Wonkbook: Romney on the cusp of 3 big wins

at 07:58 AM ET, 03/06/2012

Mitt Romney is on the cusp of winning, or at least establishing a clear lead, in three sets of primaries tonight.


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town hall meeting at Taylor Winfield in Youngstown, Ohio, March 5. (Gerald Herbert - AP)
First, and most important, are the primaries where people come out and vote. According to Nate Silver, Romney is on track to win Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts, Idaho, North Dakota, Alaska and Vermont. He looks like a possible in Tennessee. That would mean he wins eight out of 10 Super Tuesday states.

Then, there's the endorsements primary. In recent days, the Republican establishment has been closing ranks around Romney. On Thursday, Paul Ryan gave Romney a boost, saying, "If he does really well on Super Tuesday, to me it looks like he is well on his way to the nomination." Then Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn both endorsed Romney. Party leaders have come to the conclusion that this primary is hurting them -- here are some graphs on that -- and they don't seem interested in letting it go on in a serious way for much longer. If Romney wins tonight, expect a lot of endorsements, and a lot of establishment pressure on Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, in the coming days.

Finally, there's the media primary. Like most candidates -- though arguably not Ron Paul -- Santorum and Gingrich survive on media coverage. But think hard about the last month. How much have you really heard from Gingrich? Particularly in comparison to the month before that?

That's because Gingrich's comments aren't considered as newsworthy as they were two months ago. His performance in primaries and polls has convinced many editors that more Gingrich coverage isn't the best use of their time and resources. If Santorum doesn't outperform expectations tonight, he's likely to see his coverage wane, too.

And if the primary begins to seem over, coverage of Romney will change, as there will be less interest in what he's saying to win the primary and more interest in what he's saying to win the general. That's the sort of coverage he wants. In fact, given that Pew found the Republican primary is improving Democrats' opinion of President Obama but doing nothing for the GOP's standing either among Republicans or independents, it's the sort of coverage he needs.

One more point: If Romney effectively wraps this up tonight, he will, for all the drama, have wrapped it up fairly quickly. "Romney's nomination is quite comparable to the nominations of Kerry in 2004, Dole in 1996, and Dukakis in 1988, and a lot more certain a lot earlier than that of McCain last time around," writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein. If Romney wins tonight, his nomination will also be a lot more certain a lot earlier than Obama's nomination in 2008. And, as Michael Gerson argues, anyone who has watched this primary and written Romney off for the general is severely underestimating the former governor of Massachusetts.

Top stories

1) Feeling super? Mitt Romney is: "Polls over the past couple of days show Romney opening a double-digit lead nationally. Surveys also show that he has the momentum in Ohio, although the race here remains essentially tied. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows Romney leading Santorum by 34 percent to 31 percent -- within the margin of error. The same survey a week ago had Santorum leading Romney by 36 percent to 29 percent. A second poll released Monday, by Suffolk University, also showed the Ohio race within the margin of error, but with Santorum at 37 percent and Romney at 33 percent." Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez in The Washington Post.

Nate Silver predicts: "There has been enough movement in the polls in the past 24 hours to warrant revisiting our delegate projections from Sunday. I now have Rick Santorum trailing Mitt Romney by about 150 delegates, and also falling behind Newt Gingrich, who has some favorable momentum in the delegate-rich Southern states."

Confused about who to vote for today? Here's a helpful flowchart: http://wapo.st/z6Uibi

Mitt Romney isn't the only Romney who says odd things: 'I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,' Mrs. Romney said."

@fivethirtyeight: Even if he does well tomorrow, IMO Gingrich would have to almost run the table in March -- AL, MS, MO caucus, IL, LA -- to make it a race.

@dmataconis: If Romney wins OH & TN and walks away from tomorrow with 200+ delegates is there a credible argument for either Newt or Rick to continue?

2) The student debt picture is ugly. "A report released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York renews concerns about the growing debt load of college students and graduates. The report suggests that as many as 27 percent of the 37 million borrowers have past-due balances of 30 days or more. 'In sum, student loan debt is not just a concern for the young,' the report said. 'Parents and the federal government shoulder a substantial part of the postsecondary education bill.' The report, which was created by an analysis of Equifax credit reports, said the total balance of student loans was $870 billion. Of the 241 million with Equifax credit reports (there are 311 million people in the United States), 15 percent had student debt...Noting that that existing figures on student loans are spotty and largely anecdotal, the Fed said its analysis was an attempt to provide more accurate accounting of delinquency data." Andrew Martin and Ron Lieber in The New York Times.

3) Medicaid waivers are playing a key role in health reform. "Medicaid waivers aren’t new. Nor were they created by President Barack Obama’s health law. But the waivers, which allow states some flexibility in how they deliver health care to the poor, can help the states prepare for the roughly 16 million people who will be newly eligible for Medicaid in 2014 under ACA. And the health care law did give states the opportunity to expand their Medicaid rolls early. The administration has granted waivers to states that have embraced the law, like California, and those that detest it, like Texas. Both of those states are getting billions, with the caveat that they undertake quality reforms, which happen to coincide with the goals of the ACA. 'The Obama administration waivers are some of the most sweeping waivers approved, both in terms of the goals set and resources provided,' said health care consultant Peter Harbage, who worked with California and Massachusetts on their waivers, known as 1115 demonstrations." Kate Nocera in Politico.

How a Medicaid waiver could lead to Oregon passing the nation's first public option: http://wapo.st/y1gpt5

4) In the first year of the recovery, 93 percent of all income gains went to the top 1 percent. "In recent months, some commentators wondered whether the national conversation over inequality was coming too late. Early data suggested that the top 1 percent’s share of national income had dropped from 23.5 percent to 18.1 percent in the early years of the recession. 'We don’t want to spend years focused on income inequality, only to learn that the financial crisis fixed it for us,' wrote the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle. The latest update to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty’s income data suggests we need not worry. Timothy Noah summarizes: 'In the first year of the recovery, 93 percent of all income gains went to the top 1 percent.' In other words, the very rich had a bad 2009, but an incredible 2010. Their share of national income bounced back to 19.77 percent. So inequality is marching upward once again." Ezra Klein in the Washington Post.

@DKThomp: The income of the 1% grew 58-times faster than the rest of the country in the first year of the recovery http://bit.ly/zTXHkh

5) The story of the IMF and the Greek bailout. "Greek politicians had avoided some of the most wrenching steps designed to liberalize the economy and make it more more competitive. The IMF was demanding immediate action, such as removing protections for traditionally coddled professions and occupations, among them lawyers, doctors and taxi drivers...Even as European leaders and global investors cheered the new bailout, the IMF offered a reality check. In an analysis prepared on the eve of the European summit that approved the rescue effort, the agency warned that Greece might need 'prolonged' financial help well beyond the three years envisioned in the new bailout and that Greece’s worsening recession could put the entire effort in jeopardy. After two years of grinding work in Greece, the IMF grimly concluded: 'Given the risks, the Greek program may thus remain accident-prone.'" Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

@AnnieLowrey: Unemployment rate among members of Congress who lost or gave up their seat in 2010? 34.2%. http://wapo.st/zh1iMw No word on underemployment.

Top op-eds

1) Mitt Romney may well be our next president. "Both Romney and Obama have serious flaws. Both are also serious, qualified candidates — perfectly capable of gaining 270 electoral votes. They will appeal to an electorate in which both Republicans and Democrats can assume about 46 percent of the vote while fighting over the remaining 8 percent. It is possible this swing vote, near the end, will decisively break one way or the other. But there is currently no way of knowing what factors — a memorable debate, a conflict with Iran, $6-per-gallon gasoline — might swing that momentum. We do know a few things. Obama won in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote during a perfect Democratic storm — an inspiring, blank-slate candidate, against a relatively weak Republican opponent, in a discontented, war-weary nation. Conditions for Obama in 2012 are likely to be less favorable." Michael Gerson in The Washington Post.

2) Eeyore and Tigger explain the Fed. "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is trying out a new communication strategy that has the potential to dramatically change the outlook for the economy. The idea: By telling people more about its longer-term plans, the Fed can stimulate the economy even when interest rates are as low as they can go. Unfortunately, Bernanke’s timid approach could doom the strategy to failure...Businesses are always suspicious that Bernanke may try to sound like Tigger, but revert to being Eeyore when the recovery starts. To succeed at the game of forward guidance, Bernanke needs to convince us he’s committed to low rates in the short term even if the economy improves. It’s about fully embracing a loveable tiger, or risk being mistaken for a miserable donkey. It’s time, Chairman Bernanke, to bounce on your tail." Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in Bloomberg.

3) There's really no excusing America's health-care costs. "On Sunday, I reported on new data from the International Federation of Health Plans showing that health-care prices are far higher in the United States than anywhere else. An MRI, for instance, costs $1,080 here, but only $280 in France...It’s not complaining to point out that Americans pay more per unit of health care than residents of any other country. It’s just a fact. And here are a few more: As of May 2010, the average general practitioner made an annual salary of $173,000. The average surgeon made $225,000. In January, the New York Times reported that 'doctors are more likely than any other profession to be in the 1 percent -- one in five is.' Doctors in the United States also make far, far more than doctors in any other country. Our nurses make more than nurses in other countries, too. That’s not a value judgment. It’s just another part of the story of American health-care costs, and we have to be honest about it." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

4) Value-added evaluation is hurting teaching. "Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Although successful systems exist, most districts are not using approaches that help teachers improve or remove those who cannot improve in a timely way. Clearly, we need a change. As student learning is the primary goal of teaching, it seems like common sense to evaluate teachers based on how much their students gain on state standardized tests. Indeed, many states have adopted this idea in response to federal incentives tied to much-needed funding...I was once bullish on the idea of using 'value-added methods' for assessing teacher effectiveness. I have since realized that these measures, while valuable for large-scale studies, are seriously flawed for evaluating individual teachers, and that rigorous, ongoing assessment by teaching experts serves everyone better." Linda Darling-Hammond in Education Week.

5) There's no need to fear nuclear power. "One year after Japan's Fukushima accident, much of the world is running away from nuclear energy on the grounds that its risks are too great for a modern society to bear. Germany has reinstituted plans to close down all its reactors by 2022, even if it means importing huge quantities of natural gas from Russia and nuclear-generated electricity from France and the Czech Republic...In the United States, the reaction so far has been less severe. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has increased its vigilance and is under tremendous pressure to close down aging reactors such as Vermont Yankee in southeastern Vermont and Indian Point north of New York City. But the NRC did issue its first new license in 30 years for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle plant in eastern Georgia. Construction is expected to begin soon. Still, it's a far cry from the 30 to 100 new reactors that were being touted a year ago as part of America's 'nuclear renaissance.'" William Tucker in The Wall Street Journal.

Acoustic interlude: Sufjan Stevens plays "Casimir Pulaski Day" on KCRW.

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Still to come: Small businesses could soon see help getting capital; electronic health records may not actually cut costs; 'trigger' laws are being put into practice; the 'clean fleets' program is expanding; and two goats in sweaters hang out together.

Economy

Today in good economic news. "The U.S. services industry grew at its fastest pace in a year in February, bolstering hopes that the economic recovery has moved onto solid ground. The Institute for Supply Management's index of non-manufacturing activity rose to 57.3 last month, up from 56.8 in January--its best showing since February 2011. The report, released Monday, surprised many economists who had expected the index to decline slightly to 56. Readings over 50 indicate expansion. While signs are growing that the economy is finally picking up steam, the service sector, which accounts for more than 80% of U.S. jobs, has lagged behind the recovery in manufacturing. Economists said Monday's report suggested the recovery is broadening into more service sectors...However, risks still threaten the recovery. The economy saw similar improvements early last year, only to lose momentum as surging oil prices and Europe's sovereign-debt crisis spooked consumers and businesses around the globe." Neil Shah in The Wall Street Journal.

@DukeStJournal: Factory Orders and ISM Non-Manf were just positive enough to make Goldman Sachs revise its GDP tracking est. to 2.0%.


Europe's fiscal pact may have hit a roadblock. "Germany's main opposition party on Monday said it would support the European fiscal pact only if measures were added to boost regional employment and growth and to impose a European financial-transaction tax, raising a potential obstacle to its passage. 'We need an initiative for more growth and we should get the money from financial markets,' Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democrats, told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday. European leaders signed the fiscal pact at a summit in Brussels on March 2. The 25 countries that signed the pact agreed to restrict new borrowing by implementing German-style debt brakes, setting a cap on budget deficits, and submitting their budgets to greater oversight through the European Commission. The pact introduces increased supervision and coordination of budgets that entails transferring a degree of national sovereignty to Europe." William Boston in The Wall Street Journal.

@ObsoleteDogma: Has anybody benefited from the euro besides Germany?

Businesses want less stringent pension contribution requirements. "Business groups are urging Congress to let employers put less money into their pension funds, saying that exceptionally low interest rates are forcing them to set aside too much cash. A provision attached to the Senate highway bill would change the formula many large companies, including General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., must use to calculate how much to add to their pension funds, potentially shrinking their combined contributions by billions of dollars a year. Though its chances of becoming law aren't clear, the measure holds appeal in Congress because it would increase the government's near-term revenues, offsetting some of the costs of the highway bill. Setting aside less for pensions would leave companies with smaller tax deductions, requiring them to pay about $7.1 billion more in taxes over 10 years than under current law, according to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation." Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

BIPARTISANSHIP WATCH: The House is set to pass measures to ease the path to capital for small businesses. The Senate and White House are expected to sign on. "The US House of Representatives is poised to pass a package of measures designed to make it easier for small companies to access capital and go public, mainly through looser regulations by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law, due to be approved this week by the lower chamber, represents a rare outbreak of bipartisanship in Washington, since many congressional Democrats are expected to support it or something similar. The White House too has signalled its backing for big chunks of the bill, saying there was 'great overlap' with its own positions on encouraging the growth of start-ups in the US. While the impact on the US economy of the measures is likely to be minor, it would make some changes to SEC filing rules for a broad range of small businesses that are seeking equity funding in the capital markets." James Politi and Robin Harding in The Financial Times.

Legos are excellent interlude: A Lego space shuttle is launched into the sky.

Health Care

Electronic health records may not save money. In fact, they may do the opposite. "Computerized patient records are unlikely to cut health care costs and may actually encourage doctors to order expensive tests more often, a study published on Monday concludes. Industry experts have said that electronic health records could generate huge savings -- as much as $80 billion a year, according to a RAND Corporation estimate. The promise of cost savings has been a major justification for billions of dollars in federal spending to encourage doctors to embrace digital health records. But research published Monday in the journal Health Affairs found that doctors using computers to track tests, like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, ordered far more tests than doctors relying on paper records...The use of costly image-taking tests has increased sharply in recent years. Many experts contend that electronic health records will help reduce unnecessary and duplicative tests by giving doctors more comprehensive and up-to-date information when making diagnoses." Steve Lohr in The New York Times.

It's past time for health labels. "Research suggests that consumers spend only about one second looking at nutrition information when making myriad choices. A parent dashing through the grocery store aisles with kids in tow has to decide, in that one second, which is better: Triscuit vs. Saltines vs. Wheat Thins vs. Ritz? This is why Americans need a simple, standardized and truthful label on the front of all packaged foods. For a minute, it looked as if we were a step closer to getting it...Months later, as I stroll down the aisles of my local supermarket, I see front-of-the-package labels only on a few cereal boxes. The ones on soda cans have information only on calories, and nothing on added sugars. There’s no label on the front of the Chips Ahoy. Can’t find it on the Häagen-Dazs ice cream carton. And there’s nothing on Lay’s potato chip bags." Ezekiel Emanuel in The New York Times.

@igorvolsky: Romney is shocked Obamacare will tell private insurers what to provide...which you know, is what Romneycare does...

Domestic Policy

A school has become ground zero for 'parent takeover' laws. "The national battle over the best way to fix failing schools is ripping through this desert town like a sandstorm, tearing apart a community that is testing a radical new approach: the parent takeover. Parents here are trying to become the first in the country to use a trigger law, which allows a majority of families at a struggling school to force major changes, from firing the principal to closing the school and reopening it as an independent charter. All they need to do to wrest control is sign a petition. The idea behind the 2010 California law -- placing ultimate power in parents’ hands -- resonates with any parent who has felt frustrated by school bureaucracy...Trigger laws are spreading beyond California, passing or sparking debates in other states, including Maryland. Even Hollywood has noticed; a feature film, made by the producers of the 2010 documentary 'Waiting for Superman,' is coming out this fall." Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

The Senate may go for the House insider trading bill. "Senate leaders, eager to avoid a freewheeling, unpredictable debate on Congressional ethics, are considering simply accepting a House-passed bill to ban insider trading by lawmakers. This approach would kill two provisions previously passed by the Senate and would, in the eyes of some, weaken the measure promoted as a way to restore trust in Congress. One Senate provision at risk would regulate a booming industry that collects 'political intelligence' from political insiders for the use of hedge funds, mutual funds and other investors. The second would give prosecutors powerful new tools to pursue public corruption cases. Both provisions were part of a bill approved by the Senate on Feb. 2 by a vote of 96 to 3. House Republican leaders struck the two provisions from their version of the bill, passed on Feb. 9 by a vote of 417 to 2." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

Nobody likes the FMCSA's trucker fatigue rule. "Nobody is happy with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new rule governing how long truckers can drive and when they must rest. A safety group has gone to court against the agency, calling the rule too lax, while the trucking industry has filed a suit calling it too strict. And both sides point to the same data to back their claims. A safety group has gone to court against the agency, calling the rule too lax, while the trucking industry has filed a suit calling it too strict. And both sides point to the same data to back their claims. At the center of the debate is a 55-page edict guided by scientific data on sleep and driver fatigue that quickly becomes complicated and open to interpretation. Perhaps the most crucial part of the new rule is language limiting the number of consecutive hours truckers can drive. The final rule that came back from the Office of Management and Budget kept the previous 11-hour cap, even though FMCSA had been considering dropping it to 10." Adam Snider in Politico.

Adorable animals wearing sweaters interlude: Two goat buddies in sweaters jump around sideways.

Energy

The Obama administration is expanding its 'clean fleets' program. "Several more big companies including Best Buy and Pacific Gas and Electric are joining a year-old Energy Department program that helps corporations make their commercial fleets more fuel-efficient and transition to alternative-technology vehicles. The expansion of the National Clean Fleets Partnership is part of an Obama administration effort to promote energy programs that don’t require action on Capitol Hill, where energy legislation is mired in election-year political struggles. The department announced that Best Buy, PG&E, energy tech giant Johnson Controls, and the waste management and recycling company Veolia Environmental Services are joining the partnership. The program provides technical aid and other resources to help companies reduce gasoline and diesel use by expanding efficiency and using electric vehicles and alternative fuels." Ben Geman in The Hill.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Michelle Williams.

 
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