Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christ to Run for Florida – Takes it Out of the Picture

It was announced today that Charlie Christ, the Governor of Florida, will be running for the open Senate seat in 2010. This announcement brings with it many consequences and opens up some interesting races to watch in 2010.

Firstly, through announcing that he is running, Christ has essentially ensured that the Republicans will hold onto the Senate seat vacated by Martinez. Christ is extremely popular among people from all across the spectrum in Florida and unless the Democrats can pull something magical out of the hat I doubt they could win this seat.

Second, I believe this announcement could increase speculation of the possibility of Christ making a bid for President; not in 2012, but possibly in 2016. In running for the Senate Christ is providing himself many more opportunities to reach a more national audience and therefore increase his popularity across the country. This, with an experience as a Governor gives Christ great credentials to win a Presidential race.

Last, this announcement will now make the Florida Governor race extremely interesting to watch. Given the continued dominance of the Democrats in the Senate and the unlikely impact of the Florida Senate seat in 2010 one could argue that the Florida Gubernatorial race will have much more impact than the Senate race in 2010. This means that it is very likely that we will see a competitive race for this position and one that the Democrats could win. Likely candidates are already being spoken about in the media with a race that was generally considered to be a no contest (when Christ was still in it) now wide open. It will definitely be one to watch and one the Democrats could pick up.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Major Development for 2010 – Arlen Spector Switches Sides

It a major coup for the Democrats in the United States, Republican Senator Arlen Specter has today announced that he will be switching parties and will now become a member of and run in the 2010 primary for the Democratic Party. Specter has recently fallen under immense pressure from within the Republican Party as primary challenger Pat Toomey looked certain to beat him in the 2010 primary vote. Toomey launched his bid against Specter just weeks ago and looked certain to gain victory in a state that’s Republican Party has recently taken a sharp turn to the right as hoards of moderates have fled to join the Democrats. This left the moderate, but popular (state wide), Specter extremely vulnerable to his conservative challenger and almost certain to lose. Specter stated this shift to the right as his main reason for switching parties.

The move, with the almost certain victory in Minnesota for Al Franken will give the Democrats the magic 60 Senators, a number that ensures that they can now overcome a Republican filibuster and pass any required legislation. This means that Democrats now will technically not have to deal with the Republican Party in any way in the Senate and will be able to pass a large number of the sweeping changes that they desire. Although the Democrats must be careful with this increase in power, this provides a great opportunity for them to continue to push their more left wing agenda in the next two years.

This must be a big wake up call for the Republicans in the US. With the continued rightward shift of the party it looks almost certain that these sorts of shifts from moderates will continue to occur. Whilst this isn’t likely to occur in Congress (as there are very few moderates left) it will almost certainly continue to occur with the general voting population. Candidates such as Pat Toomey are popular with conservative voters, but are simply far too decisive and to the right of a population that is taking a left turn. Arlen Specter is just doing what millions of voters around the country have done in the past years in the United States and rejected the far right agenda of the Republican Party. I am almost certain that if the party continues with this far right agenda through supporting candidates such as Pat Toomey that they will face continued destruction in 2010. 

Read more at my previous post on ‘Will the Republicans Continue to Crumble in 2010’ and at the Tally Room and Daily Kos

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Monitering the Left | , , , , | 2 Comments

Will the Republicans Continue to Crumble in 2010?

It is said in the United States that the first 100 days of Presidents tenure are the most productive as it is during those days that the President is best able to use their political capital without needing to focus on the mid-term elections. Now, with Barack Obama’s first 100 days coming to a close I thought I would take this opportunity to look at the prospects of the 2010 election and what I predict will be a continued downfall for the Republican Party. In this post I will have a look at the three main areas of competition in 2010 (House of Representatives, Senate and Gubernatorial Races) and discuss the prospects of the Democrats and Republicans in these areas.

House of Representatives

At such an early stage it is extremely difficult to predict how the House of Representatives races will go in 2010. As House of Representative races occur on a much smaller scale than Senate and Gubernatorial races, far less work and fundraising efforts are required. This means that at this point of time potential candidates have still not appeared and races have not really begun, meaning it is difficult to tell what will happen. However, even with that a couple of key indicators are pointing towards another strong Democratic showing in 2010. These are:

  1. The approval rating of the Congress has risen recently. Now, approximately 30-35% of people approve of Congress, compared to the average 20-25% that occurred during the last House of Reps tenure. Given that the Democrats did so well in the last period, one could assume that with increased popularity they would continue to do well at the next election.
  2. The percentage of people who think that the United States are going  in the right direction has risen dramatically. Although this may be due to a change in President, when this occurs it normally points towards status quo elections, which would mean continued Democratic strength.

For a good discussion on the possibilities of a Republican rebound in the House of Representatives read this article

Senate

Although it is difficult to predict the House of Representative at this point of time, indicators of how the Senate will go are becoming much clearer and it looks good for the Democrats. With almost double the amount of Republicans up for election in 2010 than Democrats and a few key retirements the Democrats have a number of things going their way in 2010. Here are some of the key issues:

Retirements: At the current time Senators from 5 states ( Judd Gregg from New Hampshire, George Voinovich from Ohio, Kit Bond from Missouri, Mel Martinez from Florida and Sam Brownback from Kansas) have announced their retirements in 2010, with the possibility that two to three more will announce that they are retiring in the near future (Oklahoma (if Tim Coburn decides to retire as he has indicated he might), Texas (if Kay Hutchison retires to run in the primary for Governor, creating a special election) and Kentucky (if Jim Bunning buckles to pressure to resign from the seat). Although Kansas probably lost its only chance for a Democratic Senator with Kathleen Sebelius being elevated to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Democrats are almost certain to pick up the extremely blue leaning New Hampshire and Ohio and will be extremely competitive in Missouri and Florida depending on candidates. 

Conservative Challenges: With the hardening of the right base in the Republican Party over the past years, there are now a number of possible conservative challengers to more moderate Republican Senators. This is creating a great conundrum for the Republican Party. Whilst conservative candidates are now more likely to win Republican primaries (due to the exodus of moderates from the party) they are far less likely to win in a general election, where in states like Pennsylvania (where conservative Pat Toomey is likely to beat Senator Arlen Spector in the primary race) and Arizona (where conservative Chris Simcox is challenging John McCain) moderate candidates are preferred.

Vulnerable Senators: The Republicans also have two very vulnerable Senators in Jim Bunning representing Kentucky and Richard Burr in North Carolina. Bunning has made a number of gaffs in his time in office (including stating the Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be dead in 9 months after her cancer operation), is growing extremely unpopular and has a dismal fundraising record. However, even with strong pressure from within the party to remove Bunning, he looks unlikely to step down and is yet to face any primary challengers. This leaves the Democrats with a strong chance of picking up the seat. Richard Burr is facing some of the same problems Elizabeth Dole face in 2008. North Caroline is becoming bluer and Burr is suffering due to that. This means that he will likely face a strong challenge for his seat in 2010.

Vulnerable Democrats: It is important to note that there are a few vulnerable Democrats as well (although there are no retirements). The most vulnerable of these is Senator Chris Dodd (Connecticut) who is under a lot of pressure over his dealings with the bank bail outs. Dodd is facing a number of challengers and will have a tough run for re-election. Republicans also like to point towards Roland Burris in Illinois and Harry Reid in Nevada as possible vulnerable candidates. However, with Burris likely to lose a primary challenge and Reid having a huge incumbency advantage and election war chest, it is extremely unlikely that the Republicans will pick up these seats. 

Overall, it seems almost certain the Democrats will pick up seats in New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with strong challenges being played out in Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and Connecticut. This would lead to the Democrats finally picking up the 60 seats required to defeat a filibuster.

Gubernatorial Races

It is the gubernatorial races however that will provide the most hope for the Republicans in 2010. With retirements/term by Democrats occurring in such states conservative states as Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming the Republicans seem likely to pick up some new Governorships. However, these states are by no means big prizes and where the Republicans win here they are more than likely to lose elsewhere. The biggest chance for loss for the Republicans will be the state of California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be forced out due to term limits. The race will be tight with strong candidates emerging on both sides, but with the inherent blue nature of California one would predict a Democrat win.

The other big race will be in New York. With current Governor David Paterson facing low approval ratings in the state and possible primary challenges, this race could be tight. This is especially true as there is now talk that former New York Mayor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rudolf Giuliani may be considering running in the race, giving the Republicans a strong candidate. However, it is still extremely early to tell at this point of time, although I would predict that Giuliani would win the race if he ran.

Conclusion

Overall, things look good for the Democrats in 2010. With a strengthening conservative base in the United States and a growing rejection of this base, Democrats are looking stronger than ever in the United States and in my opinion will continue to grow in 2010. What this will do to the Republicans and conservative movement in the United States I am not sure about, but it will definitely create even more turmoil than that we are seeing at the moment.   



April 26, 2009 Posted by | Monitering the Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where is the Left At? – United States

After discussing the left in Australia I now turn towards the United States and have a look at where I see the left stands in one of the most influential countries in the world. The left is definitely on the rise in the United States and is growing stronger every year. Both in legislative and issue based politics it is clear that the left is gaining strength and will continue to do so in the future.

Legislative

Unlike Australia where the left is split between two parties in the country, the left in the United States almost solely focuses its efforts into the Democratic Party. This is due to the extremely strong two party nature of the American system and although parties such as the Greens and other minor left parties are growing slightly, they still have very little influence beyond local elections. This is unfortunately likely to continue to occur as it is extremely unlikely that we will see a change in the American political system that would provide more opportunities for third parties. Therefore, in legislative matters one can measure the current success of the left through (a) looking at the success of the Democratic Party and (b) looking at how left the Democrats have become.

The Democratic Party: The Democrats are currently probably stronger than they have been since the 1960s. The party currently holds control over the Presidency, the Senate (by 18 seats), the House of Representatives (by 79 seats), the majority of state legislatures and the majority of governorships (28-22). With many problems with Senate and Gubernatorial races and a growing approval rate of the Congress in the United States it seems unlikely that this trend will change in the 2010 elections and it is even possible that the Democrats will increase their legislative majorities.

However, having the Democrats in power across the United States does not necessarily mean that the US is a ‘left wing’ country. Just like the Labor Party in Australia there are large and continuing battles within the Democrats between the right and left wing factions of the party. Although the right factions of the Democrats are nowhere near as right wing as their conservative counterparts in the Republicans, they are still far to the right of what the left wants in the Party. So, going beyond asking the question of how the Democratic Party is doing in the United States, one must look at how the left is doing in the Democratic Party. This is an issue that is a lot harder to investigate (as one must have a better knowledge of the respective members in the party); however there are definitely encouraging signs:

  1. The party has definitely moved far away from some of its extremely conservative roots (based around the South in early and mid 20th Century) and has pretty much shed the majority of the extreme conservatives from its membership.
  2. Some of the lefter members of the party are now reaching much higher positions than in the past. For example, whilst leadership positions used to be reserved for conservatives from the South, the leadership in the House of Representatives now consists of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank; two who are both considered to be in the left ‘faction’ of the party.
  3. Candidates who are further to the right in the party are now finding it more difficult to get a hold within the parties structure and are being shunned somewhat. One only needs to look at the rise of Kirstin Gillibrand to the New York Senate and the many promises that a primary challenge (which would most likely succeed) after it occurred as evidence of this.

However, this does not necessarily mean that US legislators are just as left as their left counterparts around the world as due to the historic right wing nature of American Politics, the left wing in the United States is still not as left as is seen by left wing parties in other parts of the world.

However, it is clear that the US and the Democrats have taken a left turn in the past 5 or so years and the question then must be, do the American people like and accept this lefter turn from the party? One must assume that with the massive victories of the Democrats, which have been created by these ‘lefter’ candidates, over the past two election cycles and the probably victories in 2010 that the answer to this is a yes. With increasing Democratic Registrations, along with decreasing Republican ones and an increasing number of people identifying themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘extremely liberal’ it is clear that people are becoming more accepting of the left movement. Why and how this has happened is definitely a topic for another post. However, what is certain about this is that it is creating a stronger acceptance of such left shifts as health care reform, gay and women’s rights reform, climate change action etc. Although many of these such reforms have been attempted by Democrats in the past (i.e. Bill Clinton and health care), with the much stronger left wing presence in the house and senate at the moment such reforms are much more likely at the current time.  

Moving Beyond the Legislature

Of course, the left does not just exist within the halls of the legislature and the party room and the different left movements that exist around the country definitely require some mention. Just like the rest of the world, the left pressure movement in the US can be separated into broader umbrella groups and more issue focused groups. On the broader scale one can look at organisations such as MoveOn.org  as probably the strongest and largest growing left wing political pressure group in the country. Regarding information based sites; the numbers of left blog sites in the United States is huge, with site such as The Daily Kos, providing a great example of how these sites can continue to push left thought. It is interesting to note that just like GetUp in Australia, these groups are benefiting greatly through their use of the internet, an issue that continue to plague the right in the United States.

On the issue based politics, one can definitely see major continued growth occurring in the climate, gay rights, women’s, union, immigration and many other left based movements within the United States. Many of these movements are now seeing major victories in the country(for example gay marriage victories in a number of states and the first substantial climate based legislation being introduced into Congress in the past weeks) after what has been some very difficult years for these movements. However, just like the rest of the world there is the continued question of how to bring these movements together to provide a stronger and more united left wing movement. This is not something that I have time to go into on this post however.

I hope this has given a good overview, although very brief, of where the left is positioned in the United States at the moment. I appreciate that I will have left a lot of things out of this post, but will hope to begin filling in these gaps in the future as I continue to discuss the forward movement of the left in the United States.  

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left | , , , | Leave a comment