Wonkbook: Obama’s post-convention lead

September 10, 2012

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +1.8%; 7-day change: Obama +0.8%.

RCP Obama approval: 49.2%; 7-day change: +1.6%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 58.1%; 7-day change: +1.4%.

Top story: With the conventions over, Obama looks to be in the lead

The conventions clearly helped Obama. "Mr. Obama had another strong day in the polls on Saturday, making further gains in each of four national tracking polls. The question now is not whether Mr. Obama will get a bounce in the polls, but how substantial it will be. Some of the data, in fact, suggests that the conventions may have changed the composition of the race, making Mr. Obama a reasonably clear favorite as we enter the stretch run of the campaign." Nate Silver in The New York Times.

@fivethirtyeight: Sometimes the election is won or lost at the conventions and this looks like it could be one of those years.

Obama outraised Romney in August. "The Obama campaign announced early Monday that it had raised $114 million in August, saying it had brought in more than the Romney campaign for the first time since April. That number was released just after Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee said that their campaign had raised more than $111.6 million in August, leaving the candidate and his party with about $168.5 million in cash at the beginning of September." Nick Confessore in The New York Times.

Mitt Romney reframed his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, singing some of its virtues. "Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says that while he intends to dismantle the Obama administration’s health-care law if elected, he will retain several key provisions, including coverage for preexisting conditions. In an interview aired Sunday on NBC’s 'Meet the Press,' Romney said his health-care overhaul will also allow families to cover adult children with their policies through age 26 and include access to coverage for unemployed people seeking insurance." Bill Turque in The Washington Post.

Romney's comments aside, his plan does not protect people with preexisting conditions. "Policy-wise, however, there’s a significant amount of space between 'ending pre-existing conditions' and 'ending pre-existing conditions [with continuous coverage].' Under the former scheme, insurers cannot deny coverage to an individual — no matter what. Under the latter, insurers can, in certain situations, refuse to cover some individuals. The idea of 'continuous coverage' is pretty much what it sounds like: Under the scheme Saul laid out earlier, an individual who kept buying insurance month after month could not be turned away by an insurance company....That’s great for an individual who gets a new job. But continuous coverage isn’t so great for the individual who has spent sometime without insurance, perhaps because of difficult financial times. Continuous coverage won’t do much for you in that situation." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@ezraklein: Romney's position has long been that he favors sounding like he's got a policy to protect folks with preexisting conditions...But he doesn't...

The Affordable Care Act has helped young adults tremendously. "The share of young adults without health insurance fell by one-sixth in 2011 from the previous year, the largest annual decline for any age group since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began collecting the data in 1997, according to a new report released on Monday. The estimates are drawn from a federal survey of about 35,000 households. It did not ask how the newly insured obtained coverage, but the study’s author, Matthew Broaddus, a research analyst at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the increased coverage for young people was almost certainly due to a provision in the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until their 26th birthday. Joseph Antos, a health care policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agreed that the provision of the new law was the only plausible explanation for the increase." Sabrina Tavernese in The New York Times.

Romney's got good political reasons to keep mum on his tax policy. "Mr. Romney has pledged to cut individual income tax rates for everyone, and to do it without increasing the federal budget deficit or putting new tax burdens on middle-income people to make up for the lost revenues from the rate cuts. But he has provided no further specifics, confounding analysts and leaving himself open to attack from Democrats...Democrats -- as well as a broad range of economists from the left, right and center -- say that the consequence of ending tax breaks substantial enough to offset the lost revenue from income tax rate cuts would be to hurt middle-class Americans...[E]ach tax break has its own rationale and fierce defenders." Annie Lowrey and David Kocieniewski in The New York Times.

@davidfrum: Worth remembering: Romney would not have to be evasive about which deductions he'd end if he hadnt bn pushed to endorse a 28% top rate

With presidential candidates looking over their shoulder, Congress is feeling self-conscious. "[L]awmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking...Among its first priorities this week, the House will seek to pass a short-term spending measure to keep the government open, ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline for enacting spending bills for the 2013 fiscal year. While such temporary measures have convulsed the Capitol before, nearly leading to a government shutdown, leaders in both parties expect the process to be less rocky this month as Republicans try to keep Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign unblemished by Congressional disorder." Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

So Congress may just choose to delay. "[A]n increasing number of lawmakers are starting to push for Congress to do what it does best when faced with a difficult decision: punt...All these scenarios are being actively discussed by congressional leaders as they return to what is likely going to be a brief, unproductive September session after a long August recess. One thing is certain if Romney wins: Congress will kick any serious talks into early 2013, but the new president might have virtually no honeymoon as he would have to strike a very difficult deal on the most intractable spending and taxing issues facing Washington." Manu Raju and Seung Min Kim in Politico.

@sahilkapur: Romney/Ryan's lack of detail on closing tax loopholes matters b/c you have to fight like hell to get that stuff thru Congress.

A constantly overlooked issue, voter laws, is finally under campaign scrutiny. "A series of political and legal changes to U.S. voting practices is sparking an important struggle this election season to determine who exactly will cast votes...The battle over these changes will affect the shape and scope of the 2012 electorate. It isn't clear how broad the effect might be, but this is a race in which even small changes in turnout in key states could matter...The largest change in the shape this year's vote will come from the rapid expansion of early voting -- the process that lets voters cast ballots before Election Day...[C]andidates increasingly treat campaigns as having a series of rolling election days, not just one." Naftali Bendavid in The Wall Street Journal.

With control of the Senate in the balance, the GOP is giving Rep. Todd Akin wierd looks and the cold shoulder. "Three weeks after Republican Rep. Todd Akin upended the national political landscape by claiming that pregnancies rarely result from 'legitimate rape,' the race for Senate in this increasingly conservative state -- and in many ways the battle for control of Congress’s upper chamber -- has settled into a waiting game. A Sept. 25 deadline looms. That’s the last day Akin can petition Missouri courts to remove his name from the ballot -- and comply with the near-universal calls from party leaders who think his comments have made unwinnable a seat they need for an easier path to a Senate majority...To win control now, Republicans must see a series of neck-and-neck races turn their way — a surprisingly thin margin of error in a year when nearly two dozen Democratic senators are up for reelection." Rosalind S. Helderman and Jason Horowitz in The Washington Post.

Top op-eds

KRUGMAN: Republican obstructionism, an election tactic. "[H]aving prevented Mr. Obama from implementing any of his policies, those same Republicans are pointing to disappointing job numbers and declaring that the president’s policies have failed. Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is. Yet it’s the G.O.P.’s best chance for victory in November." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

DOUTHAT: The spirit of 2012 is disspiritedness. "The Obama era in American politics began almost exactly eight years ago in Boston, when a youthful Senate candidate’s soaring speech to the Democratic National Convention stole the show from the actual Democratic nominee. It ended, to all intents and purposes, last Thursday night in Charlotte, when a weary-seeming incumbent delivered perhaps the fourth-best major address at his own convention — a plodding, hectoring speech that tacitly acknowledged that this White House is out of ideas, out of options and no longer the master of its fate." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

DIONNE: It's advantage Obama, right now, but Romney has opportunities. "Normally, a president presiding over 8 percent unemployment and a country that sees itself on the wrong track wouldn’t stand a chance. But then a candidate with Mitt Romney’s shortcomings, including his failure to ignite much enthusiasm within his own party, wouldn’t stand a chance, either. The combination of the two explains why this election remains close." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

KOCH: The dangers of crony capitalism. "Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture...Trouble begins whenever businesses take their eyes off the needs and wants of consumers -- and instead cast longing glances on government and the favors it can bestow. When currying favor with Washington is seen as a much easier way to make money, businesses inevitably begin to compete with rivals in securing government largess, rather than in winning customers." Charles G. Koch in The Wall Street Journal.

STERN: The failure of 'compelled speech.' "The FDA mandated that these new labels cover the top half, front and back, of every pack of cigarettes sold, making them impossible to be ignored by smokers and nonsmokers alike. There are two problems with this: There's no proof they reduce smoking. And they're unconstitutional...Just as the First Amendment protects the free flow of information about artistic and intellectual ideas, so too does it protect speech about commerce, industry and advertising. The government may promote antismoking campaigns; it may even demand that an objective, factual message -- e.g., "smoking kills" -- be placed on cigarette packages. Such a scientifically founded, non-ideological message aids, rather than hampers, the flow of information...[W]hat the government attempts to do with these new labels is inflict its own message on a legal product in an attempt to repel the purchaser. It has forced a private company to carry government propaganda." Mark Joseph Stern in The Wall Street Journal.

CROVITZ: For fact-checkers, who watches the watchmen? "Reporting as 'fact checking' might have started as a check on outright falsehoods, but it has morphed into a technique for supposedly nonpartisan journalists to present opinion as 'facts.' The credibility of reporting has enough problems without claiming objectivity while practicing subjectivity...It's important to distinguish between true untruths and pretend untruths. For example, both the Obama and Romney campaigns deserved to be called out for the untruths of running advertisements clearly quoting each other out of context. But cheerleaders for a more aggressive definition of "fact checking" have a different agenda...[that is, j]ustifying journalism that takes sides." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.

Top long reads

Nate Silver explores the fascinating intracacies of meteorological forecasting: "Why are weather forecasters succeeding when other predictors fail? It’s because long ago they came to accept the imperfections in their knowledge. That helped them understand that even the most sophisticated computers, combing through seemingly limitless data, are painfully ill equipped to predict something as dynamic as weather all by themselves. So as fields like economics began relying more on Big Data, meteorologists recognized that data on its own isn’t enough."

John Heilemann considers the relationship between Obama and Clinton: "This tale of two speeches begins with the stylistic disparities between their authors. Whereas Obama is a classic orator, trafficking at his best in soaring stanzas and almost preacherly cadences, Clinton operates more in the mode of an aw-shucks southern country lawyer (albeit one with a public-policy Ph.D.). And whereas Obama excels at the inspirational, the electrifying, and the galvanizing, Clinton’s skills are unparalleled when it comes to a quartet of earthier objectives: distillation, litigation, validation, and evisceration."

Classics interlude: 'Every Breath You Take,' The Police, 1983.

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

Still to come: small businesses are generating even smaller job gains; Medicaid as a middle-class entitlement; why high poverty makes food stamps crucial public policy; the fundamental issue confronting nuclear power; and classics of Glenn Hubbard humor.

Economy

The Fed is going to act, investors bet. "For some investors, bad news is good news...The reaction shows how markets have come to depend on central bank stimulus since the financial crisis, and underscores the high stakes for the Fed and its chairman, Ben Bernanke...Some analysts and investors say the Fed must announce a big stimulus plan quickly or risk disappointing the market, potentially setting the stage for a broad selloff." Matt Phillips in The Wall Street Journal.

@pdacosta: Wall Street would prefer to see the employment side of the Fed's dual mandate changed to "high and stable stock prices."

This week in the Euromess. "With a few choice words last week, the European Central Bank and its president, Mario Draghi, managed to tame bond markets and inspire a market rally. But the coming week may reveal whether the rescue plan for Spain and Italy was a turning point in the euro zone crisis or just a short-lived spell of relief. On Wednesday, the work of the central bankers in Frankfurt could be undone in a stroke by judges in the sleepy university city of Karlsruhe, Germany. There, the German constitutional court could block the country from contributing to the European rescue fund on which the E.C.B.’s plan is heavily dependent." Jack Ewing and Melissa Eddy in The New York Times.

So much for the economic engine! Small businesses created zero net new jobs last month. "Small businesses created 'essentially zero' jobs in August, according to the latest report from the National Federation of Independent Business, continuing an exceptionally sluggish year on the hiring front for the country’s smallest firms...On the one bright note, without seasonal adjustments, the number of respondents who reported plans to increase employment ticked up 2 points to 13 percent, while the number anticipating staff reductions remained unchanged. On the other hand, making matters more frustrating is that, while nearly half of small businesses hired or tried to hire new workers over the past three months, more than a third of them said they had trouble finding qualified applicants for their open positions." J.D. Harrison in The Washington Post.

But corporate profits look like they're going to turn down also. "Corporate America is more pessimistic about the prospects for short-term earnings growth than at any time since the start of the financial crisis, as a slowing global economy weighs on demand for US companies’ goods and services. Even as the US stock market hit a four-year high, year-on-year earnings growth for the S&P 500 slowed to just 0.8 per cent in the second quarter while the consensus forecast among analysts is for growth to turn negative in the current quarter for the first time in three years." Ajay Makan and Arash Massoudi in The Financial Times.

Is everything you know about the stimulus wrong? "Everything people think they know about the stimulus is wrong...[I]t did produce a short-term recovery...The long-term reinvestment part is working [also]. It spent $90 billion for clean energy when we were spending just a few billion a year. It’s doubled renewable energy. It’s started an electric battery industry from scratch. It jump-started the smart grid. It’s bringing our pen-and-paper medical system into the digital age. It’s got Race to the Top which is the biggest education program in decades." Michael Grunwald in The Washington Post.

The federal government is about to launch its exit plan from AIG. "The U.S. Treasury Department said it will sell $18 billion of American International Group Inc. stock, slashing its stake in the New York company by more than half and making the government a minority shareholder for the first time since the financial crisis was roaring in September 2008. In turning the government into a minority shareholder, AIG will celebrate an accomplishment that seemed unimaginable four years ago when the government effectively nationalized the insurer as part of a financial-industry bailout." Damian Paletta, Erik Holm, and Serena Ng in The Wall Street Journal.

@damianpaletta: I'll never forget the look on lawmakers' faces when Bernanke/Paulson briefed them on AIG in '08. Looked like they'd seen ghosts. Haunting.

Glenn Hubbard classics interlude: The kind-of-famous old YouTube joke video of 'Every Breath You Take.'".

Health Care

Is Medicaid a middle-class entitlement? "Eric Patashnik notices a key strategic move that former president Bill Clinton employed in his Democratic National Convention speech: He recast Medicaid as a program for the middle class, rather than for the welfare population...Is Clinton right to describe Medicaid as a middle-class program? For the adults it serves, not really: Most states cap Medicaid eligibility for parents well below the poverty line...But if you look at two other populations -- children and the elderly -- it does indeed serve a middle class demographic...So it’s not just rhetoric: Medicaid does indeed serve a middle-class population, just as Clinton has persuaded us over the past few decades." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Domestic Policy

Immigrants are turning away from the 'deferred action' plan. "The flow of applications for a program allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and work legally has been slowed by concerns about what they must disclose and uncertainty about who will be the next president...As many as 1.7 million immigrants, 30 years old and younger who have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years, could benefit from the program, according to Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank...Immigration attorneys say the outcome of the election is a source of concern for potential applicants, because Republican candidate Mitt Romney has taken a tough stance on illegal immigration." Miriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal.

In an era of high poverty, cuts to food stamps can be devastating. "The fate of the food stamp programme is at the centre of a political debate over the US farm bill, which is set to expire at the end of the month. Critics of the cuts warn that they would diminish one of the most important safety nets for the poor, while health advocates argue that the existing food stamp laws subsidise companies that sell junk food...Last week the USDA said that a record 46.7m people used the food stamp programme in June and the US government spent more than $75bn to fund Snap last year. The Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee has backed $16bn in cuts over 10 years. That followed a proposal in June that passed the US Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, to cut food stamp funding by $4bn." Alan Rappeport in The Financial Times.

Maps interlude: London by most common surname. Hint: lots of 'Patel' and 'Smith'.

Energy

Nuclear power is haunted by the problem of waste disposal. "The U.S. Department of Energy is slowing construction of a facility to process the country's largest accumulation of radioactive waste, amid an increasingly acrimonious dispute about the design and safety of the $12.2 billion project...Concerns over key parts of the facility are slowing construction, because the facility is being designed as it is built; as design issues crop up, building has to slow until those issues are addressed." Andrew Morse in The Wall Street Journal.

Climate change is interfering with hydro power production. "Drought and rising temperatures are forcing water managers across the country to scramble for ways to produce the same amount of power from the hydroelectric grid with less water, including from behemoths such as the Hoover Dam...For more than three-quarters of a century, the Hoover Dam has represented an engineering triumph, harnessing the power of the mighty Colorado River to generate electricity for customers in not just nearby Las Vegas but as far away as southern California and Mexico. But the bleached volcanic rock ringing Black Canyon above Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the dam, speak to the limits of human engineering. Warmer temperatures and less snowpack have reduced the river’s flow and left the reservoir 103 feet below elevation for its full targeted storage capacity, which it last came close to reaching in 1999." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

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