GOP on losing side of birth control
30% in party back Obama’s stance
Their fight with President Obama over contraceptive coverage is becoming a losing battle for Republicans, a significant chunk of whom reject GOP leaders’ stance that it’s a fight about religious liberty, according to the latest Washington Times/jz Analytics poll.
While a majority of Republicans side with their party’s leaders, a striking 30 percent agree with Mr. Obama’s stance that his contraception mandate is about women’s health.
Regarding young voters, the poll has even worse news for the GOP.
“Drop this baby right now. Drop it. This is not a winner,” John Zogby, the pollster who conducted the survey, said by way of advising the GOP. “I don’t know if the White House was smart enough to box Republicans into a corner on this — I don’t know if it was by plan — but I think it worked out that way.”
Republican presidential candidates and leaders in Congress say Mr.
ergy challenges,” Mr. Boehner said. “That’s why we’ve also been disturbed by regulations proposed by your administration, such as the Utility-mact rule, that would increase costs and limit the supply of other domestic sources of energy.
“These rules, the most expensive in EPA history, stand to cost 180,000 American jobs per year and would force the premature retirement of 12 percent of America’s coal-fired energy generation,” he said.
Mr. Boehner’s comments were based on a report sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and released in September.
In late February, a bipartisan group of 219 members of Congress led by Reps. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, and John Barrow, Georgia Democrat, sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget calling for a stop to the EPA’S greenhouse gas rule-making.
“Affordable, reliable electricity is critical to keeping and growing jobs in the United States, and such a standard will likely drive up energy prices and threaten domestic jobs,” they wrote. “Forcing a transition to commercially unproven technologies could send thousands of jobs overseas and raise electricity rates on families and seniors at a time when the nation can least afford it.”
In August, the EPA issued a rule aimed at reducing power-plant emissions that cross state lines. It was supposed to take effect at the beginning of this year, but the D.C. Circuit Court in late December stayed the rule while it hears challenges.
The rule attempts to reduce ozone and fine-particle pollution and assign state-by-state emissions caps to prevent the interstate transport of pollution and help downwind states meet national air quality standards. It would require power plants in 28 states to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions — both products of coal burning — that cross state lines.
Industry, labor groups and some states are fighting the rule, arguing that it should have been implemented through state law rather than federal regulations and is more stringent than necessary to maintain air quality standards.
A separate set of regulations to cut mercury pollution — another product of coal burning — is scheduled to go into effect in 2015.
Genon Energy Inc., the thirdlargest U.S. independent power producer by market value, last week said it expects to shut about 13 percent of its generating capacity by May 2015, including facilities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey, because of environmental regulations.
Over the past few years, energy companies have closed or made plans to retire more than 30,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation because of the tougher regulations, as well as a surge in a natural-gas-fired generators as a cheaper alternative.
Coal accounts for more than half of the nation’s electricity generation, and 21 states depend on it for more than half of their electricity compared with their use of gas, nuclear and renewable energy sources, according to a report last year in Electric Power Monthly.
The top coal-dependent states include eight 2012 battlegrounds or mustwin states for Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign: Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
In addition, Pennsylvania, a big coalproducing state and another key swing state, depends on coal for 48 percent of its electricity needs.
As a former senator from Illinois, where coal accounts for 47 percent of the electricity supply, Mr. Obama has been a proponent of the coal industry and a strong supporter of clean-coal technologies.
Even as Mr. Obama has embraced the idea that burning fossil fuels threatens major climate change and has backed efforts to reduce global warming, he had not supported a ban on new coal development. Instead, he backed policies that discouraged the further use of inefficient facilities while encouraging plants to be retrofitted with coalcapture and seq u e s t r a t i o n technology.
In the first three years of his presidency, Mr. Obama consistently included coal whenever speaking about the need to harness all of America’s multiple energy resources. But as environmental regulations have ramped up against the coal industry this year, the president has not mentioned coal in remarks or speeches.
In some cases, the shift is stark. In 2010, he touted the U.S. as the “Saudi Arabia of coal.” In mid-january, he altered the statement to say the country is the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” He also omitted the word “coal” from his State of the Union address for the first time this year.
Most recently, during a speech devoted to energy policy Thursday in New Hampshire, Mr. Obama advocated “an all-of-the-above strategy that develops every single source of American energy,” but he made no mention of coal.
The White House did not respond to an inquiry about whether the omission of coal and clean-coal technology in recent speeches marks a policy shift.
Coal industry leaders closely watching the election-year energy debate have suspicions about the silence and worry that Mr. Obama has dropped his support for cleaner coal in response to pressure from environmentalists who call the very idea of “clean coal” a myth.
For example, a 2007 Sierra Club study blamed emissions from coalfired power plants for contributing to at least 24,000 premature deaths a year in the U.S. and accounting for 36 percent of overall releases of carbon dioxide.
“Clean coal is sort of like healthy cigarettes or limited nuclear war or fat free donuts. It’s one of the great oxymorons of our time,” author Jeff Goodall wrote in his book “Big Coal, the Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.”
In years past, Mr. Obama didn’t seem to share those beliefs. While in the Illinois legislature, he voted to use sales taxes to help reopen closed coal mines and create incentives to attract businesses that use coal. In 2001, he voted for legislation that provided $3.5 billion in loan guarantees to construct coal-fired power plants.
“I am a strong supporter, I think, of downstate coal interests and our need to prop up and improve the outputs downstate,” Mr. Obama said at the time.
During his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, he declared his long-term support for the industry, saying that “there’s always going to be a role for coal” in Illinois.
But when Mr. Obama got to Washington, he encountered strong resistance from environmentalists.
In 2007, Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, introduced the Coal-to-liquids Fuel Promotion Act, and Mr. Obama signed on as a cosponsor. The bill was supposed to help expand methods of producing cleaner coal through tax incentives and public-private partnerships, but was lambasted by environmentalists and died in committee in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
“Almost 90 percent of districts are one-party dominated. The only chance for a competitive election is in the primaries, but 9 out of 10 eligible voters don’t participate,” said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super PAC that has been the most active independent group in Tuesday’s primaries, according to federal records.
Those races also are the most ignored, except by those with an interest in maintaining the status quo.
“County committeemen, people who depend on patronage from the party, government jobs. Those are the only people who participate, and they’re going to pull the lever faithfully for who the party leaders tell them to vote for — and that will always be the incumbent,” Mr. Ellis said.
Precisely because of the nearly perfunctory way in which the small portion of voters in House primaries come out to check the names of their party’s incumbents, though, outside groups sense a chance to make a difference well ahead of November’s general election.
Mr. Ellis’ group has spent $315,000 in recent weeks on advertisements targeting members of Congress who are plagued by poor performance or ethics issues, yet represent districts that would never vote for a candidate from the opposing party.
With all eyes on the presidential contest, that kind of money being spent quietly on lesser races could be enough to have significant impact where low-ranking lawmakers have enough cash to shut out a challenger without assistance, but not enough to make them entirely invincible.
The political action committee has the rare quality of true bipartisanship. In Ohio, it has attacked Rep. Jean Schmidt, a three-term Republican who has authored only three bills, two of which are thinly veiled earmarks for top campaign contributors, The Washington Times found in a review of proposed legislation and contributor records.
“She squeaked in because she was lucky, but she got in, so she’s stayed,” Mr. Ellis said.
It also has run ads to unseat Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, who “has a mistress and a host of ethical problems,” Mr. Ellis said.
The group started when Leo Linbeck III, a wealthy conservative engineer, teamed up with Eric O’keefe, who in the 1990s crusaded for the introduction of term limits.
‘A better way’
“He now sees this as a better way. We have term limits: It’s called elections,” Mr. Ellis said. “The key is they’ve been voting in the wrong elections.”
Others who were “more about governance than politics” chipped in, including J. Joe Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs, who gave a half-million dollars.
That kind of activity across the political spectrum might be impossible to finance under old rules, where members of a long-standing political class gave the maximum $5,000 contribution to clearly defined ideological pushes.
“Most people are interested in advancing Team D or Team R, but we can raise as much as we want from even one person” for a more nuanced mission, Mr. Ellis said, acknowledging that the overall effect of relaxed campaign finance rules had been to bolster the positions of people already well-represented.
“All the other super PACS are basically reinforcing the system. This is the only one using the new money to reform the system,” he said.
As the Campaign for Primary Accountability targets poor-performing lawmakers of both parties, other advocacy groups are spending money to push their parties further to extremes, sensing an opportunity to leverage the new campaign finance laws to overcome the advantages of incumbency.
The Club for Growth for years has aimed to “replace Republicans with conservatives,” with a traditional political action committee that has spent $190,000 and a newly added super PAC arm that has spent $575,000 on the primaries this year.
“Some incumbents haven’t had primary challenges for years and years. They’ve been able to stockpile cash,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the group. “The super PAC has been an incredibly effective tool.”
The Karl Rove-linked FreedomWorks, meanwhile, has spent nearly $400,000 on its Retire Orrin Hatch initiative, designed to get rid of the Utah Republican who has served in the Senate since 1977, and replace him with someone more friendly to the tea party movement.
“There are hundreds of lobbyists in D.C. whose jobs depend on their relationship with [Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican] and his staff or Orrin Hatch. You’re talking about vested interests,” the group’s Brendan Steinhauser said about the difficulty in unseating an incumbent.
Despite disappointment with the status quo, many groups seeking to reshape the face of Congress through primary elections would prefer that the number of people involved remain tiny.
“People may not even know there is a primary challenger. So our job is to say who are the Republican supervoters? There are a certain number of people who are going to show up, and you can deal with the rest later,” Mr. Steinhauser said.
Mr. Ellis said that kind of conventional wisdom means there is no political incentive for interests to involve more voters in sparsely attended but important contests.
“Political consultants would rather deal with the smallest subset because they don’t have unlimited money. If you haven’t voted in a primary before, no one’s going to encourage you to,” he said.
But, he noted, because those who haven’t voted before aren’t fervent about politics, they can be persuaded to vote against the incumbent.
While Mr. Ellis acknowledged that changing long-standing behaviors won’t be easy, “turnout is so low that if we increase it by even a meager percentage we can have a dramatic influence,” he said.
A pledge to vote in primary elections has so far been signed by 150,000 people, he said, may of them firsttime voters.
“People are trained to think we go to the polls in November. In a primary, they say, ‘You know a Republican’s going to win, so why come out? I just want to make sure my team wins,’ “Mr. Ellis said.
“Twelve incumbents were replaced in primaries and 13 died in office” from 2002 to 2008, he said. “God recalls more people in primaries than we do.”