A Pew poll reports: “The Republican Party holds a clear advantage in voter engagement in this fall’s midterm elections, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center. Yet GOP voters are not as enthused and engaged as they were at this point in the midterm campaign four years ago, prior to the Republican Party winning control of the House of Representatives, or as Democratic voters were in 2006, before Democrats gained control of Congress.” And there is more good news for the GOP:
[A]s many voters who support the Republican in their district say they are “absolutely certain” to vote this fall as said this in June 2010. Three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 67% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 77% of Republican voters and 64% of Democratic voters said they were absolutely certain to vote in the fall.
Barack Obama is as powerful a motivating factor for Republican voters as he was in 2010: about half (51%) of those who say they will vote Republican this fall consider their vote as a vote “against” Obama, little changed from June 2010 (52%). And Obama has become a less positive factor for Democrats – 36% of those who plan to vote for the Democrat in their district view their vote as being “for” Obama, down from 44% four years ago.
It is worth noting that the real action is in about 12 swing states, most of which voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and which will lean more Republican than the national numbers show.
The good electoral news is likely bad news for legislation. Republicans are confident that they are on track to hold the House and win the Senate, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seems to be operating under the assumption that none of his members should be required to vote on much of anything. The upshot will be that immigration reform, Iran sanctions and jobs bills already passed in the House have an uphill climb to make it through Congress in the two weeks before summer recess and the few weeks in September before the members hit the campaign trail nonstop. That, however, still leaves the lame-duck session where some business might get done. (Democrats will be desperate to leave an imprint on anything as they turn over the majority to the Republicans.)
This does not mean Republicans shouldn’t try to work on big problems. To the contrary, it is more important than ever to show the public that a GOP House and Senate could pass a slew of reasonable legislation with big bipartisan support. The House would be smart to get its act together on border security. Senate Republicans should press on Iran sanctions and the Keystone XL pipeline. In both houses they can set the table for what follows after November. And it is also time for GOP contenders for 2016 to show how they would lead both on foreign and domestic policy. It behooves them to lay out their approach on Russia, Iran, Gaza, Obamacare replacement and more.
That seems to be precisely what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is doing today by rolling out an anti-poverty plan. At a speech at the American Enterprise Institute and in a USA Today op-ed, he makes the case for conservative reform. He rolls out a genuinely new idea in the opportunity debate: “I’d like to get the conversation going by offering an idea to repair the safety net. I’d start a pilot program, which I’d call the Opportunity Grant. It would consolidate up to 11 federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states. The idea would be to let states try different ways of providing aid and then to test the results — in short, more flexibility in exchange for more accountability.” He explains:
Plans would be approved on four conditions: The state would have to spend all funding on people in need. Second, the state would have to hold people accountable through work requirements and time limits for every able-bodied recipient just as there are for cash welfare today.
Third, the state would have to offer at least two service providers. The state welfare agency couldn’t be the only game in town. And fourth, the state would have to measure progress through a neutral third party to keep track of key metrics.
This is somewhat of a change of pace for Ryan, who has focused on fiscal sobriety as House Budget Committee chairman. He is not stopping with the Opportunity Grant. Also on his agenda are doubling the maximum credit for childless workers to $1,005; education reform (both school choice and expanding higher ed options); criminal justice reform; and regulatory reform. (“If you’re a federal agency, and you want a regulation that would unduly burden low-income families, you’ve got to go to Congress. If they want it, they should have to fight for it—on the record. It’s your government; you deserve a voice and a vote.”)
Some will see this as evidence of presidential ambition. But those closest to Ryan don’t think he’s going to run. What he is doing is refusing to rest on GOP laurels (in this case good polls). He is giving his colleagues something to do if and when they win.