Wonkbook: 2012 is all about…

August 20, 2012

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Dashboard

RCP Obama vs. RomneyObama +3.4%; 7-day change: Obama -1.3%.

RCP Obama approval48.5%; 7-day change: +0.5%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win58.1%; 7-day change: -0.9%.

Top story: 2012 is all about ____.

2012 is about rallying the base, not swaying the center. "Conventional wisdom dictates that...[e]lections are, after all, decided by the ideological middle; the two parties’ bases are already aligned behind their candidates, and the trick is to persuade enough of those centrist independents to side with your, well, side, to win. Except, of course, when it’s not...[T]here is a strong case to be made that the two campaigns should spend most of their time/energy/money not trying to find and persuade independents and undecideds but rather trying to identify and rally their (already united) bases." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

2012 is about who gets to vote. "Stick a pin almost anywhere on a map of Florida and you’ll find a legal battle over who will be eligible to vote in the coming presidential election — and when, and how, and where...[A] law passed in 2011 by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) has created an awesome wake of litigation...The law imposes more than 75 changes, including restrictions on who can register voters and limits on the time allowed for early voting...'Florida is desperately trying not to be the next Florida,' said Richard L. Hasen." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

@pourmecoffee: Doubt people realize that 11 states disenfranchise ex-felons even after they have completed their sentences.

2012 is about trying to hold fragmenting political coalitions together:"[B]oth parties also are fractious coalitions of people who may converge on some core issues but whose worldviews, economic situations and attitudes on policy are far from uniform. These disparate and ever-evolving coalitions present challenges for both Obama and Romney. They are why Romney struggled through much of the Republican nominating contest to win over key parts of his party and only united the GOP coalition by picking Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his vice presidential running mate. It is why Obama has faced dissonance and disappointment over the way he has governed from some elements of the Democratic Party, particularly many liberals who nonetheless back him strongly for reelection." Dan Balz and Jon Cohen in the Washington Post.

2012 is all about how well Obama's economic policy worked -- and when it comes to housing, it didn't work so well. "The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake. The bailouts of banks and automakers are now widely regarded as crucial steps in arresting the recession, while the depressed housing market remains a millstone." Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

@DLeonhart: Obama et al bailed out the undeserving in finance, autos - & it mostly worked. With housing, they didn't - & it didn't.

2012 is about the new demography of America. "Asian-Americans comprise a relatively small minority group in the US, making up only 4 per cent of eligible voters...[but they] are the fastest-growing minority and could have an outsized influence in key battleground states during November’s general election. Asian-Americans comprise 4 per cent of the electorate in Virginia and 8 per cent in Nevada, both states where Mr Obama and Mr Romney are locked in close races...Mr Obama won 62 per cent of the nationwide Asian-American vote in 2008...But the Romney campaign is making aggressive efforts to try to limit Mr Obama’s share of the Asian-American vote this year. It is organising voter registration drives and is handing out campaign bumper stickers in Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese." Ana Fifield in The Financial Times.

2012 is about money. "With President Obama campaigning in New Hampshire on Saturday and Representative Paul D. Ryan courting voters in Florida, which battleground state did Mitt Romney have on his weekend itinerary? None. Mr. Romney spent the day in his home state of Massachusetts, hopping from Martha’s Vineyard to Cape Cod to Nantucket in a dizzying daylong series of fund-raisers. The events, combined with a Friday night visit to the Hamptons, added about $7 million to his war chest...Fund-raising has become a central strength of Mr. Romney." Jeff Zeleny in The New York Times.

Romney is about to really make 2012 about money. "When Mitt Romney leaves his party's convention in Tampa next week, he will depart with the Republican nomination—and access to $165 million that his campaign will use to blanket the airwaves...Romney staff members see access to the funds as a turning point that will allow the campaign and its allies to press what they believe will be an advantage over Democrats in TV ad spending and boost their on-the-ground game...The Romney campaign chalks up the negative impressions to being outspent." Sara Murray in The Wall Street Journal.

HUNT: 2012 is about turnout. "[A] closely divided electorate with a smaller-than-usual bloc of uncommitted or persuadable voters, maybe in the high single digits...suggests both sides will place a premium on turnout. That’s what has been known as the ground game, old-fashioned shoe leather to identify and enlist supporters, except this time it’s lubricated by cutting-edge technology: social media, databases, micro-targeting and micro-listening...President Barack Obama’s forces have started with an advantage: an extensive infrastructure built on the foundation of the 2008 effort." Albert R. Hunt in Bloomberg.

KRUGMAN: 2012 is about intellectual dishonesty in the media. "Mr. Ryan’s true constituency is the commentariat, which years ago decided that he was the Honest, Serious Conservative, whose proposals deserve respect even if you don’t like him...But he isn’t and they don’t. Ryanomics is and always has been a con game...What’s going on? The answer, basically, is a triumph of style over substance...[S]elf-proclaimed centrists are always looking for conservatives they can praise to showcase their centrism, and Mr. Ryan has skillfully played into that weakness, talking a good game even if his numbers don’t add up." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

@Pawelmorski: Niall Ferguson and Paul Ryan. It's basically ok to be clueless on economics if you've got great hair. #balding

KRAUTHAMMER: 2012 is about 2016, and so on. "Ryan, fresh and 42, brings youth, energy and vitality — the very qualities Obama projected in 2008 and has by now depleted...While Ryan’s effect on 2012 is as yet undetermined — it depends on the success or failure of Mediscare — there is less doubt about the meaning of Ryan’s selection for beyond 2012. He could well become the face of Republicanism for a generation...And while Romney is the present, Ryan is the future...Ryan represents a new kind of conservatism for his time." Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post.

TETT: 2012 is about the economy and the looming fiscal cliff. "Is America going to plunge off a fiscal cliff? That is the question starting to preoccupy Washington and Wall Street. For as fiscal issues move to centre stage in the 2012 election, America potentially faces three nasty shocks...What really looms, then, is a period of brinkmanship, stop-start crises and fiscal swings of the sort that might spook even a professional bungee jumper...With business and consumer confidence already low and sapping economic growth, it is a bad moment for stop-start crises, particularly if drawn out over a long time. Yet, unfortunately, this extended brinkmanship is exactly what markets now appear to expect." Gillian Tett in The Financial Times.

@TheStalwart: Dan Greenhaus: "investors with whom we speak remain incredibly unconcerned about the Fiscal Cliff"

Top op-eds

SUMMERS: American government will continue to grow no matter who is elected. "Even preserving the amount of government functions the US had before the financial crisis will require substantial increases in the share of the economy devoted to the public sector. This is the case for several structural reasons. First, demographic change will greatly expand federal outlays unless politicians decide to degrade the level of protection traditionally provided to the elderly...Second, the accumulation of more debt and a return to normal interest rates will raise the share of federal spending devoted to interest payments." Lawrence Summers in The Financial Times.

WELCH: Medicine is flying blind for many common procedures. "How would you have felt — after over a decade of following your doctor’s advice — to learn that high-quality randomized trials of these standard practices had only just been completed? And that they showed that both did more harm than good? Justifiably furious, I’d say. Because these practices affected millions of Americans, they are locked in a tight competition for the greatest medical error on record...The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don’t know what works. But we pay for it anyway...To find out, we need more medical research...[W]e have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices — all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing." H. Gilbert Welch in The New York Times.

WILL: American football has to face up to its problems. "Are you ready for some football? First, however, are you ready for some autopsies?...For all players who play five or more years, life expectancy is less than 60; for linemen it is much less...3,000 plaintiffs — former players, spouses, relatives — [are now] in a lawsuit charging that the NFL inadequately acted on knowledge it had, or should have had, about hazards such as CTE. We are, however, rapidly reaching the point where playing football is like smoking cigarettes: The risks are well-known...[T]he problem is not the rules; it is the fiction that football can be fixed and still resemble the game fans relish." George F. Will in The Washington Post.

SAMUELSON: Academic work may vindicate Ryan's voucher plan. "Overlooked in the furor surrounding Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal...is a just-published study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggesting that, well, Ryan might be right. The study finds that a voucher-type system might noticeably reduce costs compared to 'traditional' fee-for-service Medicare...The study compared the costs of traditional Medicare with Medicare Advantage, a voucher-like program that now enrolls about 25 percent of beneficiaries. Medicare Advantage has cost less for identical coverage." Robert J. Samuelson in The Washington Post.

SOLTAS: Canada's successes and failures with block grants hold lessons for Ryan. "Paul Ryan's controversial plan for Medicaid takes a cue from a country President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats frequently cited during debates over the Affordable Care Act: Canada...Canada's health plan for all is actually run by provincial governments and funded through block grants, the mechanism Ryan now proposes for Medicaid...Canada has been using block grants for 35 years...The result in Canada has been successful cost control -- indeed, even at the aggressive scale Ryan anticipates for Medicaid...In arguing for Medicaid block grants, Ryan should look northward. Once the liberal exemplar, Canadian Medicare shows that block-granting is not necessarily an idea for Democrats or Republicans, but rather one which simply makes sense for government budgets and Medicaid recipients alike." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

Top long reads

Jane Mayer asks if Pres. Obama's relationship with billionaires could cost him the election: "[I]f Obama hopes to catch up with his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 money race, he will need to get a lot more rich Democrats to empty their pockets. In the past, a President’s ability to charm the super-rich might not have mattered much...By August, at least thirty-three American billionaires had each given a quarter of a million dollars, or more, to groups whose aim is to defeat Obama...Meanwhile, only three billionaires have contributed at least a quarter of a million dollars to Priorities USA, the largest pro-Obama Super PAC...This imbalance has caused alarm among Democratic strategists, and Obama has warned—perhaps with some exaggeration—that, unless wealthy supporters make large gifts, he will become the only sitting President in recent history to be outspent in a campaign."

"A Rush of Blood to the Head" interlude: Coldplay, "Amsterdam," 2002..

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:The American, European, and global economies prepare for a rough patch; Texas drilling down on Medicaid dental fraud; national parks are hit hard by the budget crunch; and lasers on Mars.

Economy

Drought has crippled the production of hay, which plays an important but oft-overlooked role in agriculture. "Widespread drought has scorched much of the pastureland and hay fields needed to sustain cattle herds in the U.S., forcing many ranchers to find feed alternatives or sell their animals early into what has become a soft beef market. The shortage has led to higher hay prices, with some farmers saying they have to pay two to three times last year's rates...The harvest of alfalfa, generally considered to make the best hay because of its high nutrient levels, is forecast to be the worst since 1953, according to the USDA." Bill Tomson in The Wall Street Journal.

Drought is also straining river traffic on the Mississippi. "Despite being fed by water flowing in from more than 40 percent of the United States, the river is feeling the ruinous drought affecting so much of the Midwest. Some stretches are nearing the record low-water levels experienced in 1988, when river traffic was suspended in several spots. That is unlikely this year, because of careful engineering work to keep the largest inland marine system in the world passable. But tow operators are dealing with the shallower channel by hauling fewer barges, loading them lighter and running them more slowly, raising their costs. Since May, about 60 vessels have run aground in the lower Mississippi. The low water is...affecting the 500 million tons of cargo like coal, grain and fertilizer that move up and down the river each year." John Schwartz in The New York Times.

Big business gives Ryan a big thumbs-up. "Mitt Romney's tapping of Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to be his running mate has sparked enthusiasm among many business owners and executives who were already leaning toward the Republican ticket...Mr. Ryan is 'the kind of guy I would hire,' said Brett McMahon, president of Miller & Long DC Inc., a construction firm based in Washington, D.C...One hesitation about Messrs. Romney and Ryan among some businesses stems from the blanks that remain to be filled in their proposals. As much as companies want low taxes, they also like the benefits Congress can bestow" Kristina Peterson and Melanie Trottman in The Wall Street Journal.

@MattZeitlin: Indicative that Democrats only defend stimulus spending when they can find republicans having done so

Europe's vacation is over. Will the calm in markets end also? "While the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, will be greeted with military honors when he arrives in Berlin on Friday, his pleas for easier bailout terms could meet with a cool reception, setting up tension that could unsettle the financial markets next week. Their summer vacations over, European political leaders appear to have resumed the maneuvering that has so often caused market turmoil and frustrated outsiders hoping for a quick solution to the euro zone debt crisis." Jack Ewing in The New York Times.

@TheStalwart: The Eurozone's trade surplus is a good reminder of the way trade surpluses jump around for one place to another.

And economic uncertainty is worsening around the globe. "The global economic outlook is more uncertain than at the start of the crisis in late 2008, according to Caterpillar, the world’s biggest maker of earthmoving equipment by revenues and a bellwether of the industrial economy...[Doug Oberhelman, chief executive of Caterpillar] said it was harder to predict what would happen to the global economy over the coming year than at any time in his 37-year career." Hal Weitzman in The Financial Times.

Photography interlude: This is what happens when a photographer goes to the 2012 London Olympics and snaps shots of lost people in return for directions.

Health Care

Texas launches crackdown on Medicaid fraud among dentists. "Texas officials are clamping down on funding for orthodontic and dental services amid a widening investigation into allegations that doctors have routinely sought reimbursement for procedures that aren't covered by Medicaid...[A]s the state has begun aggressively targeting the alleged fraud, some Texas orthodontists say the poor have become unintended victims. Some practices have stopped taking Medicaid patients, while others have shut down amid scrutiny by state investigators." Nathan Koppel in The Wall Street Journal.

Ad watch: Pres. Obama launches new ad on Medicare. "[E]xperts say [Ryan's] voucher plan could raise future retirees’ costs more than six thousand dollars."

@pourmecoffee: The problem with Ryan: Even Republicans like Medicare just as it is now.

Domestic Policy

Budget crunch to come down hard on national parks. "After more than a decade of scrimping and deferring maintenance and construction projects — and absorbing a 6 percent budget cut in the past two years — the signs of strain are beginning to surface at national parks across the country...Jonathan B. Jarvis, the National Park Service director, said in an interview that his employees have been 'entrepreneurial' in devising ways to cope with rising costs on a fixed budget. 'But we’re kind of running out of ideas at some point here,' Jarvis said...Park managers say they are alarmed at the prospect of both next year’s budget and a possible 8 percent across-the-board cut if negotiators fail to reach a budget deal by January." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Nation's bankruptcy laws are under pressure from corporations and regulators. "A battle is playing out in bankruptcy courts around the nation: the U.S. Justice Department versus companies that are testing the limits of Chapter 11 as they restructure. Restructuring professionals say companies in bankruptcy court are facing off with increasingly vigilant Justice Department watchdogs whose zeal for enforcing the law may threaten the survival of the companies the bankruptcy system is set up to save." Rachel Feintzeig and Jacqueline Palank in The Wall Street Journal.

Ooh, lasers on Mars interlude: One of the Curiosity rover's tasks is to zap Martian rocks.

Energy

The GAO releases a new report on two EPA regulations which Republicans warn could harm electricity reliability. "The GAO report released Thursday touched on two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that have drawn criticism from Republicans. Though the report said complying with those rules would pose 'reliability challenges,' it maintained those risks were avoidable...The GAO report released Thursday touched on two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that have drawn criticism from Republicans. Though the report said complying with those rules would pose 'reliability challenges,' it maintained those risks were avoidable...The report also said adhering to the rules would be tougher in coal-heavy states, most of which are located in the South. It noted electricity rates could rise as much as 13 percent, though over time fluctuations might be less than historical levels." Zack Colman in The Hill.

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