John Oliver devoted a segment on his show last night to talking about the importance of state-level elections. He's dead on: With divided government, whoever controls the Senate will only have limited sway over the national agenda. Intraparty disputes and partisan rancor will ensure that Congress remains as impotent as ever.
“This Congress is shaping up to be the least productive in history,” Oliver said . “Although to be fair, Congress is like jazz — it’s really about the bills it’s not passing. It’s also like jazz in that most people hate it and anyone who says they don’t are lying. And the Senate is likely to remain inactive.”
Oliver added, "Down at the local level, everything is happening."
There might be a good bit of truth to this pessimistic view about the congressional elections, and Oliver is right that these local and state elections are making the midterms especially exciting. Voters' choices in gubernatorial races and state house elections and on ballot initiatives this year will have important consequences.
The minimum wage is an example of an issue where state governments are filling the gap created by Congressional inaction.
On Tuesday, voters are expected to vote to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, as surveys show that increasing the minimum wage has bipartisan public support. None of the initiatives would increase the minimum wage as much as many workers' advocates have called for nationally. But if the measures pass, then most states will have a higher minimum wage than the current federal floor of $7.25 an hour. Democrats are likely to rely heavily on the minimum wage in their economic policy platform in 2016, so economists will be watching closely to see how increases affect businesses and standards of living state by state.
There are also important ballot questions on criminal justice. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia will decide whether or not to legalize marijuana (although weed will remain illegal under federal law). According to a new poll, a measure in California that would relax penalties on several crimes is likely to pass. The initiative would classify small-time theft and the possession of drugs such as cocaine and heroin as misdemeanors rather than felonies.
Ballot initiatives make voters' power to create policy especially clear, but of course, they'll also be electing the lawmakers and governors who will set the agenda in each state. Republicans could take control of more statehouses than ever on Tuesday, although the party's candidates are in trouble in Kansas. Gov. Sam Brownback is slightly behind in the most recent polls, pointing to voters' concerns about his supply-side economic reforms. If he loses, his opponent will probably undo many of Brownback's sweeping changes to the tax code.
If you're tired of reading about the approaching midterms, then look into your local races. There may well be some big issues being debated there. And if not, at least we only have one more day.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) The new climate change report 2) Opinions: Midterms, in-state tuition, underage prostitution and sugar tariffs 3) The ground game is on 4) Court orders quarantine lifted 5) The Bank of Japan, health care, sexual harassment at Yale and more
Number of the day: 3 million. That's how many people would now have health insurance if every state had expanded Medicaid, new data show. Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz in The New York Times.
Chart of the day:
Gas prices are set to fall below $3 a gallon for the first time in four years. Sue Chang for MarketWatch.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives the world its most dire warning on climate change so far. Global warming will erase gains made against poverty and hunger around the world, and addressing the problem would require governments to act more or less immediately to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. At current rates, we reach a point at which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is truly dangerous in about 30 years. Justin Gillis in The New York Times.
Primary source: "Severe, widespread and irreversible." The report.
Want to stop climate change? We'll need help from nuclear and clean coal. These technologies are unpopular with some environmentalists, and they're still costly, but they're necessary to avoid the most serious consequences of climate change, according to the report. Even with international coordination and improved technology, we'll probably have to find a way to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as well -- all in all, a tall order. Brad Plumer at Vox.
The U.N. report might even be too optimistic. Scientists don't like controversy, and if you sift through the report's data on issues like rising sea levels, it looks like the authors might have understated the danger. Chris Mooney in The Washington Post.
MCKIBBEN: Scientists and engineers have done their job. Now politicians have to do theirs. The science of global warming has long been clear, and the technologies we need to stop it are becoming cheaper and more efficient. Putting them to use, however, means that policymakers have to emancipate themselves from the fossil fuel industry. The Guardian.
ORNSTEIN: The media ignore the fact that Republican candidates have said simply crazy things. For example, Joni Ernst's espousal of several conspiracy theories has gone largely unreported. Embarrassing quirks like these are hard to fit into a coherent narrative about the election. The Atlantic.
HUNT: Neither party has a governing agenda. The one thing candidates haven't talked about in the midterms is what they'll actually do in office, which suggests that nothing is likely to get done. That's unfortunate, because both sides have something to gain from collaborating. Bloomberg.
SCHANZER & SULLIVAN: Cancel the midterms. Lawmakers spend 70 percent of their time fundraising in an election year. The midterms are an expensive process and a distraction from policymaking that prevents presidents from having a meaningful opportunity to implement their agenda. The New York Times.
HIATT: In-state tuition is a gift to the rich. It's the children of wealthy families who are most likely to attend four-year schools and who benefit most from subsidies at prestigious public institutions. A better approach would be to use the money for scholarships for high school graduates who really need them, and ask wealthy families to pay more. The Washington Post.
KRUGMAN: Business leaders habitually give bad advice on the economy. Many people expect the business community to have a useful perspective on economic policy. "But success in business does not seem to convey any special insight into economic policy." Managing a national economy is just a very different job than managing a business. The New York Times.
SCHEIBER: Obama didn't "fumble" the recovery. The administration didn't score a touchdown, either, but the economy really has improved. While they made several big mistakes in enacting a stimulus that was too small and neglecting to restructure the financial sector, those errors haven't proved catastrophic. The New Republic.
KRISTOF: A Web site profits from the prostitution of American children. The site, Backpage, allows pimps to advertise young girls on the site and does not collaborate with law enforcement in a meaningful way to help them find children who have been kidnapped or who have gone missing, according to two lawsuits against the company. The New York Times.
BURLEIGH LEONARD: U.S. trade policy is sweet on sugar manufacturers. Not only is the U.S. sugar industry heavily subsidized, but tariffs exclude foreign competition. Free trade in sugar would give the United States a stronger bargaining position in haggling down tariffs on other domestically produced commodities, helping farmers exports their crops. The Wall Street Journal.
A new poll shows Republicans continue to hold a narrow lead. By a single percentage point, voters prefer that Republicans control Congress than Democrats nationally and in states with crucial races. Interest among likely Democrats in the election has increased, but younger voters remain unlikely to show up at the polls. Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.
Democrats scramble to get voters to the polls. Volunteers are knocking on doors and visiting churches around the country to remind people to cast a ballot. Turnout is the last hope for the party, now that the time for changing minds has passed. David Fahrenthold, Wesley Lowery and Elahe Izadi in The Washington Post.
Republicans are favored -- but they have to do more than just win in the Senate. A strong showing by Republicans at the polls on Tuesday would say little about how they'll do in 2016, when turnout will be higher among the groups that oppose them -- Latinos, Asians and young adults. A good sign for Republicans would be that they not only win races, but bring over some of those voters to their side. Nate Cohn in The New York Times.
Obama -- not the economy -- is why Democrats are in a difficult position. The economy is crucial in determining the outcome of presidential elections, but that isn't the case in midterms. Voters typically turn against the president's party, more so if he is unpopular, and what people think of the president depends on more than just the economy. Lynn Vavreck in The New York Times.
DOUTHAT: But why is Obama so unpopular? People might be upset about his policies on health care, the economy or foreign affairs, or they might blame him for dysfunction in Congress. Yet while these issues might move voters away from Democrats, they might not push them toward Republicans either. The G.O.P. still has work to do in defining a positive and compelling agenda. The New York Times.
BLOW: Part of the reason might be that he's black. On the other hand, the president's race has also guaranteed him the support of the black community, whom Democrats are relying on heavily to turn out on Tuesday. The New York Times.
Kaci Hickox can come and go as she likes, a court ruled Friday. The judge denounced "misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information" in ruling against Maine's quarantine of the healthy nurse, who has tested negative for Ebola so far after returning home from treating victims of the disease in Sierra Leone. Robert F. Bukaty for the Associated Press.
Hickox says the quarantines in Maine and New Jersey were politically motivated. There is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted by people who aren't symptomatic, so even if Hickox does have Ebola in her blood, she is almost certainly not contagious. "When Governor [Chris] Christie stated that it was an abundance of caution, which is his reasoning for putting health-care workers in a sort of quarantine for three weeks, it was really an abundance of politics," she told NBC on Sunday. Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.
JUDIS: Racism and xenophobia contribute to the irrational fear of Ebola. Psychological research shows that people worried about disease have more negative attitudes toward immigrants from Africa rather than Asia, and many Americans (wrongly) believe that people infected with Ebola are crossing the Mexican border. It's hard to imagine the public responding the same way to a disease that originated in Canada. Leon Krauze in The New Republic.
The Bank of Japan surprises markets with a promise to print even more money. Stocks rose worldwide on the news of unexpected stimulus from the Japanese central bank on Friday. The Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve took opposite approaches last week: one expanded, the other ended its stimulus program. While the U.S. economy is stronger than the Japanese economy, it isn't that strong, and the Fed might have made the wrong choice. Matthew Yglesias at Vox.
Watch for a major health care announcement from the Supreme Court today. The court could announce as early as today whether it will hear King v. Burwell, one of several cases with the potential to cancel Obamacare subsidies in states using the federally run exchange rather than one of their own. "Take away those subsidies and many become uninsured and the system in those states more or less collapses." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.
Yale's head of cardiology will not return to his post following a sexual-harassment case. Dr. Michael Simons pursued a colleague 18 years younger than him. When he was rebuffed, he reportedly excluded the woman's boyfriend from professional opportunities. The case, which has incensed Yale's medical faculty, raises anew questions about the school's policies on sexual harassment. Tamar Lewin in The New York Times.
Airspace restrictions were intended to keep news helicopters from filming protests in Ferguson. In recorded telephone conversations, the Federal Aviation Administration and police in Ferguson discussed how to keep media from flying over the protests there this summer, while allowing other commercial aircraft to pass through the area. Jack Gillum and Joan Lowy for the Associated Press.
Motorola sues its suppliers for collusion. The Lenovo subsidiary claims Samsung, Sharp and LG colluded to set prices for cell-phone screens for decades. The suit will test the geographic boundaries of U.S. antitrust law, since the components were manufactured in Asia. Brent Kendall in The Wall Street Journal.