Republicans should hold those seats. Same with longshot seats in Virginia and Oregon, where Democrats have largely locked up re-election.

The remaining?

1. ARKANSAS

Arkansas is a state the GOP must win to take the Senate. Tom Cotton has run an up and down campaign against Senator Mark Pryor. Pryor, on the other hand, has not run a perfect re-election campaign. One steady truth though: Cotton has held a small but significant lead against Pryor since early summer, currently leading by 3.6 points.

RATING: Leans GOP.

2. NORTH CAROLINA

This is a race that is pretty unique, because it has trended away from the GOP. Sen. Kay Hagan has run a brilliant campaign, largely focused not on her record but the education record of opponent Thom Tillis. That, along with her significant monetary advantage has allowed her strategy to prove successful. Hagan has opened up a significant 3.5% lead since early September. However, unlike other races, like Arkansas, that lead has only been for a few weeks, so is less certain. But it is significant, and right now Ms. Hagan has the edge.

RATING: Leans Democrat.

3. LOUISIANA

Of course because of this state’s strange election rules, it is highly likely this goes to a run off in December, barring a single candidate getting 50% in November, which is highly unlikely. But in any case, Republican Bill Cassidy has had a solid, steady lead or incumbent Mary Landrieu. The lead is 5.1% today, and has been similar for months.

RATING: Likely GOP.

4. Alaska

Alaska is notoriously hard to poll, because of its sparse population. But there has been some decent polling there in recent weeks, and the news is not good for Democrats. Dan Sullivan has opened a small, but persistent, lead over Democrat Senator Mark Begich.

RATING: Leans GOP

5. Iowa

Iowa was considered the ‘firewall’ for Senate Democrats’ hopes to hold the Senate, along with Colorado (see below). Bruce Braley was a unanimous choice as a strong candidate to hold the seat. However, conservative Joni Ernst has run a strong campaign, attacking Braley on both policy and personal issues. Surprisingly, Ernst appears to have the tiniest amount of momentum at this point. Still too close to call.

RATING: Tossup.

6. Colorado.

Along with Iowa, this was considered the Democrat firewall to hold the Senate. Cory Gardner has disrupted that strategy. Gardner is a solid candidate, who has run a clean campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Udall has led for most of the year, but recently Gardner has taken a slight lead. Udall has had several hiccups of late, but he still has a lot of money and a strong ground game. This will grind out until election day.

RATING: Tossup.

7. New Hampshire

Honestly…I did not think we would be talking about New Hampshire at this point. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a relatively popular Senator, with no major scandals. Fmr. Sen. Scott Brown is a relative usurper, moving from Massachusetts just earlier this year. But key issues, including foreign policy, have made this race competitive. Shaheen still holds a steady lead though, and I presume she will pull it out.

RATING: Likely Democrat.

8. Michigan

Of all the races for the GOP, this is by far the most disappointing. I openly advocated for Terri Lynn Land, but she has run a horrendous campaign, where her messaging has been off, her campaigning has been lackadaisical, and she has allowed herself to become mired in silly controversies time and again. Unlike every other Republican on this list, she has actually outspent her opponent, to little or no avail. Gary Peters is not a good candidate, but in a blue state, you don’t have to be a good Democrat candidate to beat a mediocre Republican.

RATING: Likely Democrat.

9. Kansas

This is a race nobody can honestly predict. All the fundamentals should mean Sen. Pat Roberts wins re-election. Independent (Democrat?) Greg Orman leads in several polls, but hasn’t been challenged at all. Now, I guess the GOP could fail miserably and not call Orman out to task…but even I find that difficult to believe. The polls are not great in this race, but like Sean Trende has said on Twitter, until I see solid evidence, you have to bet on Roberts.

RATING: Likely Republican (with little or no evidence to prove either way).

PREDICTION: The Senate is still too close to call, as every prognosticator has suggested. Charlie Cook this week suggested Republicans have a 60% chance of taking the Senate majority…and I believe that is the most forceful prediction I have seen recently. The Senate is on a razor’s edge.

Right now, I think Republicans have a significant edge in KY and GA, as I stated above. I think they lead by a small amount in AR and LA. I think that Begich is in trouble in AK as well.

If Roberts holds in Kansas, that would give the Senate to the Republicans. If not, it gives you a 50/50 tie, and gives Biden the Senate for Democrats with the VP tiebreaker.

However, even if Roberts loses, there is a better than coin flips chance that Republicans take either CO or IA. I think both are literal tossups, and there is at least a 50% chance of taking one of those seats for the GOP. I also don’t believe NC is lost to the Republicans yet, though I would bet on Hagan if forced to at this point.

What it comes down to is, the worst case scenario for the GOP is a pickup of 5 seats, meaning they fall short of taking the majority because of Joe Biden. The best case scenario is a 8 seat pick up.

In short…I basically agree with the prognosticators. Whether Nate Silver, Huffington Post, Charlie Cook…they give the GOP a slightly better than 50% chance of taking the Senate. I have said this actually since January, and nothing has fundamentally changed. Or to simplify matters, presuming my assumptions above, Republicans would need to win 2 of the four races in IA, CO, AK and Kansas. If I were the GOP, I would be relatively happy with that coin flip.

Thoughts On Halbig

HALBIG!!!! - Kirk screaming Khan - Meme Generator

 

There were two major Obamacare rulings scheduled to come out this year…and both ended up coming out within hours of each other on Tuesday.

In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Appeals court ruled that the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act were intended only for exchanges established by states…thus excluding millions of participants in the Federally run exchange. Hours later, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in King v. Burwell, declared virtually the opposite.

The legal arguments have been going on for a long time, and there are a lot of great discussions, some which are linked from Nicholas BagleyMichael CannonJonathan Adler, and others that will take you through the circuitous legal arguments.  If you are really interested, this podcast with Mr. Bagley and Mr. Adler could be fruitful for your search to understand more about the debate.

But here are my brief takes on the results of both cases:

1. The Halbig decision is a major boost to the momentum of the case of PPACA opponents.

Despite the 4th circuits ruling taking the steam out of the excitement over Halbig, this has to be a major victory for Misters Cannon and Adler, who were two of the earliest proponents for a case attacking the legal justification for subsidies in the Federal exchanges.  Even in the 4th circuit ruling, the court admits the litigants had a fairly reasonable cause to bring the suit, because the text of the law is quite clear that the subsidies are only for state-run exchanges.

This is key for the following reason: it now serves as an impetus for the Supreme Court to take up the case.  Although many liberals and others are arguing that because Halbig is likely to lose in the D.C. court on en banc session it will remove some of the justification for the Supreme Court to take up the case, that doesn’t by itself remove the legal and logical conflict of the case.

This doesn’t insure that the case will be resolved by the highest court in the land…but it increases the probability greatly.  Make note there are two additional cases also working their way through the District courts.  All this from a case where Mr. Adler once remarked he thought the chances of ultimate legal success were very, very low.  Not bad, all things considered.

2. Liberal arguments about ‘activist’ and ‘politicized’ judges are silly and naive.

Liberals howled today when the Halbig ruling was released, calling it a ‘highly politicized ruling by activist conservative judges’.

They yet were silent when the 4th circuit, in a ruling that relied highly on political arguments to make their case, ruled the reverse.

Furthermore, liberals are now relying on the en banc review of the case in the D.C. court, precisely because it is political.  The reason liberals are so confidant there is because of the large Democrat advantage in that court overall.

I think we can go back and forth about politicization of the courts, and which judges are activist or not.  But to rely on that  for your legal understanding of the case is simply naive.  Both sides have legitimate legal arguments, based in long-standing jurisprudence.  This is actually a complicated and difficult case…and to avoid giving credence to either side is being unfair.

3.  The ambiguity in the law weakens the government’s case far more than the litigants.

If you read the two rulings today, what you see is the D.C. court relied highly on the actual text of the PPACA.  Its argument was that the text was quite clear that the state exchanges were supposed to benefit from subsidies, while the Federal exchange would not.

In the 4th Circuit ruling, they rely heavily on what the law implies.  They don’t as much rely on the true text of the law itself.  Also note that the 4th circuit struggled to find a contemporary statement from Congress during the debate that clearly stated they wanted subsidies on all exchanges…which in my mind, greatly weakens the government’s case as well.

This is not to say the 4th circuit was incorrect as far is jurisprudence is concerned. Mr. Bagley makes this argument in a piece from Greg Sargent:

As Bagley explains it to me, the core distinction is whether you are arguing that “Congress didn’t really mean what the statute said,” or whether you are arguing that “what the statute says doesn’t actually mean what you think it means.” The former, Bagley says, is a losing argument. But that is not what proponents of the law are arguing. As noted above, the statute does not clearly say that those on the federal exchange don’t get subsidies. Therefore, the question is not, “what does the statute say” — that is not actually clear — but “what does the statute mean.”

The D.C. court also referred to this ambiguity.  But they made what is (to me, at least) a more sound argument: that although there is some ambiguity, there is absolutely no clarity in what the law implied.  And if the implied intent was uncertain, and the textual intent quite clear…you should rely on the form that is clear.  No?

In fact, if you go back to the discussions during the Obamacare debate…there were a few discussions about limiting the Federal exchange subsidies.  Also recall: Democrats presumed that all states would be forced to expand Medicaid, and almost all states would create exchanges.  The necessity of a Federal exchange was a backstop, and no more.  I think the argument that Congress clearly, indisputably intended for subsidies to be available on all exchanges has dubious factual merits.  But that is moot; 4th circuit agreed with that argument anyway.

Just to close on this point; how tenuous was the government’s argument that the 4th circuit accepted today?  Their ruling states it quite clearly:

“the court is of the opinion that the defendants have the stronger position, although only slightly.”

That is not the statement that one would hold as a bedrock of certainty.

4.  Politically, this causes a problem for both parties. 

For Democrats, this continues the general public opinion that the ACA was written incompetently, had severe problems in implementation, and to this day remains on shaky ground.  Most Americans are not going to dig into the weeds on this; they simply know that courts are ruling both ways, which makes the entire system appear shaky at best.

For Republicans, this is no slam dunk either.  For example, if Halbig becomes the law of the land, won’t that place enormous pressure on Republican governors to establish exchanges?  At least 5 million people will lose Federal subsidies if the court ruling goes into effect.  In this environment, can GOP Governors simply ignore those people?  And remember, even without this onslaught of complaints, GOP governors were already accepting Medicaid expansion in one form or another.  I find it highly unlikely that the GOP could simply ignore the political pressure on this.

5. All of this was caused by the incompetence of Congress.

When Nancy Pelosi said, “We need to pass it to find out what is in it”, THIS is what she meant.  Today, in Halbig…we found out what is, and isn’t, in the Affordable Care Act.

A careful proofreading and understanding of the plan would have resulted in people realizing the contradiction that government was literally, in textual form, preventing the Federal government from providing the same subsidies as the states were allowed to.

Now, liberals are arguing what the intent of the law was.  That is a fair argument, but generally, the safest way to understand what was intended in a law?  Is to clearly state that intent within the law.

That was not done here.

The rush to passage, the inability to allow public comment, and the negligence of Congress in failing to read their own bill led to this.  Simple as that.

————————————————————————–

Couple points in conclusion.

First off, I respect a lot of people, many named above, that have varied views on the results in this case.  Clearly I am on one side of this as far as the legal argument goes, but I think that most of those on the other side are honest participants in the debate.  I fully stipulate that both sides have legitimate legal and logical arguments for their position.

That, in turn, is what makes cases like these so hard.  There is simply no right answer.  It is thoroughly possible that Congress wrote the bill, in the literal sense, not to provide subsidies to those on the Federal exchange.  It might even be true they intended that result.

What is also possibly true is, at the very same time, they intended for everyone to have access to those very same subsidies.  Simply put, I don’t think those that voted on this bill understood the full extent and connotations of the items they were voting on.

The rest of us should be wary of attacking one set of jurists over the other as well.  These courts were put in this terrible position because of the incompetence of Congress; therein lies the blame.  That these judges now have to play Solomon ultimately is not their fault.

One final point: as a physician, this entire train wreck is horrible for our patients.  Congress committed an act of malpractice by not clarifying these issues before passage.  Even if Halbig is overturned (the result I expect and predict), that doesn’t really truly solve the problem, because the law remains ambiguous on this and numerous other issues.  We really should demand better from our political leaders, and hold them to account when they make such enormous blunders. I doubt that will happen however.

Child Immigrant Surge Shows Fundamental Flaw in Democrat Logic

2014-06-18t220150z554194029tm3ea6i1dw701rtrmadp3usa The recent surge of illegal immigrant children across our southern border is a humanitarian tragedy that is only now being understood. Almost 50,000 children, without adult supervision, have been captured since October, and most project that number will rise to 90,000 by September.

Note that this is not some small variation; that is a 100% increase over the same period last year.

This surge did not occur in a vacuum. President Obama has before and after his re-election promised the loosening of immigration rules on deportation, and has widely announced that he wanted to sign executive orders furthering those ideals. He first signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum in June 2012, which directs US Immigration officials to practice ‘prosecutorial discretion when it comes to illegal undocumented youth immigrants.

These moves, unsurprisingly, have not gone unnoticed south of the border. In fact, in many countries in Central and South America, there are editorials and TV broadcasts that have touted this change. This has often been misinterpreted as a true amnesty, and thus many uneducated families have made the decision that if the door has swung wide open for their children, they can’t miss the opportunity to jump through that door.

And that has resulted in a change of behavior across the board. Unaccompanied minors now are surging the border, in hopes to benefit from Obama’s DACA, even if this is an incorrect understanding of the rules the President signed into force. But even more so, those children are purposefully being apprehended by immigration officials. This from USA Today:

One key difference the recent arrivals are displaying from their predecessors: They’re not bothering to sneak deeper into Texas, opting instead to turn themselves in and allow U.S. policy toward immigrant youth decide their fate, said Chris Cabrera, a McAllen-based Border Patrol agent and vice president of the local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council. “We’re seeing record numbers of children coming across,” he said. “We’re dealing with so many of them turning themselves in that it makes it hard for our agents to focus on anything else.”

Legally of course this is not what President Obama intended. But the logical result of his policies is not surprising whatsoever. Uneducated, non-English speaking people across the world heard what they wanted to hear; a President basically removing the major blockade for their children to enter the United States. Did Mr. Obama really expect a different result?

This of course puts the President and his Democrat allies into a bind. Hillary Clinton, who is on her ‘Throw Obama Under the Bus” Book tour, didn’t miss the opportunity to…throw Obama under the bus.

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns whether all of them should be sent back,” Clinton said. “But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”

This is a major quandary for the Obama Administration, who has made the ‘virtual’ DREAM act one of their second term priorities. Furthermore, there are practical realities: once we allow the children across the border, our laws give them specific protections. Here from Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, via Greg Sargent:

“It’s easy to say they should all be sent home. But that’s really hard to do. The law requires them to get their day in court, and many will qualify for some form of relief. You have to make sure these kids have an opportunity to present their situation in court, because they are more like refugees than immigrants. Making sure they show up would require holding all these kids in huge detention centers — rather than releasing them to family — and a massive infusion in judges to relieve the backlog of the courts, neither of which is possible under current budgetary and political restraints.”

We all agree with this. There is a balance between the law and being humane. The problem here is…Obama shifted the balanc, and therein lies the basic problem with the entire episode.

Democrats have long believed that loosening immigration rules, followed by enforcement of hiring and border protections, would stem the tide of illegal immigration. However, they get the chronological order completely backwards.

This story shows the fundamental flaw in their logic, and why their plan will never work. Once you loosen the rules on illegal immigrants, foreigners who are desperately poor and have no other choices will make the choice that has now open to them. In this case, President Obama’s order, unintentionally but still forcefully, shifted the dynamic in such a way to make it worthwhile for hundreds of thousands of parents to send their children unaccompanied across the US border, in hopes that Mr. Obama’s administration would largely keep their promise of not deporting the majority of them, and thus, giving them a backdoor legal status into the United States.

Furthermore, because of the laws already existing, we must give those children due process.  In other words, because of the already existing backlog of cases, many of these minors could spend months, if not years potentially, in holding camps. Is that humane?

Liberals will argue that was never Obama’s intent. Maybe so, but the results are the same. This goes to the heart of the matter on comprehensive immigration reform. I support immigration reform, and even support the DREAM act in theory, but the entire system will fail until you secure the border. No legalization process or amnesty will long survive the reality that our border is quite open. If you don’t secure the border…the surge of immigrants is the result.

This entire episode in liberal experimentation with social engineering proves that.

We Are Losing The War On Terror

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First, if you think this is going to be a hit piece on Barack Obama…keep reading, because that is precisely not what this.

What this is, fundamentally, is an analysis of where our global fight against existential terror groups stands.

It is not a pretty picture.

Even before this weeks events in Iraq, we have seen a resurgence of Islamists all over the world.

In African, numerous groups have seen a comeback, most famous being that Baku Haram in Nigeria, who kidnapped several hundred young girls, and led to a Twitter phenomenon that so far has failed to find and return those girls safely.

In Libya, the West’s strategy has failed completely, as the majority of the country is now controlled by rebels, and the Capital itself has come under attack several times; Libya is on the verge of being a failed state.

Syria has long been a failed state, as the Civil War rages on. Thousands have died since the West signed a chemical weapons deal with Assad. The chemical weapons deal is a nice public relations coup, but will not change the killing one iota.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban are apparently biding their time until the US leaves, so they can restart their Jihad against everyone. And they staged one of their biggest coups in years, by receiving 5 key leaders back from Guantanamo Bay, at the price of one single American Soldier.

And the Taliban, along with the Hiqqani network, staged an underreported attack on Karachi airport in Pakistan, which signals new trouble for that nuclear state.

Iraq’s troubles, with ISIS and other Islamist groups, marching toward Baghdad is just another symptom of the larger problem.

Now, people’s instincts are to do one of two things: blame George W. Bush for everything and do nothing; or blame President Barack Obama for everything, and bomb everyone.

Both are incorrect and illogical.

Let us stipulate, at least in Iraq, that George W. Bush shares a lion’s share of the blame. I don’t want to get into the larger fight about the historical record of the war; but Bush owns this, for all time.

That said, that doesn’t mean Mr. Obama should simply play the tit-for-tat game, point at Bush, and say he wins the game. This is no game. This is not a time for political theater.

Let us put this into perspective, shall we? ISIS is a group that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s titular leader, thought was too extreme for him, and thus he severed ties with that organization. He once thought the group was a liability…the the ‘Al Qaeda brand’. Think about that for a second. To allow them to just walk into Baghdad would be a horrible failure of U.S. foreign policy.

Furthermore, let us recall that Osama Bin Laden’s key strategic goal was not to attack the United States. His key goal, all along, was to create a caliphate in the Middle East, that can grow and then present a true threat to the West. ISIS is on the verge of accomplishing just that.

The question now becomes, as we look at this global surge of islamic terror rising, and then see one event in which we could, at the very least, stem that tide in the hopes that more moderate and democratic forces can take charge, should we just ignore it because it is inconvenient?

Obama has only limited tools at his disposal. Putting troops on the ground is not an option anyone is considering, nor should they. There is much debate about whether drone or air strikes would do the trick. That is a military question I cannot answer.

I think the war in Iraq was a mistake. I think we should be far more non-interventionist in our foreign policy as time passes. But ignoring the threat posed here is foolish as well…9/11 taught us that.

I for one hope the President takes decisive, albeit limited, action here. He has a host of terrible choices, and many if not most of the problems in this specific case were not of his making. However, that should not excuse him from having to make the choice that is needed now, nor should it do so in the future.

Additionally, I hope the country quickly unites and backs the President if he takes quick action. This is a moment for unity, not for politics. There are real costs to failing here; and people who don’t understand that have learned nothing from the last two decades of foreign policy failures.

What will GOP learn from Cantor’s defeat?

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What will GOP learn from Cantor’s defeat?

Likely, not much.

The establishment has a difficult time analyzing and adapting to such ground shifting events. And make no mistake: Eric Cantor’s defeat was earth shattering.  He becomes the first Majority leader ever to lose a primary race.  EVER.  And he is the highest ranking party member to lose a primary race since 1899.

In my lifetime, there is not really an analogous primary result.  People have compared this to then Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle’s Senate election loss, but that was a general election race…a whole different ballgame.

Fundamentally, Cantor was not a bad conservative.  I still believe he is a good man, and a good Republican.  In fact, he had terrific ratings from conservative groups.  He was for lower taxes, smaller government…generally a pretty strong conservative.

What Cantor lost in recent years was any connection to the base…and his own constituents. And ultimately…that matters.  For years, people in his district felt he spent far more time catering to Washington D.C. interests than their own.  Even before this cycle, Cantor was no loved in the district, because…he made no effort TO be loved.

My faith in the Republican Party’s leadership is at an all-time low, and the voters of VA-7 seemed to agree with my assessment.  This is a party that spends an inordinate time worrying about what Democrats, the media, and others say about it…instead of listening it its own members, and actually moving the needle on conservative policies to move the country forward.

If the GOP leadership walks away from this event with only excuses why Cantor lost, it will further deepen the divide in the party, and furthermore, will do nothing to further the conservative cause.  The party doesn’t necessarily need to move right or center to win elections.  More than anything, it needs to listen to the American people, focus on the few issues people care about…and then fight.

I don’t see that happening, because we still require a leadership purge within the party.  There are many things our party must help the country transform on, whether it be the economy, taxes, immigration or health care.  But our current leadership cadre might be out of their depths on those issues. And fundamentally, Cantor’s loss was simply a symptom of that larger problem.

 

Why Do We Have A Veterans Administration?

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Why do we have a Veterans Administration?

Fundamentally, this is the key question we should be grappling with, since it became public that dozens of Veterans died waiting to get health care in the Phoenix VA system.  And this is far from an isolated incident; this is an epidemic that exists in facilities all across the nation.  VAs have long been unresponsive, uncaring, and unwilling to our nation’s military veterans.

President Obama campaigned on this issue in 2007.  In his 2008 platform, he stated the following, among other things:

  • Allow All Veterans Back into the VA: Reverse the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans.

  • Strengthen VA Care: Make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. Improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women’s health.

Has this been the case?

Of course not.  Although Obama and Democrats have focused on health care reform, they did little to change the fundamental broken system within the Veterans Administration. In fact, if anything, letting the problem largely fester has worsened issues, while blindly increasing funding, likely has led to more morbidity and mortality in some dysfunctional facilities.

The problem with all of Obama’s promises at this point is that none of it accepts a fundamental, basic fact: the VA has long been broken.  These problems existed long before Barack Obama rose to the Presidency.  It is a system whose internal dysfunction cannot simply be fixed by added funding or minor reforms.  And it is highly unlikely that the bureaucrats in this administration are going to fix a long-standing problem without massive changes that other bureaucrats in other administrations failed to accomplish.

I do believe the VA could be fixed.  It would take an extensive, persistent effort to change the management, culture, philosophy, and underlying tenets of warped system.

I fundamentally don’t believe this administration is willing take on that challenge.

Are they willing to accept that public sector unions have been a major source of the dysfunction? Are they willing to accept the payment model breeds inefficiency?  Do they understand that there is layer after layer of administrators in the system whose only job is self survival in the bureaucratic mire that is the VA?

That is why I ask a simple question:  Why do we have a Veterans Administration?  The original cause was to provide health care access to our military heroes, because there was no other easy access.  However, with the Affordable Care Act, we now have another method to provide that care, do we not?

So then, why do we maintain a duplicate system that, as can easily be demonstrated, not working?

Surely, there are some portions of the VA that will have to be maintained.  Special units that focus on battlefield injuries, as stated in Obama’s platform, which no private hospital would be able to deal with, must be maintained.  I am sure there are other examples.

But for the vast majority of our nation’s Veterans, access to the private sector would be far more responsive and sufficient for their needs.  The VA could simply provide them ample vouchers (on top of the subsidies already available through the ACA) to fund the maximum coverage on the Obamacare exchanges…and allow them to enjoy the fruits of our private sector health care system.

So why do we have a Veterans Administration? I bet this question has never been asked or answered in the West Wing or Oval Office. And that fundamentally is why this administration will never succeed in fixing this problem.

Time For Radical Changes At The VA

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I feel sorry for former General Eric Shinseki. By all accounts, he was an excellent military man, competent, stalwart, and honest. And because of that, he was chosen to head the Veterans Administration.

The place where political careers go to die.

Shinseki came to the VA in Obama’s first term with a lot of pomp and circumstance; those days are long gone. With a myriad of scandals plaguing VA hospitals and medical centers across the country, the Obama Administration is now in full crisis mode, and things are likely to get far worse.

Although Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to make the ridiculous argument that the President only found out about these problems from ‘media reports’, the reality is Senator Obama was quite aware of these problems. In fact, one of his first attacks on then President Bush as ‘candidate Obama’ was regarding the VA. Here is Mr. Obama in 2007:

“When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored,” Obama said. “When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country.” He also promised more resources and better management to fix the problems seen at the VA. “As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits. We’ll hire additional claims workers.”

Well, the utter failure is quite clear. The waiting lists that Obama referred to 7 years ago have grown, not shrunken.

Funding does not appear to be a issue.  Spending has increased all but one year since Obama spoke so eloquently. Since FY2008, the VA budget has grown by 78 percent in six budget cycles, to $150.6 billion. On than 2012 when spending slightly decreased because of the sequester, the VA budget has averaged a 8% increase yearly.

However, the most recent revelations that started in Phoenix, and have now permeated through out the VA system, cannot be ignored. In Phoenix alone, 40 deaths are attributed to the long, unresponsive waiting lists. The number of deaths are sure to grow as we get more evidence and transparency.

I feel bad for Gen. Shinseki. The VA was a bloated, destructive government bureaucracy long before he walked into the quagmire. And initially, I was opposed to his firing over this.

That is no longer the case. His failure, either because of lack of competence or simply because the Herculean task of fixing a fundamentally broken government health care system is an impossible task, is quite clear at this point. He should step aside in any case. His retirement would at the very least provide the media attention necessary to force the Administration to act decisively. And possibly, with the right type of reformer, we could see actual productive improvements to the VA. Hope springs eternal.

It is time for real action at the Veterans Administration. We have as a country waited too long; and our Veterans are still waiting.

Liberals Losing The Climate Change Argument

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President Obama on Tuesday released a wide-ranging report on the effects of climate change on the nation.  In it, the administration claims that Americans are already feeling the impact of global warming, through changes in ranging rom hurricane damage worsened by rising seas, to allergies prolonged by extended pollen seasons, to corn and soybean yields depressed by hotter-than-average summers.

I find many of their claims dubious.  In fact, their claims actually directly contradict many of the findings in the newest United Nations IPCC report.

Nigel Lawson, in an excellent piece in the National Review, spells out the IPCC findings:

The latest (2013–14) IPCC Assessment Report does its best to ramp up the alarmism in a desperate, and almost certainly vain, attempt to scare the governments of the world into concluding a binding global decarbonization agreement at the crunch U.N. climate conference due to be held in Paris next year. Yet a careful reading of the report shows that the evidence to justify the alarm simply isn’t there.

On health, for example, it lamely concludes that “the world-wide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors and is not well quantified” — adding that so far as tropical diseases (which preoccupied earlier IPCC reports) are concerned, “Concerns over large increases in vector-borne diseases such as dengue as a result of rising temperatures are unfounded and unsupported by the scientific literature.”…

The IPCC does its best to contest this by claiming that warming is bad for food production: In its own words, “negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.” But not only does it fail to acknowledge that the main negative impact on crop yields has been not climate change but climate-change policy, as farmland has been turned over to the production of biofuels rather than food crops. It also understates the net benefit for food production from the warming it expects to occur, in two distinct ways…

Moreover, as the latest IPCC report makes clear, careful studies have shown that, while extreme-weather events such as floods, droughts, and tropical storms have always occurred, overall there has been no increase in either their frequency or their severity. [Bolded added] That may, of course, be because there has so far been very little global warming indeed: The fear is the possible consequences of what is projected to lie ahead of us. And even in climate science, cause has to precede effect: It is impossible for future warming to affect events in the present.

Now, this gets to the heart of the matter as I see it.  The White House’s shrill report does not appear to be based on solid science.  Even the IPCC, which clearly believes in the global warming thesis, doesn’t support the wide-ranging claims of the administration.  Numerous well-regarded reports have not demonstrated the type of causation that President Obama claimed yesterday.  But the goal of the administration was not to promote further understanding of the science behind their argument; no, their goal was to scare people into agreeing with them, regardless of the science.

Let us even put aside the science for a moment.  The politics of global warming are a perfect example how to politicize a movement that could potentially gain traction, and force it into submission. The Left has for the better part of three decades (at least) made this a war of ‘us vs. them’.  There is no compromise or middle ground for the extremist progressives on climate change.  They require full capitulation, or claim the end of the world is upon us.  And as such, what you develop is a religious type of fanaticism that cannot be reasoned with.

In turn, such extremism begets extremism.  The political Right now opposes virtually any solution that begins with the words ‘climate change’.  For good reason or not, when your opponents compare you to Holocaust deniers, it is highly unlikely you are going to agree with them on anything.

Even worse, the entire concept of ‘settled science’ bandied about by Obama and other Democrats is demeaning to…well, to ‘Science’ itself.  Science by definition is NEVER SETTLED. It is a continuing search for truth; real truth.  Even if anthropogenic global warming is a scientific truth, its effects on our world still is not a settled science. To claim so shows a lack of understanding of what science truly is.

Any science whose modeling is so incorrect on a regular basis should not be so arrogant as to claim they have ‘settled’ the debate.  Whether it is global cooling from the 1970s, Ted Danson saying we have 10 years to live…20 years ago, or Al Gore in 2008 claiming the polar ice cap would melt by 2013, claims from the left repeatedly fall short, and make their position look ludicrous.

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Sean Davis of The Federalist points out the reason for this shrill debate:

As the old legal adage goes: When you have the facts, argue the facts; when you have the law, argue the law; when you have neither, just accuse your adversary of hating science and hope that nobody will listen to what they have to say about your consistently wrong forecasting models. And if that doesn’t work, blatantly manipulate and torture the English language and hope that nobody will notice.

The real problem with all of this? There is certainly a chance that the Left is right.  I am a skeptic, but I by no means reject the possibility that man-made global climate change could prove to be catastrophic.  There is plenty of data that, if causation proves to be accurate, show that we are unalterably changing the planet. I personally think that the chance of the catastrophic changes most progressives believe is quite small, but I fully accept that the probability is greater than zero.

Frankly, I honestly believe even LIBERALS think that chance is small.  In a world where liberals claim that we are facing Armageddon, but the most powerful liberal voices continue to live in enormous mansions and burn carbon at an astronomical rate while driving fancy cars or flying all over the planet, it is somewhat difficult to take their claims seriously.  They would have far more credibility if they gave up their luxuries, lived in a small home with renewable energy, and made wholesale sacrifices.  You don’t see many liberals doing that; which makes me believe that their own true beliefs on the facts of ‘warming’ are far less  determined than they first appear.

I do think that conservatives opposition to many of the environmental policies is wrong as well.  Absolute opposition to any policy debate is almost always incorrect. Instead, conservatives should propose their own solutions to maintain the environment, based on conservative values.  That would further the debate far more than vehement opposition.

Conservatives have potential solutions that can make a difference. I have, for more than two decades now, been an advocate for promoting a 0% tax on green technologies, similar to the 0% sales tax on internet sales that promoted the web boom.  Guarantee 0% federal taxes (instead of inefficient subsidies) on solar, wind, etc., including on capital gains investments into such ventures.  Nothing would promote capital flow and innovation into those fields, and then let the market do its job.  I think most conservatives could support a ‘Green’ policy such as this.

There are other conservative answers that could make things better. Expansion of nuclear power, with ‘smarter’ regulations that could reduce the cost of production; a push for cleaner coal, because coal will continue to be a major producer of electricity in this country and around the world for decades to come; tax incentives to power companies to produce less CO2, instead of regulatory penalties for producing too much; and a slow, steady march of improving efficiency through out the country.  This doesn’t even discuss the more controversial topics, such as how frakking and our natural gas boom has decreased America’s carbon footprint over the past decade.

Compromise positions on any of these could make progress; maybe slow progress, as far as the Left is concerned, but progress nonetheless.

If liberals really want to make progress on climate change, they will have to agree with a few ground rules. One, no wholesale rapid change to the economy will occur, because…that is not how this country works.  Sorry, the ‘Tom Friedmans’ of the world, you are not going to get your huge carbon tax.  Two, your conservative opponents may not agree with you, but they are not the enemy; either we work together, or don’t work at all. Three, there are significant, practical small changes we can make that will make a difference, that conservatives would agree too, if they were not so vilified. And four, don’t make the science out to be more than it truly is, because it does more to demean your position than strengthens it.

I am sure liberals have far more complaints about the conservative position; fair enough. I stipulate to the fact that I am attacking liberals here more than my own conservative brethren. I leave it to my liberal colleagues to do that yeoman’s work.

But liberals continuing these scare tactics and extremist positions that require full adherence to their belief system is clearly a loser in the eyes of the American public.  They will accept progress, but they will not accept extremism.  I believe it is fair to say that liberal unscientific positions and extremist rhetoric is hurting, not furthering, the cause of advancing greater environmental action and awareness.  We all should do better.  We really can do better.