To give you some sense for what we're dealing with, I was on the yellow line on the Metro this morning headed to L'Enfant Plaza, where I had to pick up an inauguration ticket at my friend's place. All of the sudden, as we're just meters away from the station, the conductor announces cheerily: "Sorry, L'Enfant Plaza is now closed. The next stop is Pentagon". So this train full of people, thinking they are heading to L'Efant Plaza so that they can walk over to the Mall, are instead hurtling at 60 MPH toward Virginia, where they very much don't want to be going.
When the train arrives at the Pentagon station, there are huge lines to get up the escalators toward the shuttle buses they have waiting outside. So someone gets the bright idea to begin walking up the down escalator ... and dozens of people start following him. Before long, there are two think columns of people -- black, white, the young, the old, the healthy, the frail -- marching up the down escalator, as couple a police officer looks on haplessly and helplessly. And the people are chanting, quite naturally, "Yes we can!".
In spite of all of that, I found myself almost overcome with pride, and read the same emotion on the faces of nearly everyone that I passed in the crowd. For as much as some parts of the world have developed a habit of looking down on America, it's highly unlikely that any nation in Europe or most of the rest of the world would have elected someone like Barack Hussein Obama as their leader. Here's hoping that Obama will prove to be a president worthy of our great nation.
The two highest initial, post-inauguration approval ratings as measured by Gallup belong to presidents who took over for others whose terms ended prematurely. About 86 percent of Americans approved of Harry Truman when he took over for FDR. And 77 percent approved Lyndon Johnson when he took over for JFK. The highest initial approval rating for a newly elected president, on the other hand, appears to belong to Kennedy, whom Gallup pegged at 72 percent approval shortly after his inauguration in 1961.
Barack Obama has an excellent chance to exceed Kennedy's numbers. The Pollster.com averages show that 70 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Obama versus 16 percent unfavorable. Although favorability ratings aren't the same thing as approval ratings, they tend to closely track one another. Also, it appears that there may typically be something of a bounce in an incoming president's approval scores immediately after his inauguration, so Obama's numbers may (temporarily) get even better.
My guess is that when Gallup comes out with its first post-inauguration approval ratings for Obama later this week, it will show him with about 76 percent approval, 11 percent disapproval and 13 percent uncertain, which would indeed be the best numbers on record for a newly-elected president. At the very least, Obama is virtually assured of starting out on better footing than his two immediate predecessors in the White House, as Bill Clinton had emerged victorious in a three-way race in which he got just 43 percent of the popular vote, and George W. Bush's disputed victory in 2000 had come only after weeks of uncertainty and litigation.
If Bill Clinton was the first black president, then Barack Obama might be the first urban one. He is the only American president in recent history to seem unembarrassed about claiming a personal residence in a major American city. Instead, presidents have tended to hail from homes called ranches or groves or manors or plantations, in places called Kennebunkport or Santa Barbara or Oyster Bay or Northampton.The full article is here.
It wasn't just Coburn, by the way. Evan Bayh, Bob Bennett, Kit Bond, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Susan Collins, John Ensign, Linsday Graham, Chuck Grassley, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Johnny Isakson, Blanche Lincoln, Mel Martinez, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter and John Thune have all seen the light and switched from a pro-bailout to anti-bailout position.
Conversely, senators like Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and Tom Harkin, previously believed to be progressives, voted to approve the bailout money, and are all evidently a bunch of sellouts:
So what we've learned is that lots of our new senators - even those who campaigned as populists - are already under the spell of "the most exclusive club in the world." And frankly, I don't care what their public explanations are. These are people who made airtight declarations against the bailout on a conceptual level - and then walked away from those declarations when it came time to vote. We've learned (once again) that if there's not constant pressure on lawmakers to respect the most basic campaign declarations they made, they will sell us out.*-*
The reason, of course, that Coburn and the other 18 senators changed their stance on the bailout is not because of any underlying change in philosophy but because of political opportunism. The Obama administration has now inherited the burden of the bailout package from the Bush administration; as such, it is easier for Republicans to oppose it. Likewise, it is harder for Democrats like Jeff Merkely and the Udall Cousins, who railed against the bailout on the campaign trail, to vote to oppose it.
The bailout, undoubtedly, is highly unpopular. Getting to run a commercial that accuses your opponent of having voted for "a $700 billion giveaway to Wall Street" is the sort of stuff that can win you an election.
But does the fact that the optics of the bailout are poor mean that it is poor policy? Does it mean, moreover, that opposing the bailout is the right "progressive" policy stance?
On the contrary, the fact that the Republican and Democratic positions on the bailout appear to be so fluid would seem to indicate that it not an issue particularly well described by traditional ideological frameworks like liberal versus conservative. Either the bailout is a necessary evil to get the economy moving again -- a goal that benefits progressives and conservatives alike -- or it isn't. This is largely an empirical question rather than an ideological one.
There is a certain "progressive" paradigm in which corporations are inherently evil, and anything that benefits corporations in any way is evil. I've never particularly understood this, because I assume that moral agency rests within individuals, and corporations are not individuals, even if we tend to anthropomorphise them. Perhaps an individual that runs a corporation can be evil, but the corporation itself is not evil. Perhaps an individual that runs a corporation can be greedy, but the corporation itself is not greedy. By the same token, whether a particular policy benefits a corporation or not is immaterial, and matters only insofar as that benefit is passed on (or not) to particular individuals.
I don't know exactly which individuals wind up better off in the world where the bailout passes versus the world where it doesn't; spending $700 billion in public funds is not such a great thing; neither are failed banks and foreclosed homes. But a lot of the progressives who are complaining about the bailout don't know very much about it either.
There is a separate issue here, obviously, concerning hypocrisy. If a Jeff Merkley campaigns against the bailout and then later votes to approve it, he has probably been hypocritical, and I have no problem with people criticizing him for that.
But which is more likely: that Jeff Merkley, a lifelong progressive, was instantly transformed into an evil corporate zombie the very moment that he took his seat in the Senate? Or that he had been campaigning against the bailout because it was a politically convenient position for him to take? Conversely, is Tom Coburn no longer under the "spell" of corporate America? Or did he perceive an opportunity for demagoguery in his own bid for re-election in 2010?
EDIT: I have no problem whatsoever if people want to criticize the oversight positions of the bailout (or, more specifically, their absence). Nor do I have any problem whatsoever if people want to advance legitimate economic arguments the bailout, of which there are assuredly a great many. But a certain percentage of the more "philosophical" arguments made against the bailout are, in my view, short-sighted and demagogic.
Call it a hunch, but a couple of recent articles suggest that Norm Coleman's goal might not be to pull ahead of Al Franken outright, but rather to create enough confusion and uncertainty around the outcome of the recount that the Senate calls for a re-vote in Minnesota, as it did in the New Hampshire Senate Race of 1974.
Firstly, take this Wall Street Journal article from Michael Stokes Paulson, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas:
And what if there is no reliable way to determine in a recount who won, consistent with Bush v. Gore's requirements?Mr. Paulson's argumentation is poor. That the Constitution provides a theoretical mechanism for a do-over, one which the Senate exercised in 1974, does not mean that it compels or recommends one. And there is certainly no sense in the Constitution that the Senate is supposed to say "Ehh... it's pretty close -- let's have a do-over!". In New Hampshire in 1974, the outcome was genuinely in doubt, with one recount having certified the Democrat ahead by ten votes, and a second recount the Republican ahead by two votes.
The Constitution's answer is a do-over. The 17th Amendment provides: "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."
In a sense, a vacancy has already "happened." The U.S. Senate convened on Jan. 6 with only one senator from Minnesota. Still, the seat is perhaps not "vacant," just unfilled. But if the contest proceeding does not produce a clear winner that passes constitutional muster, a special election -- and a temporary appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- may be the only answer.
Nevertheless, the fact that this piece appeared in the Journal, which just last week had published an inflammatory editorial which misstated several basic facts about the recount process, suggests that these are the preferred talking points of the Coleman campaign -- talking points which evidently involve planting the seed of a re-vote in the public's head.
Likewise, Marc Ambinder's piece in the Atlantic today invokes the possibility of a re-vote:
Where it becomes difficult for judges is in trying to reconciling disparate totals - how do they fix it? Do they add votes? Take them away? The judges will probably avoid this particular route. If you get into this margin where judges have to take away or add votes - artificializing the vote count in the mind of the public - then the clamor for a whole new election will increase. Actually, if Coleman begins to make up the 225 difference, Democrats might be the ones calling for a new election.If you read the rest of Marc's piece, it's clear that it has been informed by discussions with the Coleman campaign; he's basically reporting the Coleman campaign's spin on the process. Which is fine -- Ambinder is one of the few reporters out there who actually does a lot of reporting, and reporting someone else's spin, as Ambinder does, is very different from spinning yourself. (I do think that Ambinder takes a number of the Coleman campaign's arguments too credulously.) But the pattern is the same: an article that presents the Coleman campaign's version of events again concludes by dangling the possibility of a re-vote.
I'd expect to hear more noises about a re-vote in the coming days. I'd also expect the Coleman campaign, in general, to try and create a fog of doubt around the recount process.
They'd cut marginal income tax rates across the board by five percent, increase the child tax credit to $5000, make the 15% capital gains and dividends tax rate permanent, repeal the AMT on individuals, repeal the law requiring mandatory withdrawals from IRAs and 401Ks for seniors; make all IRA and 401(k) withdrawals penalty free during 2009. (Obama agrees with this last idea.)Never mind the wisdom of the policy implications behind these tax cuts -- let's talk merely about the politics. These tax proposals are along the same lines of those proposed by the McCain campaign during the election season, although at a much larger volume. There are a few elements that might appeal to the middle class -- for instance, the increase in the child-tax credit and certainly the across-the-board reduction in baseline income tax rates. But otherwise we have a series of policies like the capital gains rate freeze and the AMT removal that are going to be of more immediate and obvious benefit to higher-income Americans and to businesses. Basically, it's the Heritage Foundation's Blue Plate Special.
For businesses and entrepreneurs, they'd allow businesses to either fully deduct the cost of their new assets from their tax returns; they'd cut the top corporate tax rate bracket by ten percentage points; end the capital gains tax on inflation; extend the "carryback" period for operating losses to seven years. (Obama wants this extended back five years.)
Imagine that you're a wealthy American trying to reduce your tax burden. You have one significant advantages in trying to affect policy: There is a fairly deeply ingrained distaste for taxation in American culture. Also, most people think they personally pay too much in taxes. On the other hand, you have one significant disadvantage: most people think "the rich" -- however they define that -- pay too little in taxes. Moreover, this is a democracy, and there aren't very many rich people whereas there are a lot of poorer and middle-class people. The history of American tax policy is essentially a continual tug-of-war between these two realities.
In order to win the tug-of-war, you have a lot of potential strategies, but the basic one is to persuade the middle class that they're in the same boat with you. Sometimes, you can find a clever way to do this by claiming that cutting your taxes will actually help them because your money will stimulate growth (e.g. trickle down theory). Alternatively, you can hire Frank Luntz and try and manipulate the public debate such that the middle class thinks a tax cut might affect them when it is unlikely to do so; the estate tax, for instance, affects only persons who estates have accumulated into the millions, but by calling it the "death tax", you make it seem as though it is as universal as death itself.
The other strategy, of course, is buying out the middle class by cutting their taxes at the same time that you cut yours. Reagan's tax cut in 1981, for instance, proposed a 30 percent across-the-board reduction in marginal tax rates (the Congress pared the cut down to 25 percent), something which seems eminently fair. The "trick" is that some of the revenue shortfall was made up for by increases in the payroll tax as well as corporate tax rates, each of which are more regressive than income taxes.
Now, I've been engaging in a little bit of sleight-of-hand here. Is the strategy of a "wealthy American trying to reduce [his] tax burden" necessarily the same as the strategy of the Republican Party on fiscal policy? I would argue that, since 1981, it essentially has been. But this is certainly not what the Republicans want you to think -- they want you to think they're out for Joe the Plumber, not Joe Millionaire. In recent years, however, I think the Republicans have become less effective at marketing their tax policy as such. John McCain, for example, was thoroughly outmaneuvered by Barack Obama during the campaign, with the latter's promise for tax reductions on "95 percent" of Americans.
Likewise, I think the Republican "alternative" on the stimulus is not likely to be terribly appealing to middle-class voters. If the Republicans were more serious about their philosophical commitment against taxation, why not instead propose a either a long-lived holiday or a permanent reduction in the FICA (payroll) tax as the entirety of their stimulus package? This has the benefit of being much simpler than their hodgepodge of tax cuts. It also has the benefit of being associated with a much higher multiplier during a recession than other types of tax cuts.
But, because the payroll tax is capped at about $100,000 in income, suspending or reducing it would not be all that helpful to wealthy Americans, to whom it represents only a tiny fraction of their tax burden. Thus, just as the Republicans can accuse the Democrats of using their stimulus plan as an excuse way to increase the size of government, the Democrats can accuse the Republicans of using their alternative as an excuse to help the rich.
Surprisingly, however, there has historically been fairly little relationship between a President's popularity at the end of his term and the way that he has tended to be regarded by history. The following chart compares two things: a president's final net approval rating as measured by Gallup, and the average historical ranking of that president as assigned based on three recent polls of historians. (These were the polls conducted by CSPAN in 1999, by Siena College in 2002, and by the Wall Street Journal in 2005. The chart excludes Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, whose terms ended unnaturally.)
Although there is some correlation between the final Gallup numbers and the historians' views of each president, it is not very strong -- in fact, it is not at all statistically significant. The most obvious discrepancy is that of Harry S. Truman, who was extremely unpopular at the time he left office in a cloud of foreign entanglements and minor domestic scandals. Truman, however, is regarded very favorably by historians. The next-most striking disconnect is that of Gerald Ford, who was actually fairly popular for most of his presidency -- perhaps Americans were happy to have any alternative to Richard Nixon after Watergate -- but is not very well regarded by history. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson have also worn a little better historically as compared with perceptions about them at the end of their terms.
Perhaps the end of a president's term tends to produce oddities in tracking his approval numbers. Human beings have a strange habit, after all, of becoming nostalgic for things they were never particularly fond of in the first place. Americans, moreover, tend to take a "What have you done for me lately?" view of their presidents -- even toward the end of president's term, they may have trouble placing his entire legacy into historical perspective. So let's instead look at a President's average approval rating over the lifetime of his term, as also provided by Gallup.
Here, the relationship is a bit stronger (very strong, in fact, if we exclude Harry Truman). Bush's average approval rating over his eight years in office, however, is actually not all that bad. You can place various sorts of caveats on this -- he was extremely popular after 9/11, for instance, for reasons having more to do with the nation's need to heal rather than anything in particular that Bush did. But fundamentally he was fairly popular over his first term, popular enough to get re-elected to a second, and then the second term went very badly.
Now, personally I don't think that history is likely to judge Bush much all that much more kindly than he being is judged right now. Whereas Truman almost immediately came to be regarded more favorably by historians than by the public, the scholarly community is every bit as down on Bush as is the general public, and it's hard to imagine what exactly could transpire from here on out to change those perceptions -- the seemingly unlikely prospect a long-run democratic peace in Iraq perhaps being the exception. Still, to assume that the final chapter has been written on Bush's legacy would be wrong.
1. Joseph E. Stiglitz. Favors big/bigger stimulus (link)
2. Andrei Schleifer
3. Robert J. Barro
4. James Heckman
5. Robert Lucas. Skeptical, thinks monetary tools still exist (link)
6. Peter C.B. Phillips
7. Edward Prescott
8. Martin Feldstein. "The only way to prevent a deepening recession will be a temporary program of increased government spending". (link)
9. Jean Tirole
10. Daron Acemoglu. Favors basic idea of stimulus, thinks devil is in details (link)
11. Larry Summers. Member of Obama economic team, favors stimulus (link)
12. John Y. Campbell
13. Oliver Blanchard
14. Mark Gertler
15. Paul Krugman. Thanks action is needed drastically, worried stimulus won't be large enough. (link)
16. Christopher F. Baum
17. Thomas Sargent. Skeptical, thinks stimulus math is based on outmoded economic models (link)
18. Maurice Obstfeld
19. Stephen Turnovsky
20. Nicholas Cox
So that looks like four "pro"s, two "anti"s and one agnostic from among those whom I can find some kind of on-the-record statement. But I'm sure there are many that I've missed.
SCHIP passed the House by a vote of 289-139 today, getting the support of all but two Democrats and just under a quarter of Republicans. This compares with a margin of 273-156 in October 2007 when the House tried and failed to override a presidential veto on same initiative.
Does the bill's improved performance this time around simply reflect the additional seats that the Democrats have gained in the Congress? Or have minds actually been changed by Obama or the broader political environment?
The answer is a little bit of both. There are seven Congressmen, six Republicans and one Democrat, who voted for the bill today but hadn't voted to override the veto in 2007 even though they were in Congress at that time. Thy are:
- Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a moderately conservative Republican from South Florida;
- Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln's brother, to whom the same description applies;
- IIleana Ros-Lehtinen, another compound-named Cuban-American Republican from South Florida;
- Rodney Frelinghuysen, a fairly moderate Republican from the New Jersey suburbs;
- Mike D. Rogers, a conservative but somewhat idiosyncratic Congressman from AL-3, a racially mixed district in Eastern Alabama;
- Long Island Republican Peter King, who did not record a vote in 2007, and who is reportedly now interested in running for Senate;
- and Democrat Gene Taylor, who represents a very conservative district in the Southeast corner of Mississippi.
Conversely, there are two Representatives, both of them Republicans, who voted to override the President's veto in 2007 but voted against the bill now:
- Tom Latham from IA-4, which is a proverbial swing district in the northern portion of Iowa;
- and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers from eastern Washington state, an up-and-comer who just became vice chair of the House Republican Conference.
I'm not sure you can detect any particular pattern among the people who switched sides; there are a combination of Republican, Democratic and swing districts represented here, and several different regions of the country. There may be idiosyncratic factors in play in certain instances -- McMorris-Rodgers, for instance, voting against the bill because she just assumed a leadership position and needs to show her cojones.
Still, there was a net gain of 5 votes for the Democrats among about ~390 incumbent Congressmen. That's hardly paradigm-altering, obviously, but it makes some difference at the margins. Conceived of a bit differently, the Democrats gained the votes of about 1 in every 20 legislators who voted against the bill in 2007, while losing the votes of about 1 in every 100 who voted against it. If the same percentages carry over to the Senate, that could mean an extra 1-2 votes for them on key pieces of legislation.
People have made the comparison to Sarah Palin, but this feels more Harriet Miers-ish, as in the longer someone is left out there hanging, the more manifest the problems with their credentials, and the less likely they'll get appointed because of inertia alone.
Quinnipiac is out with a poll showing Andrew Cuomo preferred 31-24 over Kennedy; this is noteworthy because Kennedy had been slightly ahead of Cuomo in a Quinnipiac poll in December. And this is not the only poll of its kind; the boys at Public Policy Polling had found a significant decline in support for Kennedy -- a much more significant decline than identified by Quinnipiac, in fact.
These are just polls, I know, but since the Constitution empowers governors to appoint replacement senators without holding a vote, they are arguably more meaningful in this instance than they are at any other time, the closest the public gets to actually having input on the election. And while I was skeptical about some of the original netroots skepticism about Kennedy, she simply hasn't worn well.
Some conservative bloggers don't think so; here's Ace of Spades on the Ziegler interview:
I think we can acknowledge that Palin had a rough go of things with the media. But I think we can also acknowledge one of the central mistakes made by both the McCain and Hillary Clinton campaigns: they treated the media as an exogenous factor, something which happens to them, rather than something within their locus of control. Complaining about the media is not a media strategy.
I don't like this interview. I was trying to figure out why. I think I know. Even though it's interesting to know about Palin's reaction to her mistreatment by the media, I think we are now getting well oversaturated on such personal stuff. It's too much the Heroine's Tale, which is nice and all, but we're ultimately looking for a leader, not someone with a tale of hardship.
The media screwed her -- this is obvious. Maybe she should just move past such questions -- not letting them off the hook, but also not dwelling on them -- and make her interviewers focus on substantive, political questions.
I, of course, love to slam the media for its bias. A lot of readers and commenters love it too. I'm just not sure if it's a very savvy use of Sarah Palin's time to comment upon it herself.
Nor do I know that Palin is liable to get much sympathy outside of her base. There hasn't been much polling on Palin lately, but there was an NBC/WSJ (.pdf) poll conducted about a month ago asked for favorability ratings on the four Presidential contenders and found Palin stuck in neutral, at 35/45 positive/negative in December as opposed to 39/48 in late October, with 30 percent still holding a strongly negative view of her. John McCain saw his negatives soften significantly, as did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and as had John Kerry following the 2004 election -- but not Palin (Joe Biden's ratings, for the record, were also not terrific).
People weren't turned off by Palin because of the questions about her wardrobe or baby Trig. They were turned off because -- fairly or not -- they couldn't become comfortable with the idea of her sitting in the White House. Giving interviews to the likes of John Ziegler or exchanging nastygrams with the Anchorage Daily News isn't going to get her to be taken more seriously.
I set up a very simple experiment to test this hypothesis, however, and it came up somewhat wanting.
Five Republican Senators retired in advance of the 2008 elections: Wayne Allard of Colorado, Larry Craig of Idaho, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Pete Domeninci of New Mexico, and John Warner of Virginia. If the theory is correct, then these senators should have shown somewhat more moderate voting records in 2008 and perhaps 2007 than they had in the past.
Below are the Americans for Democratic Action ratings provided for these senators over each of the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency. The ADA is a liberal interest/advocacy group. I use their ratings instead of someone else's as a matter of convenience, since (i) they break their ratings down into individual years, rather than two-year blocks, providing for a greater degree of resolution; and (ii) they already have their 2008 ratings out, and almost nobody else does. Higher ratings indicate a more liberal position ... a rating of 100 means you're Bernie Sanders.
At first glance, it appears that the five retiring Senators did in fact become more liberal in their last couple of years in office. Their average ADA rating was just a 10 over the period from 2001-2006, but jumped up to a 23 in 2007 and an 18 in 2008:
This analysis is not terribly complete, however, because the ADA ratings do not have any one particular standard that carries forward from year to year. Instead, they pick a miscellany of issues that they deem to be important each year, and record each Senator's vote on them. In some years, it might be inherently easier for Republican senators to appear more liberal, depending on what issues the ADA happens to be looking at. This is something to be particularly mindful of as we transition between 2006 and 2007/08, since the Democrats took over the Congress at that point.
So what we need to do is to set up a control group. Let's pair each of the retiring senators with another Republican who is not retiring but who was relatively similar ideologically and/or geographically:
Allard (CO) <--> Enzi (WY)
Craig (ID) <--> Crapo (ID)
Hagel (NE) <--> Grassley (IA)
Domenici (NM) <--> Hatch (UT)
Warner (VA) <--> Lugar (IN)
Our control group consists of Mike Enzi, Mike Crapo, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Dick Lugar. Here's how the ADA rated those senators:
As you might have detected, the ratings for the control group closely tracked that of the retiring senators over each year of the study. There is no evidence, in other words, that the retiring senators became more moderate relative to their non-retiring colleagues:
Now, I do think there are certain types of votes where a retiring senator is more likely to break ranks. These are votes on policies, perhaps like the various federal bailouts, that are widely unpopular but are arguably a necessary evil. Retiring congressman were more likely to vote for the TARP package last summer, and as Bowers points out, for the auto bailout a few weeks ago.
On the whole, though, there doesn't seem to be much movement. Perhaps old senators -- like most old people -- are fairly set in their ways. Perhaps also they are voting their conscience -- but being Republicans, they have a fairly conservative conscience.
Most of the key pieces of the Obama agenda, moreover, are fairly popular -- the "big three" agenda items of the stimulus, health care, and energy policy certainly included. If I'm Obama, I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have someone like Voinvoich or Martinez subject to the usual electoral constraints on these issues than being free to vote their conscience.
What else is there to say? In our poll last week, a significant number of you -- about 40 percent -- saw this coming and predicted that Burris would be seated by mid-January.
All right, here's one thing I'll say. Although seating Burris is modestly unpopular nationwide, there was nobody on either side of the aisle -- in the blogs, in the mainstream media, or in the Congress -- that was really ready to take ownership of the issue and lead some kind of anti-Burris crusade. There are a lot of 'distractions' right now: Israel, Gitmo, the economy, the stimulus, the transition, the agenda, Hillary, Caroline Kennedy, Al Franken, the RNC Chair Battle, Republican retirements, Rick Warren, and of course Rod Blagojevich himself. Reid and Durbin had no reason to believe there would be a sustained public outcry if they seated Burris, and so they let inertia take hold and seated him.
GOP folks don't seem too upset, though, because one of their rising stars, former 2nd District Congressman and OMB director Rob Portman, is strongly considering a run for the position. Is Portman someone whom the Democrats should be worried about -- the de facto favorite against a Democratic candidate like Tim Ryan?
I'm not so sure. Even if the political climate has turned slightly more toward the Republicans in 2010, being a member of the Bush cabinet is not likely to be one of those things that sells all that well to voters - nor is "wonk" likely to play as well in a state like Ohio as "populist". Portman won election to the Congress seven times between 1993 and 2004, receiving between 70 and 77 percent of the vote on each occasion, but OH-2 is very conservative and that is pretty much par for the course for a Republican in that district. Nor is the electoral environment all that favorable for Republicans in Ohio right now, where they're now at roughly an 8-point disadvantage in partisan identification.
Still, Portman will have little trouble raising funds from Republican partisans, and could very easily accumulate as large a warchest as Voinovich might have had. He'll know how to hire a staff and how to run a campaign. And while his name recognition is probably pretty far from 100 percent statewide, he'll get plenty of earned media between now and then -- it's easy enough to imagine Portman becoming a semi-regular on FOX News or CNBC to talk about the economy.
Basically, he'll have most of the advantages that Voinovich would have had, as we'll as Voinovich's biggest disadvantage -- he's an establishment Republican in a state where establishment Republicans aren't very popular. Ultimately, this election will be a litmus test for how much voters blame Bush versus Obama if the economy is still tepid in 2010.
My claim was that Mankiw willfully and intentionally misinterpreted this paper by Christina and David Romer about the macroeconomic effects of tax cuts. Mankiw's claim is that I naively and unintentionally misinterpreted it. Romer and Romer's distinction between between "exogenous" and "endogenous" tax cuts, Mankiw says, is merely an artifact of their research design, rather than a limitation of the potential applications of their findings to the recession.
The endogenous/exogenous distinction certainly is an element of the Romers' research design -- and a clever one at that. But this is not mutually exclusive with it also being a limitation on the applicability of the paper to a recessionary tax cut. In fact, I would argue that it is something approaching an express limitation: when Romer and Romer talk in their paper about countercyclical tax cuts, such as the ones now being contemplated as part of the stimulus package, they are decidedly lukewarm on them: "[P]olicymakers’ efforts to adjust taxes to offset anticipated changes in private economic activity have been largely unsuccessful", they write.
Granted, this type of tax cut is not the principal focus of the paper, so perhaps there is some room for interpretation. When I am writing to a large audience like that of the New York Times, my preference is to cite others' work more conservatively rather than more broadly, but in the digital age such courtesies are frequently ignored.
That notwithstanding, it is not like the paper is some founders' document or Dead Sea Scroll whose every fragment we must struggle to interpret. Christina Romer is a living, breathing economist -- very much so, in fact, since she's taking Mankiw's old job as the head of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. And when Romer had to estimate the multiplier associated with the sort of recessionary tax cut that Mankiw is talking about, as she did just yesterday (!) in the transition team's official position paper on the stimulus, she estimated a multiplier of $0.99 for every dollar of tax cuts rather than $3.00. So Mankiw is either suggesting that he knows Romer's work better than Romer does (even though he conceded in his New York Times editorial that the mechanism behind Romer's finding remains a "puzzle" to him), or he is in effect accusing Romer of being less than true to herself.
But there is another dead giveaway in the Romer paper suggesting that it is explicitly not intended to be applied as a one-size-fits-all fiscal policy solution. Romer and Romer identify not just one type of "exogenous" tax shock, but two. The first type is a spontaneous, 'just because' kind of tax cut "motivated by a desire to raise long-run growth". This is the type that Romer and Romer posit is associated with a large multiplier -- the large multiplier than Mankiw cites in the Times piece. The second type of "exogenous" tax shock is a tax increase motivated by a desire to pay off a budget deficit. Would this type of tax increase also be associated with a substantial reduction in growth? No, according to Romer and Romer. Instead they find that such a tax hike "do[es] not have the large output costs associated with other exogenous tax increases" and may in fact be beneficial to the economy!
So Romer and Romer identify two types of exogenous tax shocks, one associated with a larger-than-conventionally-assumed multiplier, and the other associated with a smaller-than-conventionally-assumed multiplier -- perhaps even one in which the sign is reversed. In considering a third type of tax cut, an "endogenous" tax cut designed to stimulate growth during a recession, what basis does Mankiw to assume that it will behave more like the former than the latter?
He doesn't have any, as far as I can tell. The more conservative reading of the Romer paper is that it is agnostic on a recessionary tax cut. The next-most conservative reading is that it is actively, if cautiously, skeptical about one. Mankiw's reading, on the other hand, does not appear to come from the text of the paper itself, nor from the other works and statements of Romer, some of which in fact contradict Mankiw's reading.
Perhaps, then, the context for Mankiw's interpretation lies outside the paper -- from work that other economists have done? Actually, this is a bit of a problem as well, because the reason the paper is a source of such wonderment is because it contradicts so much "conventional" (a.k.a. Keynesian) economic thinking.
This doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong -- all great ideas must have their genesis somewhere.
But the analogy is that Mankiw uses in his blog entry, that of the clinical trial, seems to be the right one. This paper is the equivalent of a very early stage clinical trial -- it has not even been thoroughly peer-reviewed, much less its result replicated by other economists. Its mechanisms are conjectural and poorly understood. And frankly, it's a little counterintuitive -- a 300 percent multiplier on a tax cut is a very large multiplier indeed, large enough that it seems as though its impacts would have become manifest sometime and somewhere, by some tax-cutting prince in some supply-side neverland.
To extend the analogy: imagine that the patient -- the economy -- has cancer of the bladder. There is a safe, proven, therapy for cancer of the bladder -- the Government Purchases Therapy. This achieves solid but not spectacular results, preventing a recurrence about 70 percent of the time but sometimes with significant side-effects. And then there is an experimental therapy, the Mankiw Magic Tax Cut Therapy, which promises to restore the patient to full health within six weeks with no risk of a recurrence -- except that it has never been tested on rats, let alone humans, and it's a therapy for liver cancer, rather than bladder cancer. Which course of action are you going to take?
The objection to this, I suppose, is that if the tax cuts are experimental, they are also liable to be fairly benign, and would not contradict the "safe" remedy, which is government purchases. I think this is in fact a relatively thoughtful objection. If we can afford the tax cuts, they probably won't hurt us, and there's always the chance that they could help. What we don't want to do, however, is to take the tax cut therapy but simultaneously cut the government purchases therapy to half of its recommended dosage.
To review, these are absentee ballots that had already been deemed by the counties to be invalid -- once on Election Night, and then a second time upon the court-ordered re-evaluation of absentees in December. It is not surprising that their minds haven't been changed the third time around. Surely there are a handful of legitimate errors here and there -- and by all rights, they should be identified and counted. But the notion that the counties were manifestly sloppy to the extent that they had 654 false negatives was never credible.
The campaign rests much of its case on 654 absentee ballots that local officials rejected for not complying with state law. Coleman wants the three-judge panel that will hear his lawsuit to include those ballots, most of which come from rural and suburban areas favorable to Republicans.
Although those ballots weren't reviewed by the state Canvassing Board during the recount, some local election officials sifted through them as recently as last week after the suit was filed to see whether some should be counted.
Inquiries to a sampling of those counties and cities show local officials standing by nearly all of their earlier decisions:
• Goodhue and Anoka counties maintained that their combined share of the 654 ballots -- 22 -- should be excluded.
• In Minnetonka, City Clerk David Maeda said he saw no reason to include any of the 14 ballots he reviewed. "I was concerned that I missed some," he said, explaining why he reviewed them after Coleman filed his suit. "I think all [of them] that I looked at were properly rejected."
• Scott County's election supervisor, Mary Kay Kes, said she wouldn't include any of the 32 disputed ballots from there.
• Dakota County's Joel Beckman, the county's chief election official, said he quickly looked through a half-dozen of the 94 ballots Coleman included as part of its list. "Every one of them was rejected for good reason," Beckman said.
• In Stearns County, election chief Walz said more than a dozen ballots Coleman wants reconsidered "were technically deficient without much debate."
• The only county sampled that reported changing its mind was Mower, which decided that signatures for one rejected ballot matched after earlier ruling otherwise. But Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh defended the rejection of the other ballots.
In addition to those cited in the clipping above, Ramsey and Pipestone counties have also re-re-evaluated their absentee ballots, and they also didn't come up with any that they felt differently about. If we put these various anecdotal examples into a running count (making a few educated guesses about the precise tallies in certain counties), we find that Coleman's winning percentage is somewhere in Detroit Lions territory:
CountySo far, the counties appear to have sorted through about 150 ballots from Coleman's list of 650, and they've come up with one discrepancy. At this pace, Coleman is on track to get a grand total of ... 4 additional ballots counted. Given his luck, they'll probably turn out to be Franken votes.
Dakota 0/6 (partial count)
Total 1/151 (0.66%)
To be fair to Coleman, he probably doesn't care very much about what the counties think about these ballots ... his goal will be to have the Court tell someone else to take a look at them (perhaps the Court itself) in the hopes that they'll have a different opinion.
But his batting average simply isn't going to be very high. It sounds like the vast majority of Coleman's complaints concern cases where the signature on the ballot doesn't match the signature on the voter file. This requires some sort of a judgment call, I suppose, but it is nevertheless a perfectly valid reason for rejecting a ballot.
What I suspect Coleman did to come up with his list of 650 is something like this:
- Create a database of all ballots that were rejected for a non-matching signature ... maybe there were 1500 of these or something statewide.
- Run some algorithm to determine the likelihood of each of these 1500 ballots being a vote for Coleman as based on things like the precinct the ballot was cast in, any information Coleman has about the voter in his voter file, and perhaps even the voter's name (you can tell more than you'd think about someone based on their first and last name).
- All ballots determined by this algorithm to have a >50% likelihood of being Coleman votes were included on his list ... there turned out to be about 650 of these.
To be sure, in undergoing this process, Coleman came across a few ballots that almost certainly were rejected in error; these became the examples that he highlighted to the courts and to the media. But it's a bit like that old shtick you'll see in third-rate gangster movies, where the Million Dollar Briefcase turns out to have a few $100s conspicuously placed at the top of the pile concealing a mass of $1s. Coleman has a tip, but no iceberg.
The main problem with Mankiw's article is this:
MIGHT TAX CUTS BE MORE POTENT? Textbook Keynesian theory says that tax cuts are less potent than spending increases for stimulating an economy. When the government spends a dollar, the dollar is spent. When the government gives a household a dollar back in taxes, the dollar might be saved, which does not add to aggregate demand.The paper (.pdf) Mankiw refers to, written by Berkley Economists Christina and David Romer, is the sort of thing that will make your head spin. But the gist of it is that (i) It is very important to differentiate the motivation for different types of tax cuts or tax increases, and (ii) a certain type of tax cut or tax increase may have a much larger effect on growth than is generally acknowledged.
The evidence, however, is hard to square with the theory. A recent study by Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer, then economists at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that a dollar of tax cuts raises the G.D.P. by about $3. According to the Romers, the multiplier for tax cuts is more than twice what Professor Ramey finds for spending increases.
Why this is so remains a puzzle. One can easily conjecture about what the textbook theory leaves out, but it will take more research to sort things out. And whether these results based on historical data apply to our current extraordinary circumstances is open to debate.
Christina Romer, incidentally, has been chosen as the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the new administration. Perhaps this fact helps explain why, according to recent reports, tax cuts will be a larger piece of the Obama recovery plan than was previously expected.
The type of tax cut that Romer and Romer think falls into this category is what they call an "exogenous" tax cut -- one designed not to counter business cycles, but rather a "spontaneous" tax cut under relatively healthy economic circumstances.
This is very much not the type of tax cut that we are contemplating right now. Instead, what is being contemplated is a countercyclical action in an unhealthy economy designed to return the economy to normal growth. Romer and Romer are not all that keen on this type of tax cut; in fact, they argue that such "countercyclical fiscal policy is not achieving its intended purpose," and that "policymakers’ efforts to adjust taxes to offset anticipated changes in private
economic activity have been largely unsuccessful". You might also have inferred this from the fact that Christina Romer, who is the chair of Barack Obama's incoming Council of Economic Advisers, released an impact assessment (.pdf) yesterday positing a much lower multiplier on a "stimulative"/countercyclical tax cut.
This is not a trivial detail. It's as if Mankiw had said...
"A new study has shown that cholesterol can actually reduce your risk of a heart attack! So stop for a Triple Whopper Value Meal on your way home -- and don't forget to supersize it!"
...but omitted the fact that the study was referring only to HDL ("good") cholesterol -- not the LDL ("bad") cholesterol likely to be found in abundance in your Value Meal.
The thing is that's really irksome is that Mankiw should know a lot better. This is not some random blogger at Townhall trying to parse a difficult economics paper and overlooking an important point of context -- this is one of the premier economists in the world. He knows very well what the Romer and Romer paper says -- and he's made a deliberate choice to misrepresent it.
In poker terms, this is what we'd call a "tell". Mankiw doesn't have anything. He's bluffing. Out of ideas. Taking one for the team, and touting the party line for shits and giggles. Except, this isn't exactly fun and games, and Mankiw should leave the discussions to people who are serious about getting our economy moving again.
These are the Obama economic team's estimates of the multipliers resulting from a permanent increase in government spending equal to 1% of GDP and a permanent tax cut equal to 1% of GDP, respectively.
"Permanent" is an important qualification here, because in reality both the spending increases and the tax cuts are supposed to be temporary. With that caveat in mind, by the Obama administration's own estimates, spending is likely to be considerably more productive than tax cuts, producing a $1.57 gain in GDP for every dollar spent versus a $0.99 gain in GDP for every dollar of tax cuts.
These figures shouldn't be considered especially controversial. On the contrary, they seem fairly close to the average views among economists -- although note that I use the term "average" rather than "consensus" because there is considerable room for disagreement within those averages.
Nevertheless, if Obama thinks tax cuts are liable to be less effective than spending, why is he advocating for them in the first place?
For one thing, the fact that the multiplier on the tax cuts is relatively lower does not mean they wouldn't have some stimulative effects. If I give you $100, and you spend half of it and save the rest, that's still $50 more circulating in the economy then there would be otherwise. This is the direct effect of tax cuts -- the indirect effect is that of the $50 you spend, the businesses whom you spend it on will in turn spend, say, half of that ($25) on hiring new workers, building new machinery, purchasing new inventory, and so on. And then some fraction of that $25 is also recirculated into the economy -- the new workers that I hire will spend some of their new income, the companies that I buy inventory from will in turn purchase additional inventory of their own, etc. The administration assumes that in the long-run, this process will add up to $99 of GDP growth for every $100 of tax cuts. That doesn't sound like a great deal and it isn't, but the $99 is at least money that gets spent now, whereas the $100 is money that will be borne in the form of deficits by future generations. (The tax cuts, of course, may have additional benefits that are normative rather than financial, such as flattening income distributions -- or, you can take the libertarian position that tax cuts are an intrinsic good.)
Nevertheless, Obama posits that $100 spent on tax cuts provide for considerably less bang for the buck than $100 spent on government purchases. The nice thing about the $100 in spending is that the initial $100 is automatically added (quite literally, in fact) to GDP. Then some fraction of that $100 in turn gets reinvested into the economy -- the construction worker whom you hire to build a bridge takes his family out to dinner at his favorite restaurant, which in turn hires a new line cook as a result of the improved business, and so on. The downside to government spending is that it might crowd out private spending. If the $100 I spend is money that the private sector would have spent anyway, then I'm not doing very much good, since private spending usually tends to be more efficient than public spending. But in this case, the administration figures that most of the $100 is money the private sector either can't spend -- private companies don't build their own highways -- or won't spend during a recession because it's become too risk-averse or because capital is too difficult to obtain.
To summarize, people who are arguing that tax cuts are liable to be more effective than government spending in the long-run are arguing in effect that:
a) A significant fraction of tax cuts will be spent rather than saved;
b) Public spending significantly crowds out private spending;
c) Private spending is significantly more efficient than public spending.
And people who are arguing that government spending that is liable to be more effective than tax cuts are arguing just the opposite:
a) A significant fraction of tax cuts will be saved rather than spent;
b) Public spending does not significantly crowd out private spending;
c) Private spending is only marginally more efficient than public spending.
Oops -- didn't mean to go on the long Economics 101 tangent. But the point is, right now, Obama's economists find the arguments for spending more persuasive than the arguments for tax cuts -- as do most (although hardly all) private and academic economists.
So to repeat: If Obama thinks tax cuts are liable to be less effective than spending, why is he advocating for them in the first place?
The rationale his economists give in the paper is that tax cuts are liable to go into effect more quickly than spending, since there are a limited number of "shovel-ready" projects available whereas tax cuts can begin having benefits almost immediately. This is a fine enough argument, but the efficiency gap that Obama posits between tax cuts and spending is large enough that it would seem to warrant at best a small fraction of the stimulus to be spent on tax reductions, rather than the 40 percent or so that Obama has proposed to spend now.
The truth is, however, that the Obama administration is probably thinking more in terms of an 'either' than an 'or': not a stimulus bill but two separate stimuli, one of which is $300b in tax cuts and the other of which is $500b in government purchases. And they seem to be roughly indifferent toward the tax cuts -- it may not be a coincidence that the long-run multiplier they provide on the tax cuts is almost exactly 1.00. They think they'll help a little, but not a lot, maybe just enough to justify running up the deificit, or maybe not quite. Provided they are indifferent toward the tax cuts, however, they can be freely brandished as a weapon to help facilitate the passage of the $500 billion (or more?) in spending, which is the part they're ultimately interested in. Accordingly, I think it's important for advocates for a larger stimulus to be focused on maximizing the $500b number as opposed to minimizing the $300b number; the scent of $300b is something that seems to have thrown both sides off the trail.
NOTE: Yes, this is an oversimplification. Not all types of tax cuts have the same multipliers associated with them, nor do all types of spending. So that's certainly something to fight about.
My question is: can Obama really be entirely surprised that this is happening?
Before you answer, consider who we haven't heard very much from the past couple of days. We haven't heard very much from Mitch McConnell. And we haven't heard very much from the Blue Dogs. Nobody seems (publicly) to be taking the position that the $800 billion is too much, at least provided that it comes with $300 billion of tax cuts.
Now consider what Obama told CNBC the other day:
Obama also confirmed that he plans to lay out a roughly $775 billion economic stimulus plan on Thursday but indicated that the amount could grow once it gets taken up by Congress.Obama isn't picking these numbers out on accident. This range -- $800 billion to $1.3 trillion -- is most likely the range of outcomes that his administration considers acceptable. He says that "given the legislative process", he's deliberately chosen a number on the lower end of that range.
"We've seen ranges from $800 (billion) to $1.3 trillion," he said. "And our attitude was that given the legislative process, if we start towards the low end of that, we'll see how it develops."
What does this mean? It means he wants the Senate Democrats to do his dirty work for him. All of the sudden, the administration, which is about to spend at least $800 billion, gets to play the role of the fiscally prudent tightwads, negotiating against the Senate Democrats. This has at least two benefits. One, it requires less of the administration's political capital to sell the package. And two, it completely co-opts the conservative opposition. Unless you're Paul Krugman or Greg Mankiw, you probably don't really have any idea whether $300 billion or $800 billion or $1.2 trillion is the right amount to spend; the numbers are too large, the scope of the stimulus too unprecedented, to provide for any absolute frame of reference. So the frame of reference is relative rather than absolute. If you're Mitch McConnell or Mary Landireu or Bob Corker and you see that John Kerry thinks that $800 billion is too little -- well then, 'gal darn it, this Obama fella must be doing something right.
Imagine instead that Obama had started out at $1.3 trillion, assuming that the conservatives in the Senate would negotiate him down. Then we have some big, old-fashioned brouhaha about economic philosophy, with Obama and the Senate Democrats lining up against the Blue Dogs and the Republicans. This strikes me as a considerably more dangerous negotiation, because while the Senate Democrats can set the ceiling if Obama starts too low, there is nobody really there to set the floor if he starts too high -- the Republicans have no real imperative to compromise on any stimulus. Public sentiment, moreover, which now favors the stimulus, might easily have turned against it if there was some sticker shock on the initial price tag, and once public sentiment turns against something like this, it can be hard to put back into the bottle.
I call this a Price is Right negotiating strategy. When bidding on an item on The Price is Right, you want to come as close as possible to the item's price without going over. But if you do go over, your bid is invalidated. Thus, it is worse to bid $1 too much than $100 too little. Here, analogously, the risks of overbidding seem to be considerably greater to Obama than the risks of underbidding.
Some of you will object: but why even worry about this whole bipartisan song and dance? Don't Democrats have the votes to shove this thing through?
Actually, that is not completely obvious. The Democrats have plenty enough votes in the House, but in the Senate, they'll need either one or two Republican crossovers to break a filibuster, depending on how the situations in Illinois and Minnesota are resolved. And they might need a couple more than that if they lose a Landrieu or a Lincoln. Now, I have argued before that a Republican filibuster is exceptionally unlikely on the stimulus. But this is on the assumption that both Obama and the stimulus itself are reasonably popular. If Obama were perceived as overreaching, on the other hand, the Republicans might have found it much easier to unite themselves against the proposal.
Until Obama takes the Oath of Office and actually stars doing stuff, it is easy for any of us to filter his actions through our preferred narrative about the incoming administration. Is this all some clever jujitsu negotiating ploy from the Boy Genius Campaign? Or is it a sign that the Obama administration just doesn't get it, fetishizes centrism and bipartisanship, and will need constant babysitting from the noble netroots? Neither characterization is liable to be entirely accurate, of course.
But I'm more inclined to argue for the former on the case of the stimulus package. The median expectation a week ago seemed to be that we'd wind up with a stimulus of about $800 billion. Now the question seems to be whether we'll end up at $800 billion or somewhat above $800 billion.
That doesn't mean that those of you who think we need more than $800 billion ought to shut up about it (in fact, Obama's whole strategy falls apart if you do). But for the time being, it would seem, that number has nowhere to go but up.
Item. New poll from Glengariff Group says that Illinoisans opposed to seating Burris by 53-32 margin. More Illinoisans strongly opposed to seating Burris than in favor. More support for either a Pat Quinn appointment and a special election.
Item. Sun Times alleges inconsistencies in Burris testimony to House impeachment panel. Burris said he had no contact with representatives of Blago prior to late December; Sun Times says he talked to Blago confidant at some point during the fall. A venial sin -- but might offer enough pretense for the Senate to deny Burris membership.
Item. Draft of stimulus bill encountering more resistance from Democrats than Republicans. Getting 60 votes in the Senate does not seem like major concern to Senate Leadership; getting "right" package passed does.
Conjecture. Is Burris' appointment to the Senate still a fait accompli?
This is a chart of the most recent prior elected office that the 111th Senate had held at the time of their first election to the U.S. Senate. Note my use of the phrase election to the U.S. Senate; I am not considering appointments to the U.S. Senate, and so Senators Obama, Biden, Clinton and Salazar are still considered elected Senators for the time being.
Why should you care about this? Maybe you shouldn't. But when we're trying to figure out just whom the candidates might be in a case like, say, Missouri, it's helpful to have some notion of how senators get to be where they are. Are we right to focus heavily on members of the Congress? (Yes -- this is where an awful lot of Senators come from.) How common is it for someone to be elected to the Senate after having held no previous elected office? (Not very common -- but more common than you might think).
Nearly half of the current members of the Senate were members of the U.S. House at some before becoming senators -- usually immediately beforehand. A lot of these folks, moreover, were in their state legislatures before becoming representatives. This is the most basic path by which one pursues a political career: State Representative --> State Senator --> U.S. Representative -- > U.S. Senator. Especially talented candidates -- for example, our President-elect -- can and do bypass the stint in the House, but this is still fairly rare, even if it seems to be occurring somewhat more frequently than it once did.
The other major path toward becoming a senator is from the state executive branch. About one quarter of the current population of the Senate held statewide elected office before taking their new jobs, including 11 former elected governors. From among the other statewide offices, attorney generals have been on something of a hot streak of late, presently accounting for 7 seats in the Senate, but there are also state auditors, state treasurers, tax commissioners (Kent Conrad; I'd originally missed the fact that this is an elected office in North Dakota) and lieutenant governors.
A decent number of senators, on the other hand, didn't even hold state-level elected office at the time of their election to the Senate. Mayors don't run for senate all that often, but when they do they can be fairly strong candidates. Remarkably, however, the Senate also contains two members whose most recent office at been city council (congratulations, Joe Biden and Carl Levin!), as well as various county-level executives.
And then there are those members of the Senate who had never held elected office at the time of their victories; ten of these in all, with backgrounds ranging from entrepreneurship to television comedy. But, as I will demonstrate in a future article, while people who have never held elected office occasionally succeed in becoming senators, many more try and fail, and their batting average is not very strong overall.
The complete list follows below.
Federal Elected Offices -- 45 Senators
U.S. House (45)
State-Level Executive Offices -- 26 Senators
Lieutenant Governor (2)
Attorney General (7)
Tax Commissioner (1)
State Legislative Offices -- 9 Senators
State Senate (7)
Tester, MT (Senate President)
State House (2)
Merkley, OR (Speaker)
Murkowski, AK (Majority Leader)
City or County Level Offices -- 10 Senators
Begich, AK (Anchorage)
Corker, TN (Chattanooga)
Feinstein, CA (San Francisco)
Lugar, IN (Indianapolis)
County Executive (1)
McConnell, KY (Jefferson County)
County or District Attorney (3)
Klobuchar, MN (Hennepin County)
Leahy, VT (Chittenden County)
Specter, PA (Philadelphia)
City Council (2)
Biden, DE (New Castle)
Levin, MI (Detroit)
No Prior Elected Office -- 10 Senators
Bennett, UT -- business executive
Clinton, NY -- First Lady
Collins, ME -- Regional Director of US Small Business Administration
Franken, MN -- entertainer, author
Hatch, UT -- attorney
Kohl, WI -- business executive
Kennedy, MA -- Brother of President Kennedy
Lautenberg -- business executive, executive of Port Authority of NY/NJ
Martinez, FL -- fmr. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Webb, VA -- fmr. Secretary of the Navy
Carper, Gregg and Nelson (FL) had also served in the Congress at some point prior to their election to the Senate, although it was not their most recent elceted office.
Risch served briefly as Idaho's governor, although he was never elected to the position, filling upon Dirk Kempthorne's selection as Secretary of the Interior, nor did he hold that office at the time of his election to the Senate.
Lautenberg is the only current Senator to have served non-consecutive tenures in the Senate, having retired and then un-retired when Bob Torricelli made a fool of himself, so you can argue that his most recent elected office at the time his current elected tenure to the Senate had in fact been U.S. Senator.
Inhofe, Johanns, Menendez, Sanders and Voinovich had also been mayors at some point prior to thier election to the Senate, although it was not their most recent position.
Tom Udall had at one point been his state's Attorney General; Bayh, Brown and Rockefeller had been Secretaries of State; Reid and Voinovich had been Lieuteant Governors, and Bond and Casey had been State Auditor -- but again, these were not their most recently-held positions at the time of their election to the Senate.
Politico's poll (.pdf), conducted by the firm Garin-Hart-Yang, reports that 79 percent of Americans favor the stimulus, versus just 17 percent opposed. I would take some issue with GHY's question wording, as it characterizes the stimulus in rather flattering terms ("a proposal to create jobs and strengthen the economy") but does not mention the stimulus's pricetag; this is not too far from message testing as opposed to opinion polling. Nevertheless, it suggests that -- if framed appropriately by the administration -- the stimulus could be quite popular indeed, a finding also implied by other surveys.
Perhaps the more interesting component of the Politico survey, however, is a series of questions asking Americans what sort of policies they think might or might not be effective at improving the economy. The percentage of respondents saying they expect a particular policy to be "very" or "fairly" effective is provided below:
Stricter enforcement and stronger regulations on 74Obviously, some of these responses are a bit contradictory -- the public wants balanced budgets, for instance, but they also want certain types of spending. It's interesting, though, that tax reductions actually aren't all that popular, considering that lower taxes almost always tend to poll well. It's also interesting that, from among the government spending programs that the survey addresses, alternative energy is by some margin the most popular.
businesses, particularly in the financial sector, to
prevent future abuses
A major government investment in energy to develop 66
alternatives to imported oil and make the United
States a world leader in alternative energy innovation
A long-term effort to balance the budget and lower the 66
Lower taxes for the middle class 59
An across-the-board reduction in federal government 58
A major government investment in worker training and 57
re-training to ensure that America has a work force
prepared to meet the demands of a modern economy
A major government investment in infrastructure such 57
as roads, bridges, and mass transit to create jobs in
the short term and a strong, vibrant, modern economy
in the long term
A major government commitment to provide more 54
funding and support to community colleges, to ensure
more workers have access to training and education
Lower taxes for all Americans 50
I'm not sure why Obama isn't doing more to highlight the green portions of the stimulus bill. The public seems to tolerate the spending on bridges and highways -- but they also see it, perhaps not wholly improperly, as makework. The long-run benefits of the alternative energy programs, on the other hand, are far more intuitively appealing. If the central critique of the stimulus is that the debt we're creating will be burdensome to future generations, that concern could be mitigated if the spending in question is portrayed as a down payment made on behalf of those future generations toward cleaning up the environment and mitigating dependence on fossil fuels. It also provides for some sense of purpose to the stimulus: we'll come out of this, Obama can say, with the greenest, most energy-independent major industrial economy in the world, etc. etc.
Note: See also the Rasmussen poll on the stimulus, which also suggests that a majority of the public sees major government intervention is necessary and that as many people are concerned about the government doing too little as doing too much.
Off-hand, indeed, it appears that the Democrats might be slightly favored in this race because of the potential candidacy of Robin Carnahan, the popular Secretary of State from the dynastic Carnahan family who won re-election with 62 percent of the vote in November. The Republican field, by contrast, is a bit less clear. Chris Cillizza speculates that former Senator Jim Talent, who lost to Claire McCaskill in 2006, may be their leading candidate. My reaction to that is that having a guy who lost his last race at the top of your list is usually not an indicator of a terrific bench, although Talent's loss was close and came in a very Demcoratic year.
We can also look toward Missouri's Congressional Delegation for potential candidates; it presently contains 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. One very basic indicator of strength that I like to look at is to compare a Congressman's performance in his last election against that predicted by the partisan makeup of his district. For instnace, Todd Akin just won re-election with 63.8 percent of the two-way vote in a district with a PVI of Republican +9. On average, we'd have expected the Republican to have 56.2 percent of the vote in an R+9 district in 2008 (as determined by regression analysis), meaning that Akin overperformed his projection by 7.6 points, a roughly average score for a candidate winning his election. The power rankings for each of Missouri's nine Congressmen are below:
The most impressive performance among the Republicans came from MO-8's Jo Ann Emerson, who won overwhelmingly in a district that is solidly but not incredibly Republican. Emerson, who was reportedly considering a bid for governor in 2008, is somewhat moderate on issues like stem cell research, perhaps making her more appealing to voters in swing areas like the Kansas City suburbs.
Roy Blunt, the Republican Whip in the 110th Congress, may also consider a bid. He too won re-election easily, although since his district is more strongly Republican than Emerson's, his performance was a bit less impressive. It's also unclear whether having held a position in the House leadership would be an asset or a liability to his candidacy.
On the Democratic side, Blue Dog Ike Skeleton would theoretically be an interesting candidate -- but only theoretically, as he's 77 years old. Otherwise, there is nobody who jumps out as obviously having more upside than Robin Carnahan, including her brother Russ.