Joe Biden and Reconciliation

MSNBC says we may all be overestimating the power the Senate parliamentarian has over the reconciliation process.

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For those unable to watch the video just yet, here's MSNBC's write up:

"The parliamentarian only can advise," [former Senate parliamentarian of 37 years Robert] Dove said. "It is the vice president who rules."

It is widely understood that the parliamentarian would rule whether or not items under reconciliation are germaine to the budget. It wasn't always the case that items under reconciliation had to pertain to the budget. But it had been used so often to defeat filibusters, Dove said, that in the 1980s Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) instituted a the budget rule. It is now known as the Byrd Rule. The parliamentarian currently is Alan Frumin. Not since Hubert Humphrey, Dove said, has there been a vice president played such a powerful role. But as NBC's Chuck Todd, who co-hosts the show, pointed out, perhaps not since Humphrey has the U.S. seen a vice president as comfortable with the rules of the Senate as Biden.

"That's why I brought this up," Dove said. "Yes. Humphrey had been the majority whip. He had been in the Senate since 1948. He felt very comfortable playing an important role. And it's quite possible that Vice President Biden [would]."

It is still unclear the lengths to which Vice President Joe Biden, or the Obama administration more broadly, are willing to go to ensure the passage of healthcare reform legislation. But considering that they may have the ability to ensure that a reconciliation "fix" to the bill already passed through the Senate and on its way to the House -- where, by the way, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is confident she has the votes -- healthcare reform may be more viable than we previously believed.

Bill Halter Takes the Plunge into AR-Sen

From the campaign website of Arkansas' Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Bill Halter:

Fox News says that this is "trouble" for the Arkansas Democrats. I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, against whom Halter is mounting a primary challenge, trails her leading Republican opponent by about 20 points. But she was trailing long before Halter got in the race.

No, this news may actually be good for the Democrats. Both First Read and Political Wire note this morning that as a result of Halter stepping into the Democratic primary, Lincoln's vote becomes significantly more reliable for the Democrats (assuming she wants another term in the Senate) as she has to look over her left shoulder, not just her right. In a Senate where every single vote counts, this could be the difference between passing healthcare reform and not. So perhaps Halter making a race of it isn't really "trouble" after all.

Supposedly Endangered House Dem Up 20+ Points

Charlie Cook seems to think it's all but a fait accompli that the Democrats will lose the House of Representatives in November. He might want to tell that to the voters in Alabama's second congressional district, which despite tending to lean about 16 points more Republican than the nation as a whole looks on track to reelect its freshman Democratic Congressman this year by a wide margin.

A new poll conducted for Rep. Bobby Bright's (D-AL) campaign shows that while he may sit in a very vulnerable CD, he starts out in strong shape for re-election.

The survey, conducted by Anzalone-Liszt (D), shows Bright leading Montgomery Councilor Martha Roby (R), AL school board member Stephanie Bell (R) and businessman Rick Barber (R) handily. The survey was conducted 2/8-11, among 500 LVs; It has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. The survey was first posted in the Montgomery Advertiser.

General Election Matchups 
Bright    54%        Bright    55%
Roby      30         Bell      29
 

Bright 58%
Barber 26

This is an internal poll, and there are enough reasons to take such campaign-sponsored surveys with a grain of salt that I need not be too explicit with a word of caution. That said, these aren't the types of numbers that look to be skewed -- and if they were, the National Republican Congressional Committee would already be out with its own numbers showing a radically different outcome. In the absence of such pushback from the Republicans, it's not hard to imagine that the Democrat Bright is in fact leading by a wide margin -- perhaps not 24 percentage points and more, but a wide margin nonetheless -- in the very red district he represents.

And this represents a genuine challenge to the model employed by some of the Beltway prognosticators that says the Democrats have already put themselves in position to lose the House this cycle. If the Republicans can't even be competitive in an R+16 district featuring a freshman Democrat in a race Cook now labels as "a tossup," how, exactly, are they supposed to win back the 40 seats they need to regain a majority in the chamber?

Yet Another House Republican to Retire

Charlie Cook says that it's "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." The Republicans in the House apparently don't agree with him, though, as evidenced by the continuing trend of party incumbents opting to leave the House instead of waiting around for the GOP's supposedly imminent return to power in the chamber. Here's the latest.

Veteran Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), an early ally of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and an outspoken fiscal conservative, announced Saturday he was retiring.

Linder disclosed his decision at a Republican breakfast in his district and party officials in Washington confirmed the news.

The 18-year congressman represents a heavily Republican seat in the sprawling suburbs east of Atlanta that is likely to stay in GOP hands.

This district isn't competitive, you say, so why does it matter whether one Republican is going to be swapped out for another? It matters a great deal, in fact.

To flesh out what I stated above, and what I've said before, if House Republicans really believed that they were on the verge of retaking the chamber, they wouldn't be retiring. Take the retiring John Linder, for example. Linder is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and as a ranking member of one of its subcommittees would stand to earn a coveted chairmanship if the Republicans were to retake the House. Yet he's leaving rather than wait less than a year for something that's supposedly a sure thing -- the GOP winning control of the House?

Actions speak louder than words. When Republicans like Congressman Linder -- and a dozen and a half of his compatriots -- decide to leave the House, it says loud and clear that they don't think their party is going to win back the House in November, no matter what Charlie Cook or anyone else has to say.

Goodwin Liu Earns Highest Possible Rating from ABA

The American Bar Association, which plays an integral role in the confirmation process through its review of nominees' records, has given Goodwin Liu (my professor, whose nomination to the 9th Circuit I wrote about yesterday) its highest possible rating (.pdf): A unanimous "well-qualified." The wingers aren't happy.

According to the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary’s explanation of its standards for rating judicial nominees, “a prospective nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least twelve years’ experience in the practice of law.” Further, “the Committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important.”

Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu hasn’t even been out of law school for twelve years yet (he graduated from Yale law school in the late spring of 1998), and he’s only been a member of a state bar since May 1999. His entire practice of law appear to consist of two years or so in appellate litigation, so it would appear that he has zero “trial experience as a lawyer.” Nor, of course, does he have any experience as a trial judge.

Despite all this, the ABA committee has somehow seen fit to give Liu its highest rating of “well qualified.” What a joke.

Was it "a joke" when Republican President Gerald Ford, at the urging of Ronald Reagan, nominated Anthony Kennedy, then age 38, to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit? Was it "a joke" when President Reagan nominated Alex Kozinski, then age 35 -- just 10 years out of law school -- to the 9th Circuit? How about when George W. Bush nominated the then-38 year old Brett Cavanaugh to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit? Did the conservatives speak out then? Senator Orrin Hatch, the former Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, certainly did not, defending the selection of Cavanaugh by noting that many Senators "began their service in their 30's if not barely age 30." Or do age criticisms only apply to progressive, not conservative, jurists? That is, the these extra-constitutional rules (there is no age restriction for judicial nominations anywhere in the Constitution) only apply when the Democrats are in office, not Republicans?

GOP Poll Shows Kitzhaber Up Big in OR-Gov

The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes has the details:

The latest survey is from Portland pollster Bob Moore, who often works for Republicans. He matched up former Gov. John Kitzhaber - who Moore judges to be the strongest of the Democratcs - against two Republican contenders, ex-Trail Blazer Chris Dudley and businessman Allen Alley.

In each case, Kitzhaber leads either of the Republicans, 45 percent to 33 percent.

The Oregon Governor's race isn't a slam dunk for the Democrats -- but they have clear advantages seven months ahead of ballots being sent out to voters. Oregon, you might remember, is a state in which only one Republican has won statewide in the past decade and a half and where the GOP hasn't won a gubernatorial election since 1986. What's more, the leading Democratic candidate for Governor -- a popular former Governor in his own regard -- leads all Republican comers by double-digit margins even in GOP polling.

This race is still a ways away -- but at this point, the Democrats are looking good.

Obama Nominates Progessive Goodwin Liu for 9th Circuit

It was rumored last night, but now it's official: Goodwin Liu, a leading progressive legal theorist (and my constitutional law professor at Berkeley Law), has been nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Per release from the White House:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama nominated Goodwin Liu for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Robert N. Chatigny for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Mr. Liu currently serves as an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Judge Chatigny currently serves as a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut.

President Obama said, “Goodwin Liu and Robert Chatigny have proven themselves to be not only first-rate legal minds but faithful public servants. It is with full confidence in their ability, integrity, and independence that I nominate them to the bench of the United States Court of Appeals.”

Goodwin Liu: Nominee for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Goodwin Hon Liu is an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. An acclaimed scholar, teacher, and lawyer, with experience in both the private and public sectors, Liu is a nationally-recognized expert on constitutional law and education law and policy. In 2009, he received Berkeley's most prestigious teaching award.

Prior to joining the Berkeley faculty in 2003, Liu was an associate at O'Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C. He clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the October 2000 Term, and for Judge David S. Tatel on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1998-1999. Between his clerkships, Liu served as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. He has also worked for the Corporation for National Service, where he helped launch the AmeriCorps program.

Liu was born in Augusta, Georgia, to parents who emigrated from Taiwan, and he grew up in Sacramento where he attended public schools. Liu earned a B.S. from Stanford University in 1991, an M.A from Oxford in 2002 (where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar), and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1998.

This is really great news -- it's hard to overstate this. It suggests that President Obama is starting to get it on judicial nominations -- that if the Republicans are going to mount filibusters against even moderate nominees with bipartisan support (see, for instance, the nomination of David Hamilton to the 7th Circuit last year), there is no reason not to nominate jurists with more ambitious views.

Liu is such a jurist. He is one of the brightest legal minds in the country, and what's more (and perhaps more importantly) he has the ability to articulate his views in a cogent manner. In other words, he would make a great judge. Additionally, at the age of 39, he would (if confirmed) have the ability to have a say in the direction of the law for decades to come.

Crocodile Tears from GOP on Majority Vote

Senate Republicans are up in arms about the possibility that their Democratic rivals will bypass the GOP's "no" tactics on healthcare reform through use of the budget reconciliation process. To take but one recent example, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee said yesterday, "It’s the most massive piece of legislation I’ve ever seen and it clearly shouldn’t go through the Senate under reconciliation... That’s railroading the Senate."

Of course Gregg didn't speak to the dissonance in his position, backing reconciliation to bust budgets by increasing the deficit by trillions through the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts but opposing the tactic on healthcare reform, which would decrease the long-term deficit by more than $1 trillion.

That aside, the Republicans' position becomes even less tenable considering that not only has reconciliation been used for major legislative undertakings in the past -- it has been used in the area of healthcare reform. Indeed, virtually every piece of healthcare reform legislation in recent decades has passed by a majority vote through reconciliation. To take one example, the CHIP program, under which children across the country are provided healthcare coverage, was created through the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Heck, COBRA, which enables Americans to keep their health coverage after being laid off, was named for the reconciliation legislation under which it was passed: the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. The list goes on.

So before anyone goes believing the GOP spin, they might want to take a moment to actually apprise themselves of history, which clearly shows that not only is majority vote appropriate for healthcare reform legislation -- it has been the preferred tactic for Senates, Democratic and Republican alike, for decades.

Florida Dems Hit Bill McCollum

If the 2010 cycle is about an anti-Washington sentiment -- and it looks like it is -- then the Florida Democrats may be on to something with their hit on Bill McCollum, the GOP candidate for Governor in November.

Don't be surprised to see more ads like this from the Democrats, hitting establishment Republicans for their insider ties. Missouri Senate candidate and former House GOP leader Roy Blunt, in particular, comes to mind as the type of candidate vulnerable to such a line of attack, as does George W. Bush budget staffer Rob Portman, the GOP's presumptive Senate candidate in Ohio. Washington isn't a popular place these days, and having been deeply involved in the Beltway culture simply is not the type of line on a resume candidates will want voters to know about in the coming months.

Obama Beats Congressional GOP on Virtually Every Issue

From the latest Newsweek poll, which shows President Obama's approval rating down 9 percentage points from July to a low of 48 percent:

Forty-six percent of Americans prefer Obama's handling of the economy, compared to 30 percent who say the Republicans have a better approach. Similar gaps persist on job creation, tax policy, the federal budget deficit, and the handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only issue where Americans say Republicans in Congress are doing better than the president is on the use of military courts vs. civilian trials for terrorism suspects. Thirty-eight percent prefer the GOP approach while 34 percent prefer Obama's.

These numbers aren't entirely rosy for the White House or its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill -- but they also belie the notion that the Democrats are sunk in November. No matter what the prognosticators inside the Beltway tell you, the Republican Party remains a terribly damaged brand, one in which the American people appear quite unwilling to embrace even as they become less endeared of Barack Obama.

It is true that these numbers do not represent a head-to-head between the Democrats on Capitol Hill and Congressional Republicans -- let alone the multitude of individual candidate races that will determine control of the House and Senate in November. Nevertheless, it is simply not yet clear that the Republican Party is anywhere close to sealing the deal with voters, who still prefer President Obama's approach to the failed ideology of George W. Bush and his ilk in the GOP leadership.

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