Wonkbook: After brief hiatus for Sandy, the campaign (and Wonkbook!) is back on

October 31, 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.

NOTE: For the first time since its launch, Wonkbook didn't go out yesterday, as Sandy knocked out power and internet access for some of our authors. We apologize for the lapse. That power and internet still isn't back, so today's Wonkbook will be abbreviated, but present.

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RCP Obama vs. Romney: Romney +0.8%; 7-day change: Romney -0.1%.

RCP Obama approval: 49.7%; 7-day change: +0.2%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 63.9%; 7-day change: +9.4%.

Top stories

After a brief -- very brief -- hiatus for Sandy, the presidential race is back on. "Even as Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama canceled political appearances Tuesday, the two campaigns escalated a heated exchange over Mr. Romney's suggestion that the president's auto bailout had benefited China, rather than U.S. autoworkers. With new TV ad buys, Mr. Romney and his allies also pushed to enlarge the set of competitive states to include Pennsylvania, long an elusive prize for the Republican nominees. Mr. Romney will return to his schedule of campaign appearances Wednesday in hopes of regaining the momentum many polls showed he had built in recent weeks. Mr. Obama is scheduled to follow suit on Thursday." Janet Hook and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama's budget cuts FEMA by 3%. Romney's budget cuts it, on its face, by 40%. "Under President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Funds would be cut by $1 billion, bringing funding levels down to $6.1 billion from $7.1 billion in fiscal year 2012, a 14 percent cut. An administration official says the drop reflects decreasing tail-costs from Hurricane Katrina and stresses that the 2013 request is $500 million beyond the disaster fund’s anticipated needs, according to a Congressional formula based on the cost of disaster aid...Romney has vowed to cut federal spending to less than 20 percent of GDP by 2016 without touching entitlements or defense. That means that non-defense discretionary spending—which includes FEMA aid—would have to be reduced by an eye-popping 40 percent. The Romney campaign won’t say whether FEMA would be spared from those cuts but stresses that the necessary funding would be available." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

From the Romney pool report: "TV pool asked Romney at least five times whether he would eliminate FEMA as president/what he would do with FEMA. He ignored the qs but they are audible on cam. The music stopped at points and the qs would have been audible to him."

Insurers aren't on the hook for Sandy. "Sandy is expected to become one of the costliest storms ever. But a substantial share of the tab won't be picked up by insurers, because standard homeowners' policies don't cover flood damage. Instead, an indebted federal flood-insurance program is expected to pay for billions in property damage, while local, state and federal taxpayers will likely take the lead in financing repairs to subways, roads and other infrastructure. The government will also foot the bill for the federal emergency financial aid typically extended to homeowners and small businesses lacking adequate insurance, according to insurance-industry analysts, executives and others." Leslie Scism, Alan Zibel, and Erik Holm in The Wall Street Journal.

Romney's promise of bipartisanship looks doubtful. "The likelihood of Romney and Ryan locking arms with 'good Democrats,' as Romney put it this week, to solve the nation’s problems is dubious given the GOP nominee’s legislative priorities...First and foremost: Romney’s'“readiness' team has been meeting with national Republicans in Washington about the GOP nominee’s No. 1 campaign promise: how he’ll repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law...if Romney makes good on his pledge to roll back the health care overhaul — which he almost certainly must in some way given his insistent campaign rhetoric and likely pressure from conservatives — that will hardly foster the bipartisan atmosphere that Romney has recently lauded. Repealing the law is a 'red line' for most Democrats, according to several lawmakers and party officials." Jake Sherman and James Hohmann in Politico.

The Senate races are tightening -- on both sides: "Late surges for Republican candidates in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and for the Democrat in Nebraska, have taken Senate races that seemed to be foregone conclusions and turned them into cliffhangers. Attacks ads that have blanketed the Nebraska airwaves for months might finally be helping Democrat Bob Kerrey and forcing Republicans to spend money to shore up support for their candidate, Deb Fischer. And weakening support for President Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania might be eroding the leads enjoyed by Democratic Senate candidates. Republicans Josh Mandel (Ohio) and Tom Smith (Pa.) could get a chance to pull ahead in the final days." Alexandra Jaffe in The Hill.

CW on China is changing from "fearsome economic machine" to "uh-oh." "The pending Chinese leadership change has crystallised a significant shift in US views of China, from the unstoppable steamroller that surged out of the 2008 financial crisis to a more familiar story of a government unable to take tough decisions in the face of powerful interest groups...While China’s economy has recorded near double-digit growth for the past decade – transforming large swaths of the country and improving the lives of hundreds of millions – the emerging US view of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao is of leaders who have fumbled efforts to introduce economic and political reform." Geoff Dyer in the Financial Times.

New data shows Europe's economy weakening. "Spain’s gross domestic product contracted 0.3 percent in the third quarter from the second quarter, the National Statistics Institute reported from Madrid. The Spanish economy has now contracted for four consecutive quarters...In Nuremberg, Germany, the Federal Labor Agency said the number of Germans without jobs rose by 20,000 in October after seasonal adjustments, leaving the unemployment rate at 6.9 percent, unchanged from September." David Jolly and Melissa Eddy in The New York Times.

The Hill's 2012 top lobbyists list: http://bit.ly/YmOaOH

The Nate Silver backlash. "Silver thinks Obama has a 75 percent chance of winning the election. That might seem a bit high, but note that the BetFair markets give him a 67.8 percent chance, the InTrade markets give him a 61.7 percent chance and the Iowa Electronic Markets give him a 61.8 percent chance...Moreover, Silver’s model is currently estimating that Obama will win 295 electoral votes. That’s eight fewer than predicted by Sam Wang’s state polling meta-analysis and 37 fewer than Drew Linzer’s Votamatic. So before we deal with anything Silver has specifically said, it’s worth taking in the surrounding landscape: Every major political betting market and every major forecasting tool is predicting an Obama victory right now, and for the same reason: Obama remains ahead in enough states that, unless the polls are systematically wrong, or they undergo a change unlike any we’ve yet seen in the race, Obama will win the election." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

No, the public option isn't back from the dead. "The health law’s multi-state plans function in a much different way that a public plan would, relying on a private carrier to administer benefits. There’s even concern among some consumer advocates that these plans could hurt the health-care law, as they get an exemption from key Affordable Care Act requirements...The nationwide plans are meant to increase competition in the state health insurance markets, as these two options will be available in every state. In smaller states where a single insurer is dominant, this might mean competition and price pressure where it wouldn’t otherwise exist — a role that the public option was meant to play...The government will not, however, get into the nitty gritty of figuring out how much it wants to pay doctors for a given procedure. That will be left to the two insurance providers themselves." Sarah Kiff in The Washington Post.

LOL. "Because of the devastating hurricane, [Donald Trump] tweeted Tuesday that he is extending his offer to President Barack Obama to donate $5 million to charity if the president produces his college records and passport application." Bobby Cervantes in Politico.

INTERLUDE: Walter Mossberg reviews the iPad mini. "I've been testing the iPad Mini for several days and found it does exactly what it promises: It brings the iPad experience to a smaller device. Every app that ran on my larger iPad ran perfectly on the Mini. I was able to use it one-handed and hold it for long periods of time without tiring. My only complaints were that it's a tad too wide to fit in most of my pockets, and the screen resolution is a big step backwards from the Retina display on the current large iPad. But it's about 30% thinner than the leading 7-inch competitors, the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire 7. And it's about 9% lighter than the Nexus and about 22% lighter than the Fire HD." 

Top analysis

CHAIT: Politicize Sandy! "What you are going to see over the next week is an overt effort by Democrats to politicize the issue of disaster response. They’re right to do it. Conservatives are already complaining about this, but the attempt to wall disaster response off from politics in the aftermath of a disaster is an attempt to insulate Republicans from the consequences of their policies." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

MILBANK: Romney's getting less truthful. "The fast-and-loose with Jeep points to a troubling Romney instinct:  When the stakes are high, as they are for him in must-win Ohio, the truth is often the first casualty. It’s difficult to quantify a candidate’s relationship with the facts, but The Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, has calculated that, for much of the campaign, Romney and Obama were roughly even in their prevarications — until the past few months, when Romney has sharply ramped up his output of falsehoods. Back in May, Romney’s average “Pinocchio” rating from Kessler was 1.97 on a scale of 0 to 4.  Obama was at 1.91. Now, Obama is at 2.11 and Romney is at 2.40 — putting him at the level of hogwash perpetrated during the primaries by Rick Perry (2.41) and Newt Gingrich (2.44)." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

Chaser: Romney's quietly restarted his welfare reform ads.

DOUTHAT: The polls might be wrong -- but in which direction? "The electoral-popular split remains less likely than an outcome in which either the state or national polls are simply off the mark. It’s interesting to imagine how a split might happen – presumably with Romney racking up larger-than-average margins in the South and overperforming among his fellow moderates in states like Connecticut and New Jersey – and it would vindicate the Obama campaign’s strategy of spending heavily and early in the Midwest. It’s still more probable, though, that the swing states will ultimately behave like swing states, and move with the country as a whole – in which case a significant number of pollsters will have consistently read either several states or the entire country wrong." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

KLEIN: McConnell and Boehner's triumph: "I’ve spent the morning reading various endorsements of Mitt Romney for president, and they all say the same thing: Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s strategy worked. Okay, that’s not quite how they put it. But it’s precisely what they show. In endorsement after endorsement, the basic argument is that President Obama hasn’t been able to persuade House or Senate Republicans to work with him. If Obama is reelected, it’s a safe bet that they’ll continue to refuse to work with him. So vote Romney!" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Suzy Khimm | October 30, 2012