Monday, July 31, 2006

Green “Details” Plan for Budget

A little over a month ago, Mark Green had this to say about his plans for the state budget if elected governor: “We just tried to lay out broad (budget) outlines at this point. It's so early in the process.”

Could the wait be over? Less than two hours ago the Journal-Sentinel offered up this headline on its DayWatch blog: “Green details budget plans.”

The ensuing post gets to the heart of it:


After releasing his plan in April, Green was criticized for not providing enough details on how he would handle the state's budget issues. Democrats were also critical of Green's tenure in Congress, in which the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said Green had a fiscally irresponsible record of voting for spending increases.

Today, he provided some more details, saying he would look for ways to reduce spending by better use of contracting dollars.

"There's lots of examples of contracting out where we can save the state tens and tens of millions of dollars, and that's where we'd start," Green said.

He also said he would look to "right-size" the size of state government.


So let me get this straight. What constitutes detailing a budget plan these days is saying you’d spend money more wisely?

The Cap Times has a story out today that provides a little more: “Green declined to offer specifics on what he believes should be the right size for state government and said he would make that determination as governor.”

This charade is starting to read like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: Vote for me because I have a plan, which I’ll figure out after you vote for me.


UPDATE: Xoff does a great job showing how Green's budgeting ideas would play out in a household setting, and Carrie Lynch questions the policy of budgeting on 40 words or less.

LATE UPDATE: Dave Diamond sees a pattern of vagueness emerging in Green's campaign promises, Cory Liebmann takes Green's budget talking points to task, and Gretchen Schuldt says that Green has a responsibility to be more specific on his budget plans.

Supporting the Iraq War: See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Poll after poll over the last year has shown dwindling support for the Iraq War.

For the first time, a Pew Research survey this month showed a majority of Americans (50 percent) feel the US made the wrong decision by invading Iraq three years ago. A recent Gallup poll backs up this opposition to the war by finding that 52 percent of Americans want the US to pull out of Iraq within a year.

Not surprisingly, the support for the war that remains comes mostly from people who identify themselves as Republican. In fact, a NY Times article over the weekend argued that the Iraq War has polarized the US along partisan lines like no other conflict in recent memory – and that includes the Vietnam War.

A recent Times/CBS poll showed that three out of every four Republicans think the Iraq War was the right move for US foreign policy, while only 1 in 4 Dems feel the same. Independents are split between the two sides, although they have been moving closer to the Democratic position on Iraq lately.

These polls are particularly interesting in light of a Pew Research survey on news-watching trends that was released over the weekend.

The survey found that over the past two years, the number of people who follow news about Iraq “very closely” has declined from 54 percent to 43 percent. And parsing those numbers a little more shows that it’s Republican viewers who are driving those numbers down the most.

In 2004, it was Republicans who were most likely to follow news about Iraq “very closely” – 59 percent told Pew that they did. The figures at the time were 55 percent for Dems and 50 percent for Independents.

In 2006, those numbers have nearly reversed. Now only 41 percent of Republicans claim to watch the news about Iraq “very closely” – an 18 point drop from two years ago – while 50 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Independents say that they do.

Without question, it’s difficult for anyone to consistently and closely follow the bad news that pours out of Iraq on a daily basis.

It’s just interesting that it seems to be the most difficult for those who still actually support the war.

Friday, July 28, 2006

What to Do About Bush: The Mark Green and Mark Kennedy Campaigns

On paper, Mark Green and Mark Kennedy have some striking similarities.

Both are Republican congressmen who have been in office roughly the same amount of time (Green began in 1999, Kennedy in 2001).

Both come from Midwest states with similar political sensibilities (Green is from Wisconsin, Kennedy is from Minnesota).

Both get high conservative rankings from the American Conservative Union (88 for Green, 90 for Kennedy).

Both have been staunch defenders of invading Iraq.

Both recently backed the president’s decision to veto a bill that would have sustained and enhanced embryonic stem cell research in the US.

Both have voted with the Bush White House over 90% of the time.

Both are currently running competitive statewide campaigns (Green for governor, Kennedy for US Senate).

But, so far, the two seem to be taking different approaches when it comes to associating their campaigns with the president.

Kennedy has gone to great lengths to disassociate his Senate campaign from Bush. Last month Minnesota bloggers were all over Kennedy when he largely removed any mention of Bush from his campaign website, including any pictures of the president.

Kennedy also hasn’t had any major fundraisers with the president this year, although he has had one with Karl Rove and one with Laura Bush in the past couple of months (and he did have one with Bush himself last December).

And now there’s this campaign ad from Kennedy, which attempts to identify his position as that of an “independent.” At one point, Kennedy’s daughter appears and has this to say: “Dad’s not much of a Party guy…he doesn’t do whatever the Party says to.”

Green, on the other hand, has been more conspicuous about his connections to the White House.

Earlier this month Green held a $1000 per plate dinner with the president in Milwaukee that captured front-page headlines. In the president’s speech at the fundraiser – which also drew significant attention, including an airing on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee – Bush went to great lengths to highlight his connections with Green.

The Green Team hasn’t started airing campaign ads of its own, and it will be interesting to see if Green continues to embrace his associations with the White House and the Republican Party as a whole in them. After all, recent polls have shown that Bush is even less popular in Wisconsin than he is in Minnesota.

While a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll in July showed that 42 percent of Minnesotans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute poll earlier this month showed that only 37 percent of Wisconsinites feel the same.

Ditching the president at this point could be tough for Green – his campaign is said to have netted over half a million dollars from the fundraiser earlier this month and the words spoken by the president that night leave little doubt about the closeness of the two.

Then again, sticking with Bush isn’t exactly a walk in the park for any Republican this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Attention Reporters: A Stem Cell Question for Mark Green

Since it seems the Green Team is trying to make the claim that its stance on stem cell research is a nuanced one, I have a question reporters might care to ask Green to clarify even more where he stands on this issue.

First, a little context for the question:

Green has stated that he opposes using government funds for the destruction of embryos. Here is the exact line from Green in a Journal-Sentinel article today: “What I have supported is preventing tax dollars from being used to destroy human embryos.”

Green has also stated that he does not oppose private research that destroys human embryos (see the same JS article cited above).

Research that seeks to develop new embryonic stem cell lines destroys embryos. The research on those lines, once developed, does not require the destruction of embryos.

Now, onto the question itself:

Congressman Green, since you oppose using government funds for research that destroys embryos but support private research that destroys embryos, do you support government funding of research on new embryonic stem cell lines developed through privately-funded research?

And here are some follow-up questions, depending on how Green responds…

If yes, does this mean that – if elected governor – you would be willing to allocate state funds for research on new embryonic stem cell lines once they have been developed privately?

Also, are you aware that this is the position the Clinton Administration held on embryonic stem cell research, as well as the one currently held by the European Union, and that it’s in stark contrast to the position maintained by the Bush Administration?

If no, since the research on new lines does not involve the destruction of embryos, on what grounds do you oppose publicly funding it?

This series of questions will serve the dual purpose of clarifying exactly where Green stands on the issue of embryonic stem cell research and further educating the public about the true scope of this debate.

Any takers?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Assessing the Doyle Stem Cell Ad

Conservatives have been doing there best the past couple of days to muddy the waters on stem cell research, particularly in light of the most recent Doyle campaign ad on the issue.

Most are directly challenging the ad’s assertion that Mark Green has said he would like to outlaw stem cell research, but some have even claimed that Green has never even voted against embryonic stem cell research; rather, they argue, he’s merely against cloning.

The latter claim is simply not true.

First, cloning is not currently a part of embryonic stem cell research in the US. Therapeutic cloning may need to be in the future to derive cells for a patient that have a reduced chance of rejection, but there is no telling whether that will be necessary until further research on embryonic stem cells is complete. Reproductive cloning – which is what draws the ire of most Americans – will never be a part of embryonic stem cell research.

Second, while Green has never voted to ban private research on embryonic stem cells (to be sure, there has never been a bill for him to vote on regarding this), his votes last year and last week to preserve restrictions on federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines – research that does not involve cloning – clearly show opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

But even the wider charge the Doyle ad makes – that Green would like to outlaw stem cell research – has some significant accuracy to it, as well.

Although, to be fair, the ad should’ve said embryonic stem cell research, since Green hasn’t shown any opposition to other forms of stem cell research. Yet, on the other hand, researchers are in agreement that embryonic stem cell research holds the most promise for finding cures to a variety of diseases including juvenile diabetes, which afflicts the girl from the ad.

Green’s position on embryonic stem cell research is a moving target, to say the least. Prior to last week, the closest he came to publicly stating a position was to refer to the research as immoral.

In a letter to Doyle a couple of months ago, two bishops from Wisconsin urged the governor to withdraw all state support for embryonic stem cell research, citing morality as a justification for the request. At the time, the Green Team called the letter “right on” and said that it reflects what Green “has been saying all along.”

It was in this context that the Doyle ad was created. Considering Green was calling the research immoral and backing pleas for the withdrawal of state support from it, it isn’t at all a stretch to say he doesn’t want it to continue.

However, as of last week – after the ad was produced – the Green line on embryonic stem cell research changed. Now it’s just an issue of public finance for Green, not morality. To be sure, a Green press release on the topic last week talks all about funding and doesn’t mention morality once. And at a citizen forum exactly one week ago, Green had this to say: “Are we going to force taxpayers to pay for it? There is no ban here on private sector research.”

After all, if Green was to stick with the morality argument, for the sake of consistency, he would’ve also needed to oppose the widely-popular practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) – which is something no politician seeking statewide office wants to do. (The Catholic Church, in fact, does call for the end of IVF for the same reasons it supports the end of embryonic stem cell research.)

So, instead, he backed off and has now started to use the funding argument. And, as it happens, at the citizen forum last week, Green came out publicly in support of IVF. (Although, it should be noted, the new funding line doesn’t exactly give Green consistency, considering some government funding right here in Wisconsin goes to support the destruction of embryos as a necessary part of the IVF process.)

All-in-all, to call the Doyle ad completely off base – as conservatives and the Green Team have – is itself off the mark and nothing more than an attempt to cover the fact that the little Green has offered on the topic of embryonic stem cell research ranges from restrictive at best to downright hostile at worst.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

John Edwards Gets Boost in Presidential Race

The Dems decided over the weekend to make a couple of significant alterations to the presidential primary calendar for 2008.

The Iowa Caucus will still be first, but the Democratic National Committee has approved moving the Nevada primary into the second spot ahead of New Hampshire. Also, the South Carolina primary was moved up to the fourth spot.

Eleven states petitioned to get their primaries moved up before the February 5 date (after which any state can schedule their primary at any time), but Nevada and South Carolina were chosen to provide more racial and geographic diversity to the early primary season.

According to The Fix, this move is a significant boon for John Edwards. A Des Moines Register poll last month showed very strong numbers for Edwards among likely caucus voters in Iowa. Edwards is also said to have strong connections in Nevada, which puts him in a good position to pull off a win in that primary, and South Carolina is virtually a lock for the former North Carolina Senator (he won the 2004 primary in S.C. by 15 percentage points).

If three of the first four primaries go to Edwards, that would make him a very formidable candidate heading into the rest of the states.

Conversely, the recent primary moves could spell trouble for candidates who are lesser known in the south, such as Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh, and Mark Warner.

Since the Nevada primary is sandwiched in between Iowa and New Hampshire, candidates won't have much time to garner grassroots support once the primaries start. In 2004, there were eight days between the first two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire.

In 2008, however, there will be only five days between Iowa (Jan. 14) and Nevada (Jan. 19), and then only another three days between Nevada and New Hampshire (Jan. 22). The South Carolina primary will come one week after New Hampshire, around January 29, and the rest will start after February 5.

White House Clarifies Position on Stem Cells

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow apologized yesterday for this comment he made last week: "The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them."

Evidently he meant to say that the president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something the many people consider to be the destruction of human life. And Bush is one of them.

I'm glad we got that cleared up. I was worried there for a bit that the White House was taking an extreme position.


Side-Note: Does the funding argument sound familiar?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mark Green Back-Pedals on Stem Cell Research

Lately it seems that Mark Green has been backing away from his “moral compass” line on stem cell research and focusing instead on the issue of funding.

When Green backed the president’s decision to veto the bill to sustain and enhance embryonic stem cell research, he defended his actions by saying he didn’t think taxpayers should be forced to fund the destruction of embryos.

Here’s the exact line from his press statement: “The vote today…is not about expanding stem cell research. It is about whether taxpayers should be required to fund the destruction of living human embryos. I don’t think they should.”

The word "moral" doesn't appear once in the release.

Green reiterated the funding line at a citizen forum held last week in Stevens Point. When pressed on the issue by people attending the forum, Green responded by falling back on the taxpayer argument.

“Are we going to force taxpayers to pay for it?” Green asked the crowd. "There is no ban here on private sector research."

In other words, it’s not so much the morality of the issue as it is a question of who is funding the research. Ostensibly, the argument is that there is a portion of the population that is opposed to embryonic stem cell research – so, since those people pay taxes, it would be wrong to force them to help fund something they oppose.

Of course, this argument runs down a very slippery slope since you can find a portion of the US population that opposes just about everything (just ask Kevin Barrett). If you start basing public finance on opinion polls, where does that leave you? Is, say, 10 percent opposition to something enough to stop funding it? How about 25 percent?

And what about the popular UW fertility clinic in Madison? That’s a taxpayer-funded entity that practices in vitro fertilization (IVF). Should that clinic be closed because it forces some people to help pay for a practice that leads to the destruction of living human embryos?

The more Green dodges and weaves on this issue, and subsequently backs himself into additional corners, the more it becomes clear his opposition to the research is purely political in nature. After all, Green even admitted he supports IVF at the citizen forum last week, which shows quite clearly that embryo destruction isn’t a moral issue for him.

Indeed, sticking to the far right on embryonic stem cell research would've been a risky move for Green – just as it was when he pandered to the far right by criss-crossing the state in support of the failed “Taxpayer Protection Amendment” – which explains the funding focus he’s now taking on the topic.

Continuing to oppose embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds alone would’ve forced Green to eventually state that he also opposes other widely-accepted practices like IVF. Now that Green has added the taxpayer line to this stump speech on stem cell research, he’s diversified his message enough to slip his way out of situations like the one at the citizen forum last week.

It’s likely he’ll continue to pump the “moral compass” line in front of social conservatives, while peddling the taxpayer line in front of a more general audience. All-in-all, though, I imagine what he wants most is to just avoid the topic completely.

Trying to play two sides can be a dangerous game. Social conservatives probably weren’t too happy to hear that Green backs IVF, while moderate conservatives (those in the Tommy Thompson mold) probably fear if elected Green would take even more steps to restrict embryonic stem cell research in the state.

And even if tempering his stance on stem cells doesn't explode in his face, it surely isn't the type of move that creates excitement about the Green campaign. Not rocking the boat on stem cell research is really the best Green can hope for at this point.

In the end, the stem cell issue just seems to be another case of the Green Team’s inability to unite and excite the GOP ranks in Wisconsin.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fudging the Numbers on the Marriage Ban Campaign

In the comments to my previous post, Todd points out that, according to a Wisconsin State Journal article today, the campaign finance reports filed yesterday in connection with campaigns on the marriage ban don't represent the work of another group called the Coalition for Traditional Marriage.

Yet this group recently sent out to churches around the state thousands of DVDs called "The Battle for Marriage in Wisconsin.”

The group's director, Julaine Appling (who, conveniently, also runs the pro-amendment groups Vote Yes for Marriage and the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin), asserts that the money spent on those DVDs doesn't need to be reported "because they were educational in nature" and, thus, not directly connected to the amendment referendum.

But is that true?

According to a review (scroll down to the second article) of the DVD that appeared in the Shepherd Express a few weeks ago, Julaine Appling makes an appearance in video. Here are a couple of comments she makes to viewers:

“Make no mistake. Our Constitution will be amended. The question is, by whom?”

“We urge you and your church to get involved in the battle for marriage in Wisconsin today.”

Now these are just two lines based upon what’s quoted by the Shepherd in its review, and it seems pretty clear from them (not to mention the DVD's title) that the video is linked to the amendment referendum.

The Capital Times offers more on the lack of disclosure here, but the paper doesn’t get into whether the video actually represents a solely educational endeavor.

Perhaps some reporter should.


Side-Note: It's also curious that the WSJ article from today says the DVDs were created by the Coalition for Traditional Marriage, while the Shepherd Express review of the video says it was produced by the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin. Maybe there's something to that, maybe not.

$$$ and the Marriage Ban

The two main groups on either side of the proposed marriage ban also filed their finance reports yesterday.

Here are the totals

Fair Wisconsin (anti-ban)
$1.3 million in 2006, $1.1 million in the bank

Vote Yes for Wisconsin (pro-ban)
$2,454 in 2006, $1,906 in the bank

Vote Yes for Wisconsin tried to spin the results by saying money won’t impact the results of the referendum, but the results of polling on the issue suggest otherwise.

I wrote the other day about how a recent Badger Poll paradoxically shows support for the ban and support for what the ban prohibits.

After taking a closer look, it becomes clear most respondents are likely casting their support for the ban based upon the first sentence alone, which is the one that states, “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”

The second sentence, however, is much broader: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” This line would clearly prohibit civil unions in Wisconsin, yet a strong majority of respondents to the survey (60 percent) support civil unions.

The obvious solution to the disconnect is voter education.

And $1.1 million in the bank can go a long way toward showing Wisconsin voters that they support what this amendment bans.

UPDATE: I just did the math: Fair Wisconsin raised more money in 2006 than all four attorney general candidates combined ($1.3 million vs. $1.22 million). Now that's impressive.

$$$ and the AG Race

Campaign finance reports were due yesterday, and most of the attention is going to the governor's race. But in a field where the candidates are largely unknown across the state, the AG race is perhaps where cash on hand is most significant.

While money can't buy you votes, it can buy you exposure.

And exposure should be a concern for all of the AG candidates this year. According to a recent Badger Poll, the only candidate known by over half of the state is the current AG Peg Lautenschlager (56%). Democrat Kathleen Falk is the next most well known with 24% name recognition, Republican Paul Bucher comes in third with 17%, and Republican JB Van Hollen is last with 7%.

The campaign finance reports filed yesterday don't tell the whole story about a candidate, but they do indicate two important points: 1) the support candidates have garnered through donations so far in the current year, and 2) the amount of cash on hand candidates have to spread their name across the state in these final months before the primary and the general elections.

Here's the campaign finance breakdown for the AG race --

Peg Lautenschlager: $245,411 in 2006, $238,639 in the bank
Kathleen Falk: $372,906 in 2006, $607,916 in the bank
JB Van Hollen: $466,250 in 2006, $417,254 in the bank
Paul Bucher: $136,111 in 2006, $85,397 in the bank

What immediately jumps out from these figures is the extremely low cash balance for Paul Bucher. Considering his campaign has already spent $180,000 to date (more than twice what he currently has in the bank) and 82% of the state still doesn't know who he is, the current campaign finance reports aren't good news for the Bucher camp.

What's more, the Bucher totals this year are only slightly better than the ones he posted last year at this time -- $107,637 raised in first half of 2005 and $80,579 cash on hand. And for the second half of 2005, the Bucher camp was able to raise nearly the same amount as the first half of this year, $125,000, but actually had more on hand at the time, $129,240, than now.

Every other candidate, conversely, dramatically increased their fundraising totals and cash on hand from both filing periods last year to the first one of this year -- Bucher is the only candidate who saw the cash balance go down from the second half of 2005 to the first half of 2006.

Perhaps that explains why Bucher missed the deadline for filing the current report (which was yesterday) and didn't file until today. As a result, the Journal-Sentinel story on the AG race finances from this morning didn't carry the paltry total from the Bucher campaign -- and by tomorrow perhaps it wouldn't be worth it for the paper and others to publish the figure in a stand-alone article.

But the Bucher team can take comfort knowing that the Van Hollen figures, while strong in appearance, mask the fact that 3/4 of what the campaign has raised this year came from Van Hollen himself. When you subtract the $350,000 Van Hollen has given to his own campaign, his total raised this year ($116,000) is actually slightly below what Bucher has raised ($136,000).

Although there's no telling how much of Bucher's own money contributed to his total raised in 2006 -- he, like all candidates, certainly isn't adverse to contributing to his own campaign. And with over $400,000 in the bank, regardless of who put it there, Van Hollen has a lot of money to introduce himself to voters over the next few months.

As for the Dems, while Lautenschlager currently has a lead on Falk in terms of name recognition (32 points), it's not nearly enough of a lead to call the primary in her favor -- especially considering the huge lead Falk currently has in fundraising and cash on hand.

All-in-all, the AG race is still up for grabs. And that's what makes each candidate's current bank account so important at this point.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

For the Record: The Stem Cell Debate

President Bush used his first ever veto to shoot down a bill intended to open up federal funding to research on new embryonic stem cell lines.

The House tried to override the veto yesterday, but came up short. As expected, Mark Green and the rest of the Republican delegation from Wisconsin sided with the president.

Conservatives have tried their best to obscure some key points about the stem cell debate over the past few weeks in order to make their side appear somewhat in the mainstream on this issue. Although these points have all been highlighted by other bloggers and those in the media at various times, I want to reiterate them here just to have them all in one place.

  • New lines of embryonic stem cells are developed from embryos that are left over from fertility clinics that practice in vitro fertilization. Embryonic stem cell research is not the deciding factor in whether embryos are destroyed, in vitro fertilization is that deciding factor -- thus, opposition to the destruction of embryos should be aimed at in vitro fertilization, not embryonic stem cell research. Fertility clinics often create more embryos than they need; not by accident, but in order to ensure a better chance of pregnancy due to the relatively low success rate of single embryo tranfers. The excess embryos are essential for the clinic's mission to help families get pregnant. Patients are usually given three options for the leftover embryos, if there are any: 1) destroy them, 2) donate them to other families, or 3) donate them to research. Since it’s often difficult to find families that are interested in accepting the leftover embryos (people tend to want to create their own whenever possible), many people opt to donate their leftover embryos to research rather than simply have them destroyed. However, due to federal restrictions instituted by President Bush in 2001, federal funds cannot be used for research on these donated embryos or any research that even pertains to lines that were created from these donated embryos – the bill vetoed by the president this week sought to overturn those restrictions.
  • Stem cell lines don’t remain viable research avenues forever. While there were 70 embryonic stem cell lines available in 2001 when Bush first restricted federal funding for research, there are currently only around 20 due to spontaneous mutation over time. In this sense, the bill vetoed by Bush was just as much intended to sustain the research as it was to enhance it. What’s more, in 2001 researchers didn’t have a good grasp of the techniques that could be used for embryonic stem cell research because it was still very new (UW scientist James Thomson first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998). Since then, however, techniques have improved and made the research far more viable, but the drop in stem cell lines available for federal funding threatens that viability in spite of the advances.
  • Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is necessary, despite the private funding that goes into it. Currently the federal National Institute of Health (NIH) funds just under 1/3 of the total biotechnology field. The federal research restrictions, therefore, prevent research on new stem cell lines from accessing any of this funding, thereby separating it from 28 percent of the funding for the entire biotech field. Also, by restricting research that uses federal dollars to certain lines (everything down to the purchase of beakers is restricted), researchers have been forced to completely separate their research into two parts. In some cases, researchers have even needed to build two separate labs to do research – one for the research that uses federal dollars and one for the research that does not. Needless to say, these requirements greatly increase the total cost and adversely affect the efficiency of the research. Additionally, federal dollars tend to be more stable than private funding, which makes federal funding very valuable to research that can take years to develop.
  • Cloning is not currently a part of embryonic stem cell research in the US. There are two purposes for cloning: reproductive and therapeutic. Reproductive cloning seeks to create an animal that is identical to another animal (think Dolly the sheep). There is no possible use for reproductive cloning in embryonic stem cell research; therefore, it's not an issue in the debate. Therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, is aimed at creating cells that match those of a particular patient. While therapeutic cloning is not currently used in embryonic stem cell research in the US, there’s a possibility that in the future it could be necessary for creating stem cells that match a patient and, therefore, have a reduced chance of rejection. To see if therapeutic cloning is even necessary, however, more research is needed.
  • Adult stem cell research is a viable avenue of research, but it cannot take the place of embryonic stem cell research. Since adult stem cells are already defined, they have more restrictions on them than embryonic stem cells that still have the ability to be defined into any type of cell. And while there has been some research into returning adult stem cells to their embryonic state, that research is far from being applicable and it will require additional embryonic stem cell research to perfect (if it’s even possible to perfect – at a Senate committee hearing in June, NIH stem cell expert James Battey referred to such research as “pie in the sky”). Since adult stem cell research is over 30 years old and has no funding restrictions (it currently receives significantly more federal funding than embryonic stem cell research) it has a longer list of accolades than the 8 year old embryonic stem cell research. Yet, in spite of federal restrictions on funding, embryonic stem cell research has made some strong strides. Last month, researchers at Johns Hopkins used embryonic stem cells to revitalize the nerve circuitry in a paralyzed mouse allowing it to walk again, and less than a month later researchers at UCLA used embryonic stem cells to create T-cells that could be used to combat AIDS. Again, in spite of these advances, federal restrictions reduce the likelihood that these breakthroughs can be taken to the next level and, eventually, made viable.
  • Mark Green, President Bush, and others like to claim they support embryonic stem cell research because they didn't vote to eliminate it completely in 2001 and, instead, just put restrictions on it. Bush has even gone so far as to argue he is the first president to provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. This is just not true. By signing the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act in 1993, Bill Clinton actually became the first president to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. While the Dickey-Wicker amendment that was attached as a rider to a 1996 Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) appropriations bill prevented federal funds from going to research that either created or destroyed a human embryo (and the amendment has been re-issued by Congress every year since), the Clinton Administration's interpretion of the amendment allowed for unfettered federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on all available lines because the actual research on the embryonic stem cells doesn't involve the creation or destruction of embryos. In other words, under Clinton the creation of new lines was restricted to private funding only because it involves the destruction of embryos (as required by the Dickey-Wicker amendment), but the actual research on those lines could still be funded federally. When Bush came into office in January 2001, he immediately had the DHHS review the Clinton Administration's interpretation of the Dickey-Wicker amendment and had the NIH freeze applications for funding until the review was complete. Then, in August 2001, Bush announced his decision to not allow any federal funding for either the creation of or research on new stem cell lines, thereby reversing the stance of the Clinton Administration and putting the field in the bind that exists today.

Outlined here are just a handful of the key points surrounding the debate in general. There are other issues more specific to Wisconsin and the gubernatorial race (such as how the state plays a role in either enhancing or restricting embryonic stem cell research through funding, building projects, allowance of various procedures, etc., and who is governor impacts which direction the state heads), but I’m going to stop here for now.

UPDATE: Some alterations have been made to language in two spots -- the substance, however, is the same. See comments for details.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Attack, Attack, Attack!!!

It's not surprising that the same conservative hawks who pushed for pre-emptive strikes against Iraq four years ago are making similarly strident calls to do the same against Iran and Syria in light of the current situation between Israel and Hezbollah.

Newt Gingrich has already called the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict the start of World War III, while William Kristol of the Weekly Standard recently made an impassioned plea to use the conflict as a justification to pursue regime change by force in both Iran and Syria.

And just to add a little more to the feelings of déjà vu, this morning on Fox News, Kristol asserted that US military force could cause the Iranian people “to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power," which doesn’t quite have the ring of “greeted as liberators,” but the picture is still the same.

Although those pleas are eye-opening, to say the least, what’s really interesting is that they appear to be getting the cold shoulder within the Bush Administration – at least for now.

The Washington Post has an important article today regarding the anger that many hawkish conservatives have with the White House’s reluctance to exploit the current situation in the Middle East. Some even go so far as to say that Bush – by privileging bilateral diplomacy over unilateral military action – is acting like Kerry would if he was president!

The sentiment is echoed by some on the left. In the midst of the hubbub over Bush using the word shit in his private conversation with Tony Blair over lunch at the G8 Summit, the media largely missed this other line that came out of the president’s uncensored mouth: “I feel like telling [UN General-Secretary] Kofi [Annan] to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar Al-]Assad and make something happen.”

John Dickerson of Slate had this to say about the comment: “Cover your ears! George Bush is expressing his feelings, and his feelings are that he wants the United Nations to engage in more diplomacy. Why, he sounds like a Democrat!”

It seems likely that part of the reason Bush appears to be acting like a diplomat is practical. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in terms of both actual money and military resources, make incursions into Iran, Syria, or both highly untenable.

But what the conservative hawks probably fear most is that Bush’s reluctance to pre-emptively attack more countries will be perceived as a sign that the goal of worldwide democratization by force is a failure.

As Matt Yglesias of the American Prospect noted the other day, the hawkish conviction that world democratization by force is possible is based on their belief that pure willpower can overcome any practical odds and obstacles.

According to Yglesias, this explains why the practical concerns some may have about engaging Iran or Syria while still engaging Iraq and Afghanistan are irrelevant for the hawks.

He writes: “To the hawks…the answer to every problem is more will, more force. So it stands to reason that the current chaos shouldn’t make us cautious about further destabilizing actions. Rather, the current chaos actually proves the need for the application of more force, more will.”

What’s also interesting in all this, from a political standpoint, is the impact the internal conservative squabbling over foreign policy might have on the upcoming fall elections and those that are slated for 2008. The Rove strategy for the midterms has been to cast the Dems as weak on foreign policy by characterizing them as “cut and run,” and part of that criticism is tied to the division that exists in the liberal ranks regarding what to do about Iraq.

In light of the current Israel-Hezbollah situation, however, it’s the GOP that can’t seem to make up its collective mind on the best route to go.

If Bush continues down the current path of favoring bilateral diplomacy (albeit very hesitantly), it threatens to draw out the foreign policy divisions on the right even more heading into the November elections, not to mention – as the hawks likely fear – potentially undermine the administration’s long held belief in the power of military force to effectively spread democracy around the globe.

But if the White House chooses the other path…well, just think Iraq, but worse.

No wonder Bush has taken to swearing.


UPDATE: Based on reports from today, it appears the Bush Administration has notably changed its tune on diplomacy.

Last week the White House said it couldn't call for an immediate cease-fire because that would be interfering with the Israeli right to respond. "It's important everyone talk with one voice," was the line from Tony Snow last Friday.

Now, however, while the European Union and the UN push forward with diplomatic efforts, the official White House line has become that negotiating at all with the "terrorist group" Hezbollah isn't an option -- in other words, no diplomacy.

Here's Tony Snow today: "A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable."

I truly hope this isn't a first step toward catering to the wishes of the conservative hawks to expand the fighting into Iran and Syria.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Room for Education on Marriage Ban

The Badger Poll released yesterday shows support for the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and any institution resembling marriage for all couples in Wisconsin.

But it also, paradoxically, shows broad support for what the amendment would prohibit.

According to the survey results, 53 percent of respondents support the amendment while 44 percent oppose it. At the same time, nearly 60 percent of the respondents support allowing civil unions, which are banned by the amendment.

Of course, the language of the amendment doesn’t mention civil unions. All that it denotes is a “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage,” which is actually broader than just civil unions, but nevertheless it could be confusing for someone who doesn’t consider civil unions to be in the same ballpark as marriage.

For many people, marriage is seen as a religious institution. In actuality, it’s a civil institution (you can get married without a church, but not without a state license); yet, since a good majority of weddings still take place inside places of worship, most people have a strong association between religion and marriage. So to think of civil unions as “identical or substantially similar” to marriage may be difficult for some.

Another reason for the paradoxical results of the survey may be that people are caught by the first sentence of the amendment ("Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state") and they aren’t really responding as directly to the second sentence ("A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state").

After all, the percentage of respondents who oppose same-sex marriage (54 percent) is nearly identical to those who support the amendment (53 percent), while the percentage of those who support same-sex marriage (39 percent) is close to the same as those who oppose the amendment (44 percent).

Any way you slice the results, they suggest more education is needed on the amendment, particularly regarding the second sentence. Last week Fair Wisconsin took a good step forward in this task by releasing an advocacy ad that focuses almost exclusively on the broad implications of the second sentence. You can watch the ad here.

For this reason I think amendment opponents can take some comfort in the survey results, despite the media coverage that suggests otherwise.

After all, simply educating people about an issue is easier than changing their minds about it. And, based on these results, it seems the majority of Wisconsinites have made up their minds – they support what this amendment bans.

UPDATE: Cory Liebmann at the One Blog has more.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Veto-Proof Majority for Stem Cells = Bad News for Mark Green

Polls show that with 70 percent support the American people would be able to override a Bush veto on stem cell research, the question remains whether 67 percent of the Senate will be able to come together to do it for them.

The Senate is set to take up a bill passed in the House last year to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The bill will almost certainly pass and face the first ever veto by President Bush, but it’s still up in the air whether 67 Senators will agree to override that veto.

The AP reports today: “Vote-counters on both sides expect at least 60 supporters, the number required to pass. But whether the legislation can display the crucial veto-proof 67 is unknown, and key: House supporters say a veto-proof margin in the Senate might inspire one in the House. That chamber fell 50 votes short of that threshold last year, when it passed the bill 238-194.”

If the bill does pass with a veto-proof majority in the Senate and, in turn, causes a wave of support in the House, it doesn’t spell good news for Mark Green.

Green voted against the bill last year and has maintained a firm stance against any embryonic stem cell research, which is a risky position in the state often referred to as the cradle for such research. Heck, with 70 percent of the American population in favor of embryonic stem cell research, it’s a risky position anywhere.

If the House is forced by a Senate veto-override to reconsider the bill it would do two things: 1) extend and expand the media coverage of the debate, and 2) force Mark Green to go on the record once again as an opponent of this popular research -- and this time in the midst of a broad national debate and his gubernatorial run with just a few short months to go before election day.

On the other hand, if Green flips and decides to support the bill, then he threatens his social conservative support in Wisconsin from groups like Wisconsin Right to Life, which has already spent a significant portion of its time and resources on trumpeting Green for governor.

Simply having the debate rehashed like this on a national scale already doesn’t bode well for Green, who consistently has done all he can with the media to muddy the waters about his opposition to the research. And the fact that Bush has promised to use his first ever veto on it makes it all that much more enticing of a story.

But if the Senate can trump Bush’s veto and send the spotlight of the debate back onto the House, then the Green Team will really have itself in a prickly situation. After all, there aren't too many ways to spin yet another "No" vote.

Physicians Looking for Relief from Administrative Overhead

Providing more evidence that administrative costs are helping to cripple the nation’s health care system, a recent survey of primary care physicians around the country showed that the vast majority spend well over 40% of their practice’s revenue on administrative overhead alone.

What’s more, the physicians report that billing and regulatory operations are slowly overtaking their ability to run a viable practice. 22.5% of survey respondents felt “doubtful” that they could continue to sustain their rising administrative costs in five years, while 7% said they would not be able to sustain the overhead costs.

The results of this survey aren’t exactly surprising considering reports that administrative costs gobble up 1/3 of our total health care costs in the US (compared to half that figure in consolidated-payer countries that also provide universal coverage to citizens).

But what the survey does that other reports don’t is illustrate how these administrative costs directly impact health care providers and, subsequently, their patients.

And the impact goes beyond just financial cost. As the journal Physicians Practice explains in an article about the survey results: “This trend is forcing physicians to pay strict attention to the amount they are bringing in to counterbalance the weight of their overhead costs. This causes them to focus on enhancing productivity — seeing more patients each day — and strengthening their patient collections operations. The result? Steeply declining career satisfaction levels.”

I wrote in April about a Wall Street Journal column by Dr. Benjamin Brewer, who runs a private medical practice in Illinois. Currently, Brewer employs four administrative assistants just to handle the over 300 different insurance plans patients bring to his practice.

Brewer writes: “Plus, there's $9,000 in computer expenses yearly to handle the insurance information and billing follow up. I suspect I could go from four people in the paper chase to one with a single-payer system.”

And this comes from a columnist who appears regularly on one of the most conservative editorial pages in the country. Indeed, Brewer's belief in the need for a consolidated payer system didn’t come easily. At first, he was quite skeptical of such a system.

“But,” as he explains, “increasingly I've come to believe that if done right, health care in America could be dramatically better with true single-payer coverage; not just another layer -- a part D on top of a part B on top of a part A, but a simplified, single payer that would cover all Americans, including those who could afford the best right now.”

Brewer describes his vision of how that simplicity could work:


It would be simpler and better for the patient, and for me, if the patient could choose a doctor, bring their ID card with them, swipe it in a card reader at the time of service and have the doctor get paid on the spot with electronic funds transfer.

Instead, patients have to negotiate a maze of deductibles, provider networks, out-of-network costs, exclusions, policy riders, ER surcharges, etc. Wouldn't a card swipe be simpler? No preexisting conditions to worry about. No indecipherable hospital bills. One formulary to deal with and one set of administrative rules to learn instead of 300.


I think so – and considering the hurt administrative costs are enacting on primary care physicians across the country, I imagine there’s a growing number of docs out there who share Dr. Brewer's vision.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Hillary Clinton in the Public Imagination

I wrote the other day about how Mark Green’s support among Republican voters in Wisconsin is existent, but still relatively weak.

The same seems to be true for Hillary Clinton’s support among Democratic voters across the country, according to an article that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday, although for very different reasons than Green.

Clinton is regularly touted as the frontrunner for the Dem presidential nomination in 2008, although she has yet to officially announce her candidacy.

According to the Post article, many voters feel Clinton is a competent leader and an overall smart person, but those same voters waver at her calculated political moves and the motives behind them. Others also cite an inability to connect with her on a personal level as something that gives them pause.

As one Democratic voter explains: “I want to see her as a human being -- I can read a newspaper and see her agenda.”

The poll numbers with Clinton are also alarming. In a recent Post-ABC poll, 68% of Dem respondents saw her as a strong leader, 65% said she has strong family values, and 58% feel she’s open and friendly. In spite of all these positives, only 37% said they would definitely vote for her if she was running for president.

I have similar feelings for Clinton. I think she is a brilliant woman and a confident leader, but her moves often appear to be based more on calculation than conviction. In a sense, this is the nature of beast with politicians (save some notable exceptions, like Russ Feingold) – and that’s really the issue here.

It’s not so much that Clinton is positioning herself that’s a problem, it’s that she can’t break the perception of being someone who positions herself. After all, positioning is the best way to describe what John McCain is currently doing by cozying up to the far right – although those moves don’t seem to have the same negative impact on him (at least yet) as they do for Clinton.

I see two main causes for the negative perceptions surrounding Clinton.

One, she’s married to the arch-nemesis of the Republican Party. Nearly every conservative I talk to can’t stand Bill Clinton. After all, he’s a Democrat who was elected in the midst of what was supposed to be a conservative political ascendancy following the election of Reagan in 1980.

It was supposed to be the New Right’s time in the sun, and Clinton rained on the parade by masterfully co-opting conservative ideas like "free" trade and welfare reform while still refusing to budge on other issues like the massive cuts associated with the now defunct “Contract with America.” And, if that wasn’t enough, Bill Clinton remains a very popular person in the US to this day despite the marital infidelities the GOP harped on for years during and following Clinton’s time in office. That has to hurt.

The effect of all this on Hillary Clinton is that she is inextricably tied to her husband in the conservative imagination, making her not only a reminder but also an embodiment of those eight years when the New Right didn’t control the White House. Not to mention the fact that Clinton was the most active First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt – something that probably didn’t sit well with many social conservatives (similar to how it’s difficult for me to watch a smart woman like Laura Bush resign herself in public to beauty pageant stances like “I think kids should read”).

In light of this, conservatives have done everything they can to paint Clinton as a rigid hardliner, which inevitably has leaked its way into the general public’s perception of her. Many conservatives would like nothing more than to face Clinton in a general election contest – the table already has been set for her swift-boating, all they need to do is dig in.

Two, it’s difficult for many to accept Clinton’s political positioning as just part of the job because she’s a woman. In the public conscious, women are still supposed to portray a nurturing role in society, whereas men are allowed and expected to be more aggressive.

Take our country's apprentices, for instance, Donald Trump and Martha Stewart. While Trump's calculated aggression can be played off as cool and smug, Stewart's sharp business attitude has given her the reputation of being, well, a bitch.

For another example, consider the ruthlessness of someone like Dick Cheney -- now just imagine how much worse that would be perceived if he was a she. Think Ann Coulter, but with actual power.

So when a calculating woman like Hillary Clinton steps up to the plate in the political world -- where positioning is virtually a must for success, especially at the national level -- what is expected of male politicians appears negative for her. This, as much as any explicit gender prejudice, is what is keeping a woman out of the presidency.

And there’s a good chance it’ll help to keep Hillary Clinton out – in spite of all her money, connections, and ability.


LATE UPDATE: A Gallup poll was just released that shows Hillary Clinton's support below Bill Clinton's support. While 59 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Bill, only 51 percent have a favorable impression of Hillary.

Considering the two are pretty close on the issues and their willingness to position themselves politically, the differences in favorabilty between them is telling.

Perhaps most interesting about the poll is the gender breakdown of the responses. Bill Clinton enjoys nearly identical favorability from men (58% favorable, 36% unfavorable) as he does from women (59% favorable, 39% unfavorable). There is a stark contrast, however, in these numbers for Hillary Clinton -- 58% favorable, 37% unfavorable with women and 43% favorable and 52% unfavorable with men.

The evidence doesn't get much starker that gender plays a role in how Hillary Clinton is perceived by the public.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Public School Squeeze

The Menomonee Falls School District just received the results of an audit that showed the district has higher staffing levels than districts of a similar size. Not surprisingly, the audit concluded that cutting staff would save money.

What doesn't appear to be a part of the audit was the affect of that higher staffing level on teaching and learning, and that's also an issue that wasn't discussed in any detail in the Journal-Sentinel article on the audit. The audit did find that the higher staffing levels in the Menomonee Falls district translated into smaller class sizes at schools in the district, but there was no apparent attempt by the auditors to assess the educational impact of those smaller class sizes.

Considering dozens of studies across the country have confirmed that smaller class sizes effectively increase student performance, it's safe to say the Menomonee Falls district benefits from its higher staffing levels.

Common sense also tells you that if a student can receive more one-on-one attention from a staff member, performance will be enhanced. And, as most teachers will tell you, perhaps the most difficult task of teaching is engaging students of highly varied ability and interest in the same course material -- so it follows that fewer students in the class improves the ability of teachers to use class time efficiently by reducing the amount of variance they need to juggle.

But the really interesting facet of the Menomonee Falls case is that the effectiveness of small class sizes isn't getting nearly the same amount of weight in policymaking than fiscal efficiency -- whether those small class sizes better student performance or not.

If that was the end of the story we could just chalk it up to a changing of the guard in terms of what is being emphasized these days. At one time the focus was on student performance, now amidst the fiscal conservative culture that has infiltrated many communities and -- for the most part -- the state as a whole, the emphasis is on cuts.

But there's more going on here. While districts across the state are getting pushed on one side by a fiscal conservative culture of cutbacks, they're also getting pushed on the other side by federal government regulations that demand high level student proficiency or else -- you guessed it -- they can expect even more funding cuts.

This year in Wisconsin, 34 schools face federal sanctions because they failed to progress at the rate required by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Of course, Menomonee Falls and other suburban districts are not among them -- the vast majority are MPS.

But that's now -- the nature of NCLB is to continue to increase what's considered "adequate yearly progress" to the point of flawless proficiency. By 2013-2014, every public school in the country is expected to have 100% proficiency in reading and math.

Menomonee Falls -- like many suburban districts -- usually hits in the mid-80s for proficiency in high school and into the 90s in some categories for elementary school, which is quite good. But how likely is 100% proficiency across the board in just 8 years?

I suppose anything is possible. But I can't imagine increasing class sizes helps the district's chances.


Side-Note: Only schools receiving Title 1 federal funding can face sanctions under NCLB as it's currently written. As of the 2005-2006 school year, 51% of Wisconsin's schools were sharing $152 million in Title 1 funding. District allocations for the 2006-2007 school year can be found here.

Three of the four elementary schools in the Menomonee Falls district currently receive Title 1 funding, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Green Having Trouble Energizing the Base

First there was this comment by conservative radio host Mark Belling in May: "Many in the Republican base are ambivalent about Green. He seems clueless about how to exploit voter anger over high taxes. His record in Congress included a lot of votes for a lot of spending."

And now a recent Badger Poll has found that, among Republican respondents, only 25% strongly support Mark Green. 48% support Green "not so strongly," 13% don't know, and the remaining 13% support Governor Doyle.

Contrast those numbers with Doyle, who has strong support from 58% of Dem respondents, 28% "not so strongly," 11% don't know, and the remaining 4% support Green.

I suggested back in April that Green's fervent support for the constitutional amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin put him on a tightrope walk within the state GOP.

The amendment was a pet issue for the far right in the state, and Green's support for it threatened to alienate some of the moderate GOP who don't support writing restrictive fiscal policy into the state constitution. On the other hand, becoming the de facto ringleader for the amendment -- which Charlie Sykes pegged him as -- put Green in the unenviable position of being a convenient fall guy should the amendment fail.

And fail it did -- big time. Two out of every three legislators in the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate rejected it. And in what perhaps was a state record, over 80 groups registered with the State Ethics Board to lobby against the amendment -- groups that ranged from local government to religious organizations. Conversely, only five registered in favor of it.

In the aftermath of the failure, Green got tagged by some conservatives on the far right as being a poor leader (hence the Belling quote above) and he likely was tagged by some moderate Republicans as a member of the party's far right (his strict stance against embryonic stem cell research also probably hasn't helped with moderates of the Tommy Thompson mold).

In short, the failure of the amendment knocked Green off his tightrope. And from the looks of the most recent Badger Poll numbers, Green is having a tough time getting back on solid ground with the base of the party.

And that's just really the first step -- the true test for the Green Team is not only connecting with but also energizing that base in light of national trends that show Dem voters are more enthusiastic about pulling the lever this November than Repub voters.

For the Record: Doyle and Green on Health Care Reform

Amid allegations by Mark Green in a recent press statement and an even more recent "Green Sheet" that Governor Doyle has "no plan" for health care reform, I want to point out where each candidate currently stands on the issue.

Here are what Governor Doyle and Mark Green have publicly proposed for health care reform to date:

Governor Doyle

  • Implement BadgerCare Plus, which will merge state health programs under one umbrella in order to expand coverage to uninsured families across the state and reduce administrative costs
  • Allow every resident in Wisconsin (including businesses) to buy into a single catastrophic health insurance pool to expand coverage for expensive procedures and reduce costs by increasing purchasing power and eliminating administrative overhead
  • Eliminate waiting lists for community-based care for seniors
  • Initiate a Healthy Wisconsin Council to study ways to implement broader health care reform and cut the number of uninsured in the state in half by 2010
  • Enact legislation to prevent companies from dumping workers and their dependants into state health care programs

Mark Green*

  • Allow funds from Health Savings Accounts to be deducted on state income taxes
*Green has also discussed medical malpractice caps, price transparency, and a co-op care program, but all of these measures were already signed into law by Governor Doyle this past legislative session.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Superfudge: What to Expect from the President’s Wisconsin Visit

It seems a large focus of President Bush’s visit to Milwaukee today – in addition to bringing in campaign cash for the Green Team – will likely be public finance.

WISN News reports that Bush is set to unveil today a new budget deficit number of $300 billion for FY 2005-2006.

How is that good news, you wonder? Well, it’s better than the $400 billion deficit estimated just six months ago.

An interesting fact, though, is that it was the Bush Administration who made that January estimate. And the Washington Post was all over the deceit:


This is the third straight year in which the White House has summoned reporters well ahead of the official budget release to project a higher-than-anticipated deficit. In the past two years, when final deficit figures have come in at record or near-record levels, White House officials have boasted that they had made progress, since the final numbers were below estimates.

"This administration has a history of overestimating the deficit early in the year, lowering expectations, then taking credit when it comes in below forecast," said Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget expert at Financial Dynamics Business Communications. "It's not just a history. It's almost an obsession."


I wrote at the time that I should’ve used that on my parents when I was in college – if I only told them it was going to take seven years to finish, they would’ve been thrilled when it only took five.

What’s saddest is that the deceit largely works for the Bush Administration. In the WISN story on the new budget deficit number, not once is it mentioned that the difference between the new figure and the old figure was concocted purely by the White House to make itself look good.

Looking at the numbers released by the Treasury Department in January – on the exact same day that the White House released its initial budget deficit predictions – shows that the Bush figure was grossly inflated.

According to the Treasury Department, the initial figures for FY 2005-2006 looked very similar to those from FY 2004-2005 when the budget deficit hit $319 billion for the year. That means the current projection of $300 billion is really what the White House should’ve been projecting back in January (added note: the CBO baseline projection for the deficit in March was $336 billion, a far more accurate assessment than the one provided by the White House in January).

But here comes President Bush to make a big budget announcement in Wisconsin in the hopes of using the “good” news to defend his tax cuts – which, what do you know, were consistently supported by votes from Mark Green. All of a sudden the timing of the announcement isn’t so curious anymore.

In reality, of course, the tax cuts have done nothing to improve the federal budget deficit and – amazingly this is a surprise to some – they have actually hampered the financial situation of the federal government.

In the past five years of GOP control, the federal deficit has increased by 50% to over $8 trillion. This prompted the Republican-controlled Congress to vote to increase the allowable federal deficit to $9 trillion earlier this year – a move supported by Mark Green in a near party-line vote (all House Dems voted against it, as did 12 House Republicans and 5 GOP Senators).

For all the talk of fiscal responsibility, the GOP has completely mismanaged this country’s federal finances since Bush took office – and Mark Green has willingly participated in that mismanagement the whole time, voting almost exclusively with the White House on every issue.


Side-Note: Prior to his money-maker for Green this evening, Bush is heading up to the Allen Edmonds shoe factory in Port Washington. Amazingly, Bush was able to find a prosperous Wisconsin business to tour during today’s visit – after all, our state climate is supposedly hostile to anything corporate.

Here is what a White House spokesperson had to say about the tour: “Allen-Edmonds is a great Wisconsin company and a great example of American manufacturing competitiveness. As the president travels the country, he likes to highlight American companies that are being competitive in the global marketplace.”

Here is what Green had to say in a press statement about Wisconsin’s business competitiveness just a few weeks ago: “It is painfully clear that Jim Doyle does not understand what it takes to create good jobs in Wisconsin. … Under his watch, we’ve seen Wisconsin fall behind other states in job creation and our income growth. … I’m running for governor because Jim Doyle is putting up needless barriers to opportunity and economic growth.”

Seems the Bush Team and the Green Team should get on the same page about the business climate in Wisconsin. Notably, Green won’t be joining Bush on the Allen Edmonds tour.

UPDATE: Xoff has more on the Bush/Green cabal.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Purpose of Running a Presidential Campaign

Of course, the number one purpose is to win – but that’s not the only reason to launch a bid for the presidency.

Even though Howard Dean didn’t win the Democratic nomination in 2004 (or any state besides his own state of Vermont in the primary, which he won after withdrawing his bid), the current Democratic Party chairman had an indelible impact on the race that year.

Beyond popularizing the Internet as a tool for grassroots support, Dean shoved the issue of Iraq into the forefront of the nomination race in 2004. This forced other contenders to address the issue one way or another.

Russ Feingold is poised to do the same thing for the Dems in 2008. While he’s considered a long-shot at best by most analysts, the issues he's bringing to the forefront of the early election debate (most prominently Iraq withdrawal and executive power) are going to force the front-runners to take positions they would otherwise be able to side-step.

In fact, we’re already seeing this happen as front-runner Hillary Clinton has just jumped on board with a perennial issue for Feingold – raising the minimum wage. Feingold has consistently returned his automatic congressional pay raises, citing the lack of a minimum wage increase as a significant factor shaping his decision.

Here’s Feingold on the topic six years ago: “The majority leadership…appears to believe that cost-of-living adjustments make sense for Senators and Congressmen, but that cost-of-living adjustments do not make sense for working people making the minimum wage.”

Feingold’s calls up until now have gone largely unheeded, resulting in a congressional pay increase of $31,700 since 1997, while the federal minimum wage hasn’t increased a penny during that same time span.

Now, though, we see Clinton take up the cause along with other Democratic senators and representatives. In part this is because it’s a strong populist issue – you can’t really go wrong on its logic and appeal.

But we’ve had numerous elections since Feingold first started making calls to tie congressional pay raises to increases in the minimum wage, so why are the Dems just taking it up as a party now?

A big part of the answer is surely the recent national exposure Feingold has been earning. The Journal-Sentinel covered Feingold’s rise in an article over the weekend, which demonstrated that the junior senator’s name recognition and approval have increased across the country over the past year.

Also, Feingold consistently smokes the other Dem candidates in online polling at progressive websites like DailyKos – and, since Dean, the online community is a highly sought-after demographic for presidential contenders, particularly those from the left side of the aisle.

This exposure has pushed Feingold’s ideas to the forefront of the national political debate and subsequently into the Democratic agenda. The further Feingold takes his bid for the presidency, the further his ideas will be taken seriously – ideas that he’s been trying to push ever since being first elected to the Senate in 1992.

In short, while I and other progressives would love to see Feingold win, a victory isn’t necessary in order for him to be successful. And, along with that, the potential for victory doesn't need to be the only reason to support a Feingold bid.

Side-Note: Michael Crowley at TNR offers a similar argument for why Clinton is getting on board with linking congressional pay raises to increases in the minimum wage.