The Hill Gets it 100 Percent Backwards on Docs and the GOP

Last week I noted that all appearances were showing that the Republican Party was on the verge of losing one of its most loyal constituencies -- doctors, and more specifically the American Medical Association -- as a result of GOP efforts in the United States Senate to filibuster a measure that would avert a more than 10 percent cut in Medicare payments. Just how big of a supporter has the AMA been for Republicans in years past? Prior to this cycle, the AMA gave 67 percent, 76 percent, 60 percent, 53 percent, 70 percent, and 76 percent of their contributions to GOP candidates during the 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998 and 1996 cycles, respectively. Overall, during the period of Republican control over Congress, the AMA gave more than two-thirds of its $15 million in contributions to Republican candidates.

Yet despite the prospect that it is the GOP appears of the verge of losing the support of the doctors -- at a time, I might add, when it looks like the party will slip even further out of contention for majorities in either chamber of Congress, with losses of 20 or more seats possibly on the horizon in the House and half a dozen or more in the Senate to boot -- The Hill seems to think it's the AMA that should be worried.  Here's Jeffrey Young's article under the heading "Docs risking ire of GOP on Medicare".

Lobbying groups representing physicians have been taking a noticeably partisan tack in their fight to protect their Medicare fees, siding with Democrats and risking a backlash from Republicans in the process.

Trade groups tend to be wary of favoring one party, since politicians have long memories and today's minority could be tomorrow's majority.

But sometimes interest groups find themselves in a position where they have to risk future comeuppance for present gain.

"It's a calculated risk that's made," said a lobbyist who has worked to pass the Medicare bill. "It certainly can come full circle and bite you on the butt in the end," the lobbyist said. "We'll see what happens in future years."

Young gets a few things backwards here. First, doctors aren't beholden to the GOP. They aren't required to take it on the chin from a party they have long supported -- particularly when the hit is coming because the Republicans are putting insurance companies, another constituency that has helped fund the GOP over the years, over the doctors. The Republicans made a calculation: They thought they could completely contravene the sentiments of their backers and get away with it scot-free. Turns out they can't. Shocking, I know. But that's politics.

The other thing Young misses is that the Republicans will have a decreasing ability to get back at the AMA. Young talks about the long memory that legislators have -- but it's going to have to be awfully long to make much of a difference here. As noted above, the likelihood is that the Republicans will have significantly fewer seats in the House come January and somewhere at or just slightly above 40 seats in the Senate. With these types of numbers, there just isn't a huge amount of wrath that the party can inflict on anyone. What's more, looking ahead to the 2010 cycle -- one in which Republicans must defend more seats than the Democrats, including potentially endangered seats in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kentucky (Jim Bunning), Kansas (Sam Brownback retiring), Louisiana (David Vitter), and even Arizona (John McCain), as well as others -- the prospects aren't great for the GOP being able to do much to get back at the doctors.

As far as I'm concerned, Republicans should continue to piss of their key constituencies. Their voting base is already unenthusiastic this year, so why not add their financial base, too?

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GOP Hoping to Lose Just Four Seats in the Senate

You've got to hand it to John Cornyn Ensign, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- he doesn't pull punches.

"If you have an R in front of your name, you better run scared," said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who says the party will do well if it holds its losses to three or four seats.

Republicans have to defend nearly twice as many seats as the Democrats, and among already competitive races that ratio is closer to 9-to-1. The NRSC must do this despite the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has close to an 80 percent advantage in cash-on-hand -- which isn't going away with the DSCC raising 20 percent more than the NRSC in months like the last one. What's more, the Democrats continue to hold a wide advantage in the generic congressional ballot. With numbers like these, it's little wonder that Ensign is hoping his party loses four seats this fall. Not much of a rallying cry -- though perhaps better than aiming for a 41-seat firewall...

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KS-Sen: Slattery Raises $500k in Second Quarter

There are a lot of reasons to believe that former Democratic Congressman Jim Slattery has a real opportunity to make this year's Kansas Senate race a competitive one, aiming to become the first Democrat to win a Senate election in the state since 1932. Now you can add another.

Slattery holds about $600,000 in his campaign treasury, while Roberts is sitting on $3.1 million despite outlays for 17 days of ads.

The latest financial balance sheets reflect Roberts' ability to raise $850,000 in the second quarter of this year, which is significantly more than Slattery's estimate of $500,000.

The $500,000 raised during the second quarter (with a little help from the Road to 60 page) comes on top of the $288,000 Slattery raised during the first 12 days of his campaign in late March.

Most of the reports on these numbers make it seem that they constitute bad news for Slattery and good news for the incumbent Pat Roberts. Indeed, Roberts now sits on more than six times more money in the bank than Slattery. However, Kansas is not an expensive state to campaign in, and even a couple million dollars -- which Slattery should be able to bring in (note that this was only his first full fundraising quarter) -- can saturate the entire state in television ads for the better part of a month. And the latest nonpartisan polling on the race, courtesy of Rasmussen Reports, puts Roberts up by just a single-digit margin -- and under 50 percent to boot -- with the distance between the two candidates shrinking rather than growing.

This isn't going to be the Democrats first or second or even fifth pick-up in the Senate this cycle (if we have one or two or five pick-ups). But it is one of the races that could be key to hitting the magical 60 mark in the Senate. And given the numbers on the race, as well as the general demographics in the state, it's looking like there really is an shot at things coming together for Slattery to become the first Democratic Senator from Kansas in 70 years.

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Doctors Come Out Against Endangered GOP Sens.

Throughout the entirety of the current Congress, Republicans have adhered to a strict obstruction whenever possible regimen in the hopes of thwarting any and all progressive change. While by and large the media have given the GOP a pass on the subject (save for a few stories here and there from McClatchy or The Washington Post), it was bound to be the case that the GOP's tactics would come back to bite them at some point.  

According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required), for instance, the American Medical Association, a group that has overwhelmingly backed Republicans in the past (giving at least 61 percent of their contributions to GOP candidates since 1990), is now not only withdrawing support from Republicans but is going so far as running ads against endangered GOP Senators up for reelection this fall on the topic of harsh cuts in Medicare payments to doctors supported on Capitol Hill by those members.

The Senate vote has made for an easy talking point for Democrats and doctors. In the AMA ads, a narrator charges: "A group of U.S. senators voted to protect the powerful insurance companies at the expense of Medicare patients' access to doctors."

The ads name GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas; John E. Sununu of New Hampshire; John Barrasso and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming; Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran of Mississippi; and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Alexander, Cornyn, Sununu, Barrasso, Enzi, Cochran and Wicker all face elections this year. Sununu and Wicker are seen by Democrats as particularly vulnerable.

An AMA spokeswoman would not say what the association is paying to run the ads, but called the buy "significant."

Per the CQ article, this fracas is making particular waves in Texas, where the local AMA actually withdrew its support for GOP incumbent John Cornyn, and Mississippi, where Democrat Ronnie Musgrove is talking about the issue at all of his events. (Note that both races are being targeted in the MyDD Road to 60 effort). For those interested, a version of the ads the AMA is running in these races is available online here.

For those not entirely familiar with the GOP obstruction on this front, here's The New York Times' Robert Pear:

Doctors face a 10 percent cut in Medicare payments next week, following the Senate's failure on Thursday to take up legislation that would have averted the cuts.

Republican senators blocked efforts by Democrats to call up the bill, which was approved Tuesday in the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 355 to 59.

In the Senate, supporters fell two votes short of the 60 needed to close debate. The vote was 58 to 40.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said, "We have to pass this bill to avoid catastrophic cuts to doctors."

Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association, said the cuts would force many doctors to "limit the number of new Medicare patients they treat."

All in all, there is a simple narrative, one that we have heard over and over again in recent years (and indeed for the past several decades, at least since the New Deal): When push comes to shove and the Republicans have had to choose between the people and the special interests that fund GOP efforts, Republicans will almost invariably choose the latter.

By the way, nice work John McCain for not even bothering to show up for the vote -- particularly given that your support for the measure would have meant that the bill would have passed (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote to "no" for parliamentary reasons so that he could bring the measure up again in the future, so the bill actually had the support of 59 Senators).

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Why It's Good to Go Out on a Limb in Some of These Races

I'm really stoked that we were able to hit our fundraising goal for MyDD's Road to 60 Act Blue page in the less than a week that the list has been up. We were able to put money into the coffers of campaigns that can really use it -- campaigns that can help the Democrats reach the threshold of 60 seats in the United States Senate, campaigns that are nevertheless overlooked by many.

But for those who wondered why you go out on a limb every once in a while to support a long-shot candidacy, one that the race-handicappers (including some of us in the Netroots) may pooh-pooh at, Charles Pierce tells a story of one such race that could have made a huge difference had a few more folks been paying attention a couple decades ago (h/t Eschaton):

In 1990, while I was in the employ of a now-defunct all-sports daily newspaper, I went to Atlanta to work on a piece about Evander Holyfield, who was preparing to fight James (Buster) Douglas for the heavyweight champeenship of the woild (!). Anyway, one night, my hotel was hosting a fundraiser for a guy named David Worley, a lawyer who was running against Newt Gingrich. What the hell, I thought, maybe the hors d'oeuvres are good. I went down to the ballroom and, in the course of extensive freeloading, I talked to a number of people from the Worley campaign who were absolutely convinced that their guy could take Gingrich down. They were extremely frosted at the Democratic National Committee, which barely bothered to return their phone calls. By the end of the evening, they even had me convinced. Turns out they were right. I made a little coin taking Worley and five points against some of the hepcat political pros of my casual acquaintance.

In case you didn't click the second link in that quoted section, as it so happened David Worley, a then 32 year-old candidate who was overlooked by the pundits and who received only a $5,000 check late in the race from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, lost to New Gingrich in during the 1990 midterms by only about 980 of the roughly 156,000 votes cast in the Georgia district. What's more, he apparently did this not only without much of any national attention or help, he did it without having the money to advertise on television.

One need not think back even that far for examples of races coming out of nowhere to shock the race-watchers. In 2006, Carol Shea-Porter and Nancy Boyda ran decidedly outsider campaigns on track to win competitive or even reddish congressional districts in New Hampshire and Kansas, respectively. Even more recently, Democrats swept a trio of special elections during the spring in districts that tended to lean 6 to 10 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections.

But the Worley example stands out for another reason: It is possible to stop some of these people before they inflict their damage upon the country. Hindsight is 20/20, and it's always easy to play Monday morning quarterback (or in this case 18-year-later quarterback), but if Worley had gotten even just a slightly stronger end of the cycle push in 1990, it's possible that he would have won, depriving the nation of Gingrich even before he and his demagoguery came to control the Congress.

This isn't just a "what if", however -- it's a wake-up call. It is why contesting every seat is so important. I know nothing about the Worley candidacy, save for the fact that Worley ran as an outsider against then-House Minority Whip Gingrich during the 1990 midterms (which, by the way, were good but not great for the Democrats, who added a net 8 seats to their majority in the House counting Bernie Sanders in Vermont), but it was quite possibly the case that he wasn't the most progressive candidate that fall. However, a narrow victory rather than a narrow loss for Worley would have meant no Speaker Gingrich, and no Speaker Gingrich would have meant, well... you get the picture.

That's yet another reason it is so important to expand the map and run a truly 50-state campaign. So thank you for your help in pushing to Road to 60 page reach its goal, as well as for contributing to other candidates and other efforts elsewhere.

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