Policy & Political Roadmap to Lame Duck Session & Beyond

Please join our senior lobbying and public policy professionals for a breakdown of the presidential and congressional elections, the state of the lame duck session and the outlook for the 113th Congress. They will also review the impact of the election on the future of health care reform. To RSVP for the webinar, click here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 12 – 1:30 p.m. Eastern

Moderator:

Ilisa Halpern Paul Managing Government Relations Director

Panel:

Anna Schwamlein Howard Medicare Reimbursement and Health Policy Director

Jeremy Scott Government Relations Director

We hope you will join us!

Election Primer: The Senate

This is the final of three Election Primers to help you get ready for Election Day.  To read our earlier post on the Presidential race, click here.  For the House of Representatives, click here.

The Senate – The Basics

There are 100 Senators, two from each of the 50 states.  Senators serve six-year terms, so only one third of the Senate seats are up in any given election year (barring a special election to fill a vacancy).

Because of a complicated procedural tactic known as the filibuster, most bills require 60 votes to receive cloture and be considered and passed in the Senate.  The filibuster and cloture will I’m sure be future topics for dewonkification, but for now it is simply important to realize that most legislation must reach the 60 vote threshold in order to receive an up-or-down vote.

The Vice President serves as the official President of the Senate, which in practice means that he acts as a tiebreaking vote in the event of a 50-50 split on matters requiring a simple majority (such as determining a Majority Leader).  So in the event of an evenly split chamber, the Vice President’s party ends up with a de facto majority.

The Senate currently has 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and two independents.  Both of those Independents (Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont) caucus with the Democrats, giving the party a functional majority of 53 seats.

2012 Election Outlook

Thirty-three Senate seats are up for grabs this year.  Of those, 23 are seats currently held by Democrats, and only ten are held by Republicans.  This makes the prospect of a net Republican gain likely.

How significant of a gain, however, is very much up in the air.  Currently, based on sitting Senators and poll projections, the Cook Political Report projects that 46 seats are likely to be Democratic, and 44 are likely to be Republican.  That leaves fully ten “toss-up” states where either party could win.  These include Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How these ten seats fall on Election Night will determine the balance of the Senate for the next two years.  Republicans would need to win seven of these ten seats to take the Senate if they do not also take the White House.  If Governor Mitt Romney were to win the presidency, they would need only six, with then-Vice President Paul Ryan casting the tiebreaking vote in the GOP’s favor.

But unless there is an unexpected landslide by either party, neither will achieve the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, meaning the agenda of whoever takes the majority will face the same roadblocks and stalls that have created gridlock in the chamber in recent years.

If you want to track the latest on the battle for the Senate, you can check out the Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics, FiveThirtyEight, Politico, or Public Policy Polling, among many others.

And now, we wait for the voters to decide.  We will be back next week with a breakdown of results as they are known.  Have a great day, and go vote on tomorrow!

Election Primer: House of Representatives

This is part two of three Election Primers to help you get ready for Election Day.  To read our earlier post on the Presidential race, click here.

The House – The Basics

There are 435 Congressmen and women in the House of Representatives.  Members only serve two year terms, so every House seat is up for grabs in each election cycle.

Congressional districts are determined by population.  Each district represents an average of about 700,000 people, but the exact numbers can vary widely.  The largest Congressional district encompasses the entire state of Montana, with almost one million residents.  Rhode Island’s two districts are the smallest, with fewer than 600,000 residents each.  California has the most Congressional districts (53), while seven states (Alaska, Delaware Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont) have only one “at-large” Representative.

Each state is assigned a set number of districts every ten years following the U.S. Census, but states are generally allowed to set their own boundaries for those districts.  The 2012 election will be the first to feature new districts put in place following the 2010 Census.

The House operates under simple majority rule, so a party needs to have 218 seats in order to ensure control of the Chamber.  Currently, Republicans hold 240 seats, Democrats control 190, and five are temporarily vacant.

2012 Election Outlook

This year’s election will likely see more turnover than most, due in large part to the new district boundaries in each state.  Several sitting members were put into districts against other current members, and a number have already lost party primaries in their quest for reelection.  On November 6th, there will be five Congressional general elections pitting current incumbents against one another:

  • Ohio-16th: Rep. Jim Renacci (R) vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D)
  • Iowa-3rd: Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) vs. Rep. Tom Latham (R)
  • California-44th: Rep. Janice Hahn (D) vs. Rep. Laura Richardson (D)
  • California-30th: Rep. Brad Sherman (D) vs. Rep. Howard Berman (D)
  • Louisiana-3rd: Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R) vs. Rep. Jeff Landry (R)

In addition to members being ousted by redistricting, 40 members (21 Democrats and 19 Republicans) are either retiring or seeking higher office.

But despite this heavy turnover, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will gain the nearly 30 seats they would need to return to the House majority.  The general consensus as of today (and these things can change quickly) is that Democrats will see a net gain of somewhere between four and ten seats.  For information on how the House races are trending, check out the Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics, and the New York Times House Ratings.

What It Means for 2013

Barring an unexpected Democratic surge, Republicans will maintain a voting majority on all legislation, as well as control of the Speaker’s gavel and chairmanship of the committees.  If President Obama is reelected, you can expect a continuation of the status quo with House members attempting to slow or stall most of the President’s agenda.  If Governor Romney is elected, there will be a major push to implement portions of the Republican platform, including repeal and possible replacement of the Affordable Care Act, as well as significant reductions in government spending.  Whether that agenda is ultimately successful would then depend on what happens in the Senate, which we will discuss in the coming days in our final election primer.  Stay tuned.

Election Primer: Race for the White House

As you know by now, we are deep in the heart of election season.  Many of you have likely been inundated with ads, flyers, e-mails and phone calls from eager campaign staff looking for your vote (and a contribution too, if you don’t mind!).  But through the haze of ads and news coverage of poll results, it’s not always clear just what exactly is at stake.  So over the coming days, we’ll be providing brief primers on what to look for this November and how you can track the action through Election Day.

Continue reading

News & Notes – Democratic Convention (Day 3)

– President Obama accepted his party’s nomination last night, laying out his case for a second term in a 40 minute speech to close the Democratic Convention.  Unlike many of the other convention speakers, Obama did not take up the mantle of the Affordable Care Act in his address.  But he did take on Republicans on Medicare, promising that he will “never turn Medicare into a voucher.”

The Washington Post and the New York Times fact check President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s speeches last night.

The Post also details how both conventions featured deeply personal health care stories to illustrate each party’s stance on the issues, but notes that “some critics objected to the more graphic testimonials.”

– The President’s speech set the new Twitter record for a political event, with about 52,726 tweets per minute.

Politico takes a look at the Democrats’ attempts to play political jiu jitsu with “Obamacare.”  MedPage Today also discusses Democrats’ attempts to “spread the gospel” of the ACA.

News & Notes – Democratic Convention (Day 2)

– President Bill Clinton addressed the assembled delegates for nearly an hour last night, offering an impassioned defense of President Obama and his policies, asking rhetorically “Are we better off because President Obama fought for health care reform? You bet we are.”

President Clinton also took aim at Republicans for their Medicare plans, reiterating that the changes called for in the Republican platform would “end Medicare as we know it” and saying that if Governor Romney “does what he promised to do, Medicare will now go broke in 2016.”  Clinton also took aim at Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s claims that Obama has “robbed” $716 from Medicare, pointing out that there have been “no cuts to benefits at all, none.”

– The Washington Post fact checks the former President on his Medicare claims.

– Democrats continue to rally around the Affordable Care Act, write Russell Berman and Alexander Bolton in The Hill.

– The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza previews President Obama’s speech this evening.

The Democratic Platform – What it Means for Healthcare

As the Democrats prepare to open their National Convention this evening, the party has released its official 2012 party platform.  As with the Republican platform issued last week, it does not contain many surprises, but it is important to note the priorities each party has set heading into the election season.  Here’s a quick look at the major healthcare issues discussed.

Defense of the Affordable Care Act:  The platform notes that “over the determined opposition of Republicans,” Democrats “enacted landmark reforms that are already helping millions of Americans.”  Specifically highlighted are the ACA’s provisions allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance, requiring insurers to cover children with pre-existing conditions, prohibitions on caps for coverage, and cost-free preventative services.  The document warns that “Mitt Romney and the Republican Party would repeal health reform,” but promises that “we will continue to stand up to Republicans working to take away the benefits and protections that are already helping millions of Americans every day.”

Medicaid and Medicare:  Democrats promise to strengthen and expand Medicaid access for low-income and disabled Americans while explicitly opposing “efforts to block grant the program, slash its funding, and leave millions more without health insurance.

Similarly, the Democrats call Medicare a “sacred compact with our seniors” and vow to “adamantly oppose any efforts to privatize or voucherize Medicare.”

The platform does not lay out potential changes to either program other than touting those included in the ACA to “strengthen” each program.

Other Items of Note:  The platform also calls for investments in several sectors, including mental health services, HIV/AIDS funding, and programs to combat childhood obesity.  Democrats will also seek to provide additional sick leave for employees under the proposed Healthy Families Act and an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Evaluating Political Candidates

With Election Day less than 100 days away, primary season is winding down and the candidates for the general elections (Presidential, Congressional, state, and local) in November have become more apparent. As the choices for November’s election are clearer, how does one go about evaluating the candidates? Voting is an important civic responsibility and making an informed choice when voting is essential. Below are some tips and resources to help you research candidates’ positions on issues that are of importance to you.

  • First, decide what issues and qualities are most important to you. You may deem health care, the economy, foreign policy, or something else most important, but it is essential to evaluate your priorities and stances before attempting to evaluate the candidates’ positions. Also, think about what personal qualities you think are important – past experience, previous leadership or political positions, personality, etc.
  • Visit the candidates’ websites – either their official website if they already hold office or their campaign website – to find out their positions. Candidates generally have an “issues” section where they address major policy topics.
    • To research the Presidential candidates, visit the campaign websites of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
    • If you do not already know who represents you in Congress, visit the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate websites and search by your zip code or state to find the Members of Congress representing your state and district. These official websites can give you an idea of issues important to each Member and past actions they have taken. Those running for reelection will also have a separate campaign website, which can be found by searching for the Member on the internet. The title of these websites is usually something such as “Eric Cantor for Congress” or “Tammy Baldwin for Senate” while the official website will generally have a title along the lines of “Rep. Eric Cantor,” “Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin,” or “Max Baucus: U.S. Senator from Montana.”
    • Likewise, to find your state representatives, your state’s official government page should have a search function to find out who represents you more locally.
    • To find out who is challenging these incumbents, either search the internet or visit a site such as the League of Women Voter’s “Vote411” site. Vote411 allows you to enter your address and find your local, state, federal district numbers, which can then be used to search for candidates running in those races.

In addition to checking out issues, official and campaign websites also usually have a biographical section, which can provide information on the candidates’ previous experience, family, and civic involvement. These personal factors may also weigh on your decision.

  • Look up candidates’ records, or any statements they have made or how they have previously voted, on your selected issues. This may be harder to find (or may not be possible) if a candidate has never held elected office before. For current U.S. House and Senate members, visit Thomas, the Library of Congress’ website, to look up cosponsorship of bills. Additionally, the “issues” section on both official and campaign websites can provide information on previous support or opposition and actions the candidate has taken on an issue. Campaign literature can also provide insight.
  • Look to see who has endorsed the candidates. Websites like Open Secrets also will provide clues as to where candidates’ campaign funding is coming from – possibly from people or organizations you trust (or disagree with).
  • Carefully consider what others – opposing candidates, the news, even your friends and relatives – say about the candidate. Monitor the news and listen to what others are saying but be on the lookout for any bias or “spin.” Be wary of any TV ad tactics appealing to emotions – look for any buried messages about issues beneath the “attacks.”
  • Finally, evaluate and match your findings with the issues and qualities you outlined as important to you. In some cases, a clear choice that matches your criteria may be evident early on in your research, other times a distinction between candidates or one candidate who obviously identifies with your views may not be as clear.

Researching candidates does not need to be an extremely time consuming activity – using the resources and tips above, look into candidates in as much or as little detail as you feel is necessary. The important thing is to make a knowledgeable choice aligned with your values going into the voting booth on November 6th!

Congressional Retirements: What happens when you lose your Congressional Champion?

As reported in the Washington Post, 25 members of the House of Representatives and 10 Senators will be retiring at the end of the 112th Congress. The Post reports that more incumbents are retiring from Congress than at any other point in the past 16 years.

While a high number of Congressional retirements are not uncommon in a presidential election year, retirements require advocacy organizations to reevaluate their legislative strategy when one of these retirements includes a legislative champion. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It is important to remember that just because your champion is leaving Congress, he or she does not stop caring about the issue. The Member of Congress can still provide guidance and sometimes lead the effort to identify and develop a new Congressional champion. It takes a great deal of time to cultivate a Congressional champion, but with each election, there are new Members of Congress with the potential to be a leader for your issue.