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Politico reports that a Democrat from Arkansas (Rep Parker Griffith) is switching to the Republican Party. He blames Pelosi and the other Democrat leaders for the move.

“Unfortunately there are those in the Democratic Leadership that continue to push an agenda focused on massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts and a health care bill that is bad for our healthcare system,” Griffith said in a statement. “I have always considered myself to be an independent voice and I have tried to be that voice in Congress – but after watching this agenda firsthand I now believe that the differences in the two parties could not be more clear and that for me to be true to my core beliefs and values I must align myself with the Republican party and speak out clearly on these issues.

Is this really a big deal? On one level it is. The media splash made on the same week that the Senate is expected to make a partisan statement and pass Health Care is nothing short of dramatic.

It seems to make sense on one level since the party that pledged a new era of bipartisanship is engaging in a pretty partisan legislative agenda.

• Political intimidation. The experts who have pointed out such complications have been ignored or dismissed as “ideologues” by the White House. Those parts of the health-care industry that couldn’t be bribed outright, like Big Pharma, were coerced into acceding to this agenda. The White House was able to, er, persuade the likes of the AMA and the hospital lobbies because the federal government will control 55% of total U.S. health spending under ObamaCare, according to the Administration’s own Medicare actuaries.

Others got hush money, namely Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. Even liberal Governors have been howling for months about ObamaCare’s unfunded spending mandates: Other budget priorities like education will be crowded out when about 21% of the U.S. population is on Medicaid, the joint state-federal program intended for the poor. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman calculates that ObamaCare will result in $2.5 billion in new costs for his state that “will be passed on to citizens through direct or indirect taxes and fees,” as he put it in a letter to his state’s junior Senator.

So in addition to abortion restrictions, Mr. Nelson won the concession that Congress will pay for 100% of Nebraska Medicaid expansions into perpetuity. His capitulation ought to cost him his political career, but more to the point, what about the other states that don’t have a Senator who’s the 60th vote for ObamaCare?

And this does not even touch the equally troubling budget problems with the bill.  The WSJ noted this via the liberally icnlined Gene Steurle, who WLU’s Economics Club had out to speak this year:

The truth is that no one really knows how much ObamaCare will cost because its assumptions on paper are so unrealistic. To hide the cost increases created by other parts of the bill and transfer them onto the federal balance sheet, the Senate sets up government-run “exchanges” that will subsidize insurance for those earning up to 400% of the poverty level, or $96,000 for a family of four in 2016. Supposedly they would only be offered to those whose employers don’t provide insurance or work for small businesses.

As Eugene Steuerle of the left-leaning Urban Institute points out, this system would treat two workers with the same total compensation—whatever the mix of cash wages and benefits—very differently. Under the Senate bill, someone who earned $42,000 would get $5,749 from the current tax exclusion for employer-sponsored coverage but $12,750 in the exchange. A worker making $60,000 would get $8,310 in the exchanges but only $3,758 in the current system.

For this reason Mr. Steuerle concludes that the Senate bill is not just a new health system but also “a new welfare and tax system” that will warp the labor market. Given the incentives of these two-tier subsidies, employers with large numbers of lower-wage workers like Wal-Mart may well convert them into “contractors” or do more outsourcing. As more and more people flood into “free” health care, taxpayer costs will explode.

The left and the right have converged a bit on these points.  George Will in the WaPo wrote:

The legislation does solve the Democrats’ “problem” of figuring out how to worsen the dependency culture and the entitlement mentality that grows with it. By 2016, families with annual incomes of $96,000 will get subsidized health insurance premiums. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson voted for the Senate bill after opposing both the Medicare cuts and taxes on high-value insurance plans — the heart of the bill’s financing. Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Indiana’s Evan Bayh and Virginia’s Jim Webb voted against one or the other. Yet they support the bill. They will need mental health care to cure their intellectual whiplash.

Certainly the more liberal (center-left) members and intellectuals would not agree with Will, but they wind up opposing the bill because they both think it is a bad bill.

Take the always poll minded RCPJay Cost has keen insights here on the political problems with the bill when considering public support:

Griffith is but one of more than 250 House Democrats, and he was a certain nay on next month’s health care vote – yet his switch is still interesting. It indicates that the decades-long geographical and ideological sorting of both parties is ongoing.

Media pundits have been quick to focus on how the Republican Party has become too conservative for moderate Northeastern Republicans, leaving people like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as outliers and making it difficult for the GOP to win seats in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or upstate New York. This is most certainly true. From 2001 to 2008, George W. Bush was in charge of the Republican Party, and he had all the qualities of a Southern Republican. This made it difficult for Northeastern Republicans to stay in the party. It was a matter of politics (Bush’s appeal in the Northeast was quite limited) and policy (southern Republicans controlled the agenda and wrote legislation that they preferred). All of this put pressure on Northeastern Republicans, whose survival rate in the 2006-08 electoral wipeouts was virtually nil.

Now that the Democrats are in charge, we’re seeing a similar dynamic on their side of the aisle. Northern, urban liberals control the Democratic Party. They hold the key committee chairs, most of the big leadership posts, and of course the presidency. These sorts of Democrats are not politically popular in the South, which makes life difficult for moderate Southern Democrats. Plus, the Northern liberal leaders write policy that is well to the left of Parker Griffith, who hails from northern Alabama. It’s not easy for a guy like Griffith to remain in the Democratic Party, especially in light of the fact that many believe next year will be a bad election for Democrats. Griffith is exactly the kind of member most in danger of being swept away – just like Republicans Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays, and Rob Simmons all lost their Connecticut House seats between 2006 and 2006. He is new to Congress, having won his seat by the narrowest of margins in 2008 while his district gave John McCain 61% of the vote.

Bottom line: while we shouldn’t expect any MSM pundit discussions about how Griffith’s departure is a sign of the “narrowing” of the Democratic Party, this is still a noteworthy development. Just as the Republican Party’s rightward and Southern shift has placed a burden on moderate Northeastern Republicans, so the Democratic Party’s leftward and Northern shift has put pressure on moderate Southern Democrats. Now that the liberal Democrats are in charge – pushing their agenda and taking responsibility for the state of the Union – this pressure has become more salient. Griffith may or may not be the only Democrat to make an actual jump to the GOP, but his departure from the Democratic Party underscores the tension between the liberal leadership and many Southern moderates as the House prepares for a big health care vote.

Given the times, this is not the last switch.  We may indeed see more Democrats cross party lines; we could also see a Republican do the same.

On another level it is not really all that big a deal. The above analysis seems to suggest that Rep Griffith is following his state’s political opinion on the matter.  But is he?  Could this all be simple self-interest in re-election? He has voted with the Republicans all along. He was essentially considered a Republican by his own party.  Perhaps this is an easy jump for a guy who is in a district that voted heavy for McCain.  CQ continues:

The move, at first blush, gives the GOP a strong opportunity to establish a hold on a traditional conservative Southern Democratic stronghold — one that has yet to elect a Republican to the House — that nonetheless gave 61 percent of its 2008 presidential vote to Republican John McCain .

Griffith’s decision has prompted CQ Politics to change its race rating to Likely Republican. That means the Republican nominee has or will have an edge in the 2010 general election race, but the contest appears competitive and an upset is a live possibility.

Griffith is not guaranteed a win here.  He was being targeted by the Republican Party for, well, these statements (see the video):

That’s a bit awkward.  But, he is vulnerable to a primary challenge despite the switch.  It could be that he deciphered he was vulnerable in 2010, and hence, made the switch to stave off a sure Republican challenger.  He is not out of the woods yet, and will likely face stiff challenge from someone.  This is probably only an interesting story for a day or two.  The switch does nothing to stop health care by itself.  However, it does portend a rocky 2010 for the Democrats who are going to lose many, many seats.

Video of the switch:

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/1155201977

Finally, on a general level, the Democrats are in trouble electorally.  The health care fiasco is only one part of that negative perception by the public.

RCP once again has a thoughtful take on Dem woes.  A majority of the public loathes the bill because it stinks of influence peddlers and it stinks of high stick partisanship.  In the end:

People in Congress and the lobbyists who court them have pretty good gigs. They have nice offices, make big salaries, and have lots of people hop to at their say so. Yet ultimately, all of their money, power, and prestige come from the people. The people are the sole source of sovereignty in our nation. Our Constitution opens, “We the people of the United States” – not “We the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of the United States” or “We the senior members of Congress with plum committee assignments.” Everything about our system is the way it is because the people allow it to be that way. This is why it’s best for the entrenched interests and the politicians to keep their under-handed means and particularistic ends from affecting the people. They can take it all away in a single instant – so the smart approach is not to give them a reason.

This Congress and this President seem hell-bent on ignoring that maxim. It started last year with TARP. It continued into this year with the pork-laden, wasteful stimulus bill. It moved to the auto bailouts, reckless deficit spending, and coziness with Wall Street. And now, it has moved to health care “reform.” The people are taking notice, they don’t like it, and they’re starting to blame the government for the weakened state of the union.

We might be on the verge of another Jacksonian moment: a time when the people awake from their slumber, angrily exercise their sovereign authority, and mercilessly fire the leaders who have for too long catered to the elites rather than average people. The first time this happened was in 1828 – when the people rallied to the cause of Old Hickory to avenge the “Corrupt Bargain” of four years prior. It’s happened several times throughout the centuries. Most relevant to today, it happened time and again in the 1880s and 1890s, as the people hired then fired one Republican and Democratic majority after another in search of leaders who could attend to the people’s interests instead of the special interests. That age saw the birth of the Populist Party. It was a time when so many felt so disgruntled by the political process that young William Jennings Bryan – just thirty-six years old and with only two terms in the House – came within a hundred thousand votes of the presidency.

I wonder if we’ve returned to that kind of dynamic. In true Jacksonian fashion, the country fired the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 because they bungled the war in Iraq and allowed the economy to sink into recession. They might soon have another Jacksonian moment, and fire these equally useless Democrats for hampering the recovery, exploding the deficit, and playing politics with health care.

It is interesting that the party that claims to be progressives is violating one of its own maxims.  How ironic would it be if the Republicans captured the mantle of Jacksonianism.  However, we must note that the Republicans are only an alternative because they are thre next largest party.  It woud be good to see some internal analysis on where the Republicans are.  The Dems are certainly in trouble, but the Republicans have no lock on 2010.

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