Behold, I Tell You A Mystery

Mark Assini, after a bridge in Gates was closed because it’s structurally deficient:

Assini, a member of the Genesee Transportation Council, the agency that helps determine how to locally spend federal transportation funds, said his intent is not to scare people about the condition of our bridges, but to start a conversation about getting more federal money for roadwork.

“In years past, the feds made additional money available for bridges, but most of that funding has dried up,” he said.

I wonder how that money mysteriously dried up? It couldn’t have been global warming, because Assini doesn’t believe in that. Could that mysterious money drying event be caused by Republicans not supporting more highway funds? Let me pull out the Google machine and check:

House GOP Unveils Bill Slashing Highway GrantsSenate Republicans Block Advancement of Transportation BillHouse Republicans Fail to Pass Transportation Extension.

Do I need to go any further to show the kind of hypocrite one needs to be to whine about the lack of federal funds while at the same time running to join the obstructionists who have repeatedly and proudly blocked this funding?

Maggie Fears the Reaper

Maggie Brooks seems a little shaken by the nomination of the Grim Reaper of Medicare, Paul Ryan, to the Republican ticket, since she’s repeating the same lie that Mitt Romney used when he introduced Ryan this weekend. The $700 billion figure is a mainly a cut to the wasteful Medicare Advantage program, which is a failed experiment in using private insurers to provide Medicare coverage. Medicare Advantage is less efficient, so seniors on that program will be moved to regular Medicare–nobody’s losing anything. Alan Bedenko fully destroys the myth of the $700 billion cut today if you want all the details, so instead of focusing on that, let’s move on to what Brooks is trying to hide, courtesy of the Associated Press:

ROMNEY: “Unlike the current president, who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security and keep them there for future generations.”

THE FACTS: You could fill an arena with all the details left out in this statement. Ryan’s reputation as a fiscal conservative is built on a budget plan that would overhaul the Medicare program and introduce a voucher-like plan that future retirees could use to buy private health insurance. Whether that results in a better or worse situation for Medicare recipients is a matter of debate. But under Ryan’s plan, traditional Medicare would no longer be the health insurance mainstay, just one of many competing options.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Ryan plan — which Romney endorsed in broad strokes in the past — would slow the increases in money for seniors. A typical 66-year-old would receive about 35 percent more than last year — $7,400 in 2011 dollars. Under current law, that person would probably receive at least 56 percent more in 2030, and quite possibly 75 percent more — $9,600 in 2011 dollars. The CBO said his plan grows spending for Medicare enrollees “at a much slower rate” than under current law or other policy scenarios. In Washington, a slower increase in spending is tantamount to a spending cut.

Romney’s assertion that the team would preserve Social Security left out the fact that he proposes significant change. He would protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generations of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients. At least with this program, he has offered more specifics than President Barack Obama has in dealing with the entitlement’s long-term financing shortfall, though neither has laid out a comprehensive solution.

As for his accusation that the president cut Medicare, Obama’s health care law does cut billions from the Medicare Advantage program, hospitals and nursing homes, to pay for expanded insurance coverage.

Maggie Brooks doesn’t want to run on Medicare vouchers, and who can blame her? I don’t know anyone who’s 80 years old who thinks they can buy as good a policy as Medicare for $7,400 today, much less for a few thousand dollars more 18 long years from now. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Ryan plan is the death of Medicare, and Maggie’s right to fear the reaper, because voters won’t be happy once they learn more about the number two guy at the top of her party’s ticket.

Gay Marriage Claims Another Republican

Rachel Barnhart thinks that part of the reason State Senator Jim Alesi isn’t running for office is his support of gay marriage:

In what appeared to be a hastily made decision, he went on Capital Tonight and could barely choke out the words. The lawsuit he filed against constituents over his broken leg cost him voter support, but his same-sex marriage affirmation cost him party support. The GOP turned its back on Alesi with incredible speed.

Maggie Brooks won’t risk the ire of her party because she’s on record as one of the staunchest opponents of gay marriage in the state. In 2008, she pushed for an appeal of the landmark Martinez vs County of Monroe case, which held that a same-sex marriage established in another state is valid in New York. Since Jim Alesi’s vote in the Senate helped pass New York’s gay marriage law, this issue is no longer relevant to New York or Monroe County politics. But Brooks’ position on the matter is vitally important in her candidacy for Congress, since it’s likely that a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act will be on the agenda for the 113th Congress.

Eastside RINO Women

Rachel Barnhart has an interesting quote from a GOP strategist on how Maggie Brooks’ social conservatism will play in the NY-25 race:

Brooks’ position on social issues could factor big into the race. One GOP insider told me “east side Monroe County Republican women” are very moderate and may not go for a pro-lifer. This person thought the abortion issue could bring a lot of outside campaign money into the race on both sides.

As Rachel points out, there’s no real polling to back up that conjecture, but the history of recent Congressional races in this area has shown that the abortion issue isn’t used much by Republicans. For example, the current NY-29, which includes the southeast suburbs of Rochester, had a couple of recent contested races where abortion was mentioned but didn’t become a major issue. In those races, Randy Kuhl was able to squeak by using the strategy that Brooks is using, namely, to say that he is pro-life but not mention any details about what that means in terms of voting or policy. Kuhl was helped by Eric Massa’s reluctance to engage on that issue in a district that’s a lot more conservative than even the new NY-25.

The difference in this race is that Slaughter, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, is already fully engaged, and the Republican Party has become more stridently anti-abortion in the last few years. I still don’t think we’ll see a full-on proxy battle between pro-life and pro-choice groups since Brooks is clearly signaling that she won’t lead the pro-life charge, but we may see more independent spending than in other recent races because of Slaughter’s position as a full-throated pro-choice advocate.

Complicated Shadows

One of the jobs of a Member of Congress, after raising money for the next campaign and appearing on television as frequently as possible, is to vote on legislation. Judging from her latest interview with the D&C, it appears that Maggie Brooks does not understand this:

Asked if she would vote in favor of a budget proposal put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Brooks, a Republican, said the plan wasn’t perfect but that it starts a conversation “about creating a government that lives within its means.”

Pressed on whether she would have voted for it, Brooks said: “I don’t think you can say yes or no on a vote. It’s a complicated issue. There’s one proposal on the table. There were two, the president had a budget proposal that didn’t receive any support, the Ryan plan is a proposal at this point. It’s a conversation starter. It’s not a yes or no answer on would you vote for it.”

The Ryan budget came up for a vote two weeks ago. The question of how Brooks would have voted is one of the most important questions of this campaign, and, more importantly, if she’s elected, saying “yes or no on a vote” is exactly what Brooks will be expected to do. If she can’t do it now, why should voters assume she’ll ever be able to do it?

Issue #2: The Ryan Budget and the Turner Example

The House just voted to pass Paul Ryan’s budget plan, with 10 Republicans, most of them concerned that the plan didn’t go far enough, voting “No”. A key component of the Ryan plan would be a transformation of Medicare from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-premium plan. In other words, those under 55 would be given a voucher to purchase insurance instead of the current coverage of Medicare. Since the Ryan plan would roll back Obamacare, the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has also shown that the number of uninsured would go up, in addition to the amount being spent on Medicare going down.

The Ryan plan also cut taxes for millionaires by somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 per year, or more, depending on underlying assumptions (here’s a think tank report that estimates it at $187,000/year).

Slaughter is on the record opposing the Ryan plan, having made a six-minute speech on the floor of the House where she calls it “morally bankrupt”. Louise pegs the tax break at a whopping $300,000. Since the whole thing is based on estimates, there’s no benefit in Slaughter’s opponent quibbling with her math, since doing so just highlights the fact that Republicans passed another tax break for the rich.

Clearly the Ryan plan is not good political news for a Republican trying to run as a moderate. Brooks has ducked comment, going as far to characterize it as one of the “inside the Beltway” issues that she’s not going to concern herself with immediately. That’s not going to hold up. But, even if Brooks says she wouldn’t have voted for it, the logical follow-up is why voters should believe her. Bob Turner, who won Anthony Weiner’s old seat in part by pledging to vote against the Ryan budget, voted for it this week. That kind of reversal a few short months after being elected is certainly something the Slaughter campaign will highlight in ads later this year.

Issue One: Slaughter’s Age

When a 57 year-old challenger takes on an 82 year-old incumbent, one of the issues is the health, vitality and intellect of the incumbent. So, let’s rip the band-aid off of this one right away and ask whether Louise Slaughter is still on her game.

I’ve been looking for video of Slaughter at an unscripted event where she’s under some stress, and this was the best I could find. It’s a news conference in Buffalo in September, 2011. She’s quick on the draw, doesn’t reach for words, responds to a wide variety of questions with a fair amount of humor, and doesn’t get snippy. If Slaughter demonstrates this level of energy and ability in September, 2012, I doubt that age will be an issue in this race.