Another Unforced Error On Selling Obamacare

The Obama administration has done an excellent job policy-wise with the Affordable Care Act, but politically has made a few major mistakes along the way. The most recent was discovered today when Bloomberg reported that the administration had made mistakes in reporting the number of people who obtained health coverage through the exchanges in its first year. The error came from adding sales of dental plans available under the Affordable Care Act to the total number who actually purchased plans.

HHS Secretary  Secretary Sylvia Burwell responded on Twitter that, “The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept.”

From a practical point of view, the mistake does not really change anything. The important factor is the benefits provided, not the number of people who signed up the first year, especially when the number was depressed by a dishonest right wing smear campaign. The actual number still exceeded the predictions of the Congressional Budget Office. Nearly seven million did obtain coverage on the exchanges in the first year, with about seventy percent happy with their coverage–a number comparable to those receiving employer-paid coverage and Medicare.

Unfortunately an error such as this plays into the false right wing narrative that the Obama administration was not transparent in promoting the Affordable Care Act. They ignore the degree to which every aspect was publicly debated for months, and every version of the law was posted on line. Of course many conservatives were probably unaware of the discussion which was occurring as the right wing media was too busy spreading lies than to actually report on what was being openly discussed.

Man on the right are cherry picking and distorting the words of Jonathan Gruber, as I recently discussed here and here. They falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect” of the Affordable Care Act and falsely attribute his views to the Obama administration. Gruber was an outside academic consultant who had worked on Mitt Romney’s health care plan. He was paid to make economic projections based upon this to predict the economic effects of Obamacare. He had no role in the legislative strategy to pass Obamacare, and does not speak for the Obama administration in making statements which Obama disagrees with.

Being an academic outside of Washington, it is very likely that the somewhat convoluted legislative actions used by both parties to achieve the best scores from the Congressional Budget Office might seem to lack transparency. This does not mean that those promoting Obamacare were in any way dishonest. They honestly presented the facts about the law. In contrast, when George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost.

Gruber’s claims of a lack of transparency would be more meaningful if he actually demonstrated any areas in which the proponents of the ACA were not open about the plans. He spoke about the mandate, but this penalty for not purchasing insurance was widely discussed before passage. He also concentrated on how the ACA is a transfer of wealth, but this was both openly discussed, and a common feature of all insurance. All insurance plans transfer wealth from those who pay premiums and do not wind up needing the coverage to those who receive benefits. While conservatives are quoting Gruber because his statements seem to reinforce their biases, once you look at the details there is no evidence of dishonesty present.

On the other hand. , the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claiming that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even the corrected numbers show that far more people purchased coverage than many Republicans have claimed. Republican politicians continue to repeat the same lies even when disproven.

Prior Political Errors

Unfortunately the error in reporting the number who purchased coverage is not the first unnecessary error which wound up hurting politically. The most prominent error was in failing to properly test the computer programs behind the exchange before they went live in 2013. The problems were quickly fixed and the exchanges opened successfully this week, but the Obama administration never fully recovered from the poor first impression.

The second error was in over simplifying the issues when making statements that people can keep their own plans and/or their own doctors. Obama was being honest in the context in which he was speaking, but in over simplifying the matter in this way he was incorrect. Obama was responding to far more inaccurate right wing claim that the Affordable Care Act amounts to a government take over of health care. They spread horror stories of people being forced to lose their current health plans (and doctor) and instead being placed on some imaginary government-run Obamacare plan. I had patients call me in horror, asking if they would be lose me as a doctor because of having to change to Obamacare.

Obama was right in answering that people would not be forced into a new government plan and would not arbitrarily be forced to change doctors.

He was incorrect  in how he worded it because other factors were involved. Insurance companies elected to cancel plans, often when they could be grandfathered in. Doctors go in and out of health plans every year, regardless of Obamacare, but Obamacare does not assign people to new doctors. With or without Obamacare, some people would have to change health plans and doctors every year.

Most people had the option to get insurance, from the same company as before if they desired, with better coverage at a lower cost. It is also a bit ambiguous as to what keeping the same plan means considering that in the individual market it has been common for insurance companies to substitute similar but different plans quite frequently. Most people would feel like they had the same plan as it was from the same company with only minor differences (or with better coverage).

When Obama realized his statement was technically wrong, he not only apologized but acted to make it right by making it even easier to grandfather in old plans. Many of the old plans which were discontinued provided extremely limited coverage for the price, and people were better off replacing them with a better plan. I have often seen patients with plans purchased on the individual market in the past who were shocked to find that their plan paid nothing or only a tiny fraction of their bills. The Affordable Care Act guarantees both that health plans will provide reasonable coverage and that nobody can be dropped because of developing health problems, as frequently happened in the past.

By guaranteeing that people cannot be dropped from their health plan, by making insurance more affordable,  and by providing a greater choice of health plans, it is far less likely that people will have to change their health plan or doctor against their will as happened in the past. For the most part, Obama was right, but he worded this in a poor way as there were exceptions. Needless to say, Republicans concentrate on the rare cases where Obama was wrong, even though their health plans would ultimately lead to far more people being unable to keep their insurance or their doctor. By making these political mistakes, the Democrats have made it easier for Republicans to mislead.

Now yet another mistake has been uncovered which means little but which Republicans will be able to use to mislead the public.

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Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

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People Not Directly Affected By Obamacare Are Unhappy With It

With the exchanges opening for its second year, Gallup has found that support for the Affordable Care Act remains low at 37 percent. I have to wonder about how those answering are coming to this opinion. After all, there is tremendous evidence as to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and Gallup also found recently that about 70 percent who are actually obtaining coverage through the exchanges are satisfied. This number is comparable with the number who are happy with other forms of coverage such as Medicare and employer-paid health care.

It appears that those who are unhappy with Obamacare aren’t the ones who are most directly affected. Most likely this polling result comes from all the dishonest information being spread by the right wing, with many people who are not directly affected at present expressing dissatisfaction with a law they do not understand.

The Affordable Care Act also receives less support than it might because many of those who stand to benefit in the future don’t realize it. Besides providing affordable coverage for millions who could not obtain coverage in the past, the ACA protects those with coverage from their employer, guaranteeing that they won’t be unable to obtain coverage should they become seriously ill or lose their job. This had been a common cause of bankruptcy in the past, but many people are not going to appreciate this benefit if they are not undergoing such problems.

Another problem for the Affordable Care Act is that it makes it easier for Republicans to blame anything wrong with health care on Obama, even if the Affordable Care Act is not involved. For example, although the ACA provides additional benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, many who receive these benefits do not realize this. On the other hand, they are blaming Obama when their pharmacy plan increases their copays, even though this has nothing to do with Obamacare.

This does not mean that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It is built on top of a faulty health care system, correcting several of its problems. However the bulk of the old system, with all its problems and inefficiencies, have continued. With Obamacare so unpopular, I am surprised that there is not more effort by supporters of a single payer plan to promote this as the solution to the problems of Obamacare, as opposed to Republican proposals which would resume all the problems we had in the past.

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The Big Losers From Grubergate

Conservatives love to repeat quotes which reinforce their biases, even if the facts don’t really support them. We continue to hear conservative opponents of Obamacare quote Jonathan Gruber and search for even more videos of him saying the same thing. I’ve already pointed out how these quoted mean little here and here, but conservatives never let facts get in their way. The fact that most people who purchased plans through the exchanges are happy with their plans also will not keep opponents from finding irrelevant objections.

We can safely assume that we will continue to hear quotes from Jonathan Gruber. It is doubtful this will affect actual support for the Affordable Care Act. Those who are repeating his quotes are those who were already opposed. There are two actual losers now that his quotes have received such publicity.

The first big loser is Mitt Romney, who appears to be flirting with the idea of running yet again. Romney already had trouble with the fact that he had established his health plan in Massachusetts. Should Romney attempt to run again in the Republican primaries he will face endless clips of Gruber comparing Obamacare and Romneycare and saying “Basically, they’re the same f—ing bill.” Ironically some conservatives who falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect of Obamacare” and all his currently discovered quotes about Obamacare should be taken as gospel, are also twisting the facts to say that Gruber was wrong on this point. Some conservatives will have no problem believing that Gruber was right on things which reinforce their biases but incorrect when he spoke about Romneycare, but others will not fall for such fallacious attempts to make these distinctions.

The other big loser is Jonathan Gruber. Consulting is a great way to make money when you can get it. Gruber made $400,000 for the economic projections he made during the development of the Affordable Care Act. (That is what he worked on–not the legislative strategy to pass the law). It is hard to see Democrats hiring him again, and any others thinking of hiring him will also think twice about what he might say. His name is toxic to Republicans, who will always think of him as someone who passed off lies to sell Obamacare (even if he revealed no actual lies and everything in his quotes was openly discussed during the debate over passage).

This leaves some questions. How long until this is becomes called the Grubergate Scandal?

When does Gruber become a verb? There are actually more than one possible meanings. To Gruber might mean someone with expertise in one area (in this case economics) making bold but incorrect public statements in an area outside of his area of expertise (in this case passing legislation). To Gurber might come mean to betray those who hired you by making incorrect statements, or even to accuse others of being dishonest when you are the one who is saying things which are misleading.

Update: Obama states he did not mislead on health care

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Obamacare A Huge Success Despite Easily Debunked Conservative Claims

The exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act open tomorrow. While there were initially problems when the exchanges opened last year, these were quickly fixed, allowing millions to obtain health care coverage, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting conditions or cost. A Gallup poll found that most people who obtained coverage through the exchanges last year were satisfied:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as “excellent” or “good.” These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

These findings are consistent with previous polls showing how people benefited from Obamacare.

Insurance coverage has been made more affordable by the exchanges, with eighty-three percent of enrollees qualifying for subsidies last year. Those who qualified payed an average of $82 per month in premiums. Those obtaining Silver plans paid an average of $69 per month.

Three was some sticker shock on the part of many who did not realize that they qualify for subsidies along with those of us who do not qualify for subsidies. While we pay the full premiums, the coverage is far better than was available on the individual market in the past, including guarantees that we cannot lose our coverage if we get sick and caps on maximum annual out of pocket expenses. Some people, especially those who were not familiar with the individual insurance market were expecting lower premiums. Despite conservative claims that Obamacare is a right wing take over of health care, the insurance is sold through private companies and their rates have always been high, and frequently increased by double digit amounts annually.

Conservatives also complain about the deductibles, especially on the plans with lower premiums. These plans have higher deductibles and a lower premium, with Medical Savings Accounts available to help with these out of pocket expenses. Plans on the individual market have typically had higher deductibles than employer plans. The attacks from conservatives regarding this are also rather hypocritical as conservatives have long been advocating high deductible plans paired with MSA’s as a way to reduce costs. Now that they have what they advocated, they are suddenly complaining. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised as many other components of Obamacare have long been advocated by conservatives, including the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

While there may be higher deductibles, there are also total caps on out of pocket costs which we did not have before. The Affordable Care Act has eliminated the old maximums on coverage. Republicans never mention this, but these factors could result in lower out of pocket costs for many, along with eliminating the risk of bankruptcy for those with expensive diseases who outspend their coverage. All plans cover preventative services with no deductible. Some plans now being sold will provide some other forms of coverage before the deductible is met, including office calls and prescriptions.

While premiums in 2014 were consistent with previous premiums, instead of seeing double digit increases in 2015 most people are seeing comparable rates due to the increased number of insurance companies offering coverage and the larger risk pool as more people have coverage. Many people will even see lower insurance rates:

In preliminary but encouraging news for consumers and taxpayers, insurance filings show that average premiums will decline slightly next year in 16 major cities for a benchmark Obamacare plan.

Prices for a benchmark “silver” or mid-priced plan sold through the health law’s online marketplaces aren’t all moving in the same direction, however, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In Nashville, the premium will rise 8.7 percent, the largest increase in the study, while in Denver it will fall 15.6 percent, the largest decrease.

But overall the results, based on available filings, don’t show the double-digit percentage increases that some have anticipated for the second year of marketplace operation. On average, rates will drop 0.8 percent in the areas studied.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have spread a wide variety of lies about the plan. Although these lies have repeatedly been debunked, Republicans continue to repeat them.

The latest attack from dishonest opponents of the plan has been to repeat irrelevant quotes from Jonathan Gruber, an economist who worked on Mitt Romney’s plan and also made economic projections on the impact of the Affordable Care Act. He is not a part of the Obama administration, and is not the “architect” of the plan as conservatives claim. Nor did he have a role in the writing or the promotion of the legislation. His comments that the American people were stupid do not reflect the views of anyone other than himself. His claims of a lack of transparency are incorrect, with the law having been written in open hearings and with the various versions having been posted on line.  The two items he brought up, the penalties for not obtaining coverage, and the transfer of wealth from the healthy to the sick, were both openly discussed prior to the passage of the law. Besides, all insurance has always represented a transfer of wealth from those who purchase insurance and do not require the benefits to those who do require insurance benefits. Apparently many conservatives fail to understand how insurance works.

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Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.

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A Bad Week Gets Worse: Sixth Circuit Court Upholds Bans On Gay Marriage

As if the news wasn’t bad enough on Tuesday, there was even more bad news this week. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned rulings against bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. More on the decision at SCOTUSblog.

This decision runs counter to decisions in  4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuit courts which struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. This led to neighboring states also eliminating their bans. Having these contradictory decisions means that the Supreme Court, which previously tried to avoid getting involved, will probably be forced to decide the issue.

The news might not be all bad. Doug Mataconis looked at previous decisions of the Supreme Court justices and believes that the court will rule in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. While there is no guarantee of this happening, if it does turn out this way we might actually have legalization of same-sex marriage nation wide during the current court session, speeding up what appears to be an inevitable trend.

If the Democrats had any guts they would speak out on this issue, questioning how the Republicans who claim to be the party of limited government can justify using the power of government to tell people who they may or may not marry. Of course as we were reminded by how they campaigned in the midterm elections, the Democrats do not have such guts. As the saying goes, we have one party with brains but no balls, and one party with no brains but which does have balls.

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Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

Ronald Reagan couldn’t save the Senate for the Republicans in his 6th year. While the closeness of the polls left hope until the end, realistically the Democrats were not in a situation to defy history. There were two tends which the Democrats could not overcome. When people are unhappy, they look at the president regardless of who is actually to blame. Running a campaign based upon negativity was a winning formula for Republicans. Democrats were further hampered by the older and whiter electorate in midterm elections as once again large portions of the Democratic base stayed home for a midterm.

Republicans won by avoiding discussion of what they would do in power, beating something (Obama) with nothing. Americans who vote for Republicans to retake control of the Senate out of concern about current problems are as delusional as Russians who want the return of Stalinsim. It makes no sense to trust the party which created the economic downturn with fixing it, and Americans certainly do not want the Republican social or militarist agenda. The party which opposes most government action (other than imposing the agenda of the religious right, foolish military action, or rigging the system to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy) is hardly likely to propose real solutions to problems.  Polling on issues generally shows a majority favoring Democratic views but that does not help in elections where Republicans concentrate on distorting the views of their opponents and  hiding their own views.

That said, I am disappointed (as usual) in the Democrats as a political party. Yes, all the fundamentals were against them. So they took the cowardly way out, running away from not only Obama but from principles. If they ran a campaign based upon their accomplishments and the problems with GOP principles they very well still might have lost in this atmosphere, but at least their campaign would have meant something. Plus, considering how close the polls were, just maybe they could have won some more seats.

Of course that isn’t something that can be done in the last few months of a campaign. It requires a change in attitude and behavior of the party every year, acting as if it was a perpetual battle of ideas–as Republicans do even though they run on bad ideas. When Democrats run from their own record and fail to speak out on the issues, they leave themselves wide open to being defined by their opponents.

The Republicans were successful in hiding their most extreme views. They did receive some help from a friendly media in this regard as many of the most extreme statements from Republicans such as  Joni Ernst received too little attention. When Mitch McConnell tried to make his desire to repeal Obamacare more popular by claiming the people of Kentucky would still have their popular exchange, the media concentrated far more on the less important refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say whether she voted for Obama. When liberals spoke out on this, the media did begin to pay more attention to McConnell’s gaffe, showing there is benefit to serious discussion of the issues by liberals. If only Democratic candidates had the courage to do this too.

External events helped the Republicans. Widespread opposition to Congressional Republicans over the threat of a government shutdown of October 2013 was forgotten after the initial failed roll out of the exchanges, even if this was quickly fixed. Republicans gained further by promoting exaggerated fears of ISIS and Ebola.

The Republicans avoided saying what they would do while running, but now will be under closer scrutiny. Republicans decided upon a strategy of opposing everything Obama does, including if he promoted policies previously favored by Republicans, from before he took office. Now that they control Congress, this might no longer be their best strategy. Many Republicans will mistakenly see this election result as a mandate and try to move even further to the right. Some must be intelligent enough to realize that Republican victories with the midterm electorate will not translate into victories with the younger and minority voters who turn out in greater numbers for general elections. While it is hard to see the two parties work together on many of the big issues such as climate change, there might be some pragmatic legislation which both McConnell and Obama could agree on, considering Obama’s long-standing willingness to compromise with Republicans.

McConnell is attempting to portray a more moderate image, but even if this is his personal desire he still has to deal with the far right wing of his own party. He might even find that he cannot pass legislation without Democratic cross over support. It remains to be seen whether McConnell will pass legislation which doesn’t beg for a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto, especially if Tea Party Republicans push through amendments to legislation to attempt to repeal Obamacare or restrict access to contraception. The Tea Party wing is least likely to realize that this election does not signify agreement by American voters with their goals. An example of this was seen with the failure of Personhood measures even in red states. Republicans won midterm elections but their policies remain opposed by a majority of Americans.

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Final Pre-Election Polls And Predictions

Following up on yesterdays almost final look at the state of the race to control the Senate, the news today is slightly better for Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll shows Democratic candidate Mark Udall down by two points in Colorado, which is a tremendous improvement from his previous seven point deficit. I figure that if the Democrats are going to pick up some states where they have been trailing, their best shot comes from the more purple states as opposed to the south, where most of the tight races are.

With control of the Senate dependent upon southern states this year, Patrick Egan points out that this is the “most unrepresentative Senate election since World War II.” As a consequence, the results tonight will not reflect the views of the entire nation. Of course should Republicans have a good night they will see this as a mandate for their extremist policies and move further to the right, and if they unexpectedly have a bad night they will see this as meaning they are not conservative enough, and move further to the right.

On election day, Charlie Cook predicts the Republicans will win seven seats (which would give them control of the Senate). This is the safe prediction, consistent with the final polls, but certainly not the only outcome if Democratic voters get out to vote in higher numbers than predicted. There’s a good chance there will be surprises, and at very least some of the states where polls are withing a few points might not be won by the last leader in the polls.   Nate Silver gives the Republicans a 76 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. Larry Sabato predicts that the Republicans will pick up eight seats.

While the Senate has received the bulk of the coverage, Democratic loses there might be balanced by victories in some state government races.

Update: Reflections on the election results. Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

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Republican Edge Grows Slightly In Latest Polls

Updating Saturday’s post on the prospects for the Democrats to hold onto control of the Senate, Public Policy Polling has new polls out which give the Republicans small leads in Colorado and Alaska. Looking back at the map at electoral-vote.com, based upon polling results, the Democrats now need to take two states where Republicans lead (provided that Greg Orman wins and caucuses with the Democrats) in order to maintain control.

Being behind in Colorado, Alaska, and Iowa reduces the chances for the Democrats to maintain control, leaving the states which will determine control of the Senate in the south. Alaska has flipped each way in the polls, with polling in the state not considered to be terribly reliable. Should it come down to Alaska we could have a long wait on election night. It could take even longer to know who controls the Senate if it comes down to run off elections in Louisiana or Georgia. A two way race in these states would favor the Republicans as the supporters of candidates who don’t make the run off elections are more likely to back the Republican candidate.

As it stands now, Democrats will have to win in all the states where they have a narrow lead, and pull off additional victories in states where they are slightly behind. While this certainly gives the Republicans the advantage, with media models predicting a Republican victory, control of the Senate remains in play as a small shift of only 2-3 percent favoring the Democrats could shift several states. As I discussed on Saturday, state polling in midterm elections is often off by this amount. The Democratic ground game could give them the additional votes needed, but it is also possible that the Republicans can have a mini-wave and exceed their current position by a few points.

Joe Biden does predict that the Democrats will hold the Senate.

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