The Home Stretch: Five Big Numbers to Know From The Week in Politics -- August 3, 2018

Posted: Aug 03, 2018 3:15 PM
The Home Stretch: Five Big Numbers to Know From The Week in Politics -- August 3, 2018

You know the drill at this point, so away we go:

[3.9%] - US unemployment ticked down in July, as the economy added a (slightly less than expected 157,000 jobs).  The American labor market remains strong overall, with the employment-to-population ratio hitting its best mark in nine years.  The U3 jobless rate remains close to a five-decade low.  Despite a close "miss" on job creation last month, CNBC's analysis calls the overall picture "solid," citing encouraging news on wages, as well as improvement on another key measure:

In the key wages category, average hourly earnings also met expectations, increasing 2.7 percent over the same period a year ago. An alternative measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding jobs part time for economic reasons, often referred to as the "real" unemployment rate, also declined, from 7.8 percent in June to 7.5 percent in July, the lowest since May 2001.

And there's this

Though the July reading missed estimates, previous months' jobs numbers were revised substantially higher. The May reading jumped from 244,000 to 268,000 while June's number increased from 213,000 originally reported up to 248,000, for a total net upward revision of 59,000 for the two months. Average gains for the three-month period were a strong 224,000.

Couple these developments with last week's robust GDP report, as well as the strong wage and consumer confidence indicators we wrote about a few days ago, and a rosy economic picture continues to emerge.

[38 Trillion] - A serious academic study authored by a respected former Medicare and Social Security administrator was released this week, touching off a renewed debate about the feasibility of the Left's "Medicare for All" single-payer healthcare scheme.  The top-line price tag featured in headlines about the report -- including my own headline -- was an eye-popping $32.6 trillion over ten years.  But as I mentioned in that post, the real number is much higher.  Why?  The $32.6 trillion calculation (nearly identical to a figure reached by the left-leaning Urban Institute) bakes one of Bernie Sanders' wildly unrealistic assumptions into its underlying math.  Bernie claims that his socialized program would result in medical providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) just accepting government payment rates that are 40 percent lower across the board than the levels they receive under the private system...all with "absolutely no effect on their capacity or willingness to provide services."  This is pure fantasy.  

The $32.6 trillion number also doesn't take into account the issue of supplemental coverage plans, which are prevalent under the existing (and unsustainable) Medicare status quo, and would certainly be a widespread reality under nationwide single-payer.  Charles Blahous, who ran the analysis, applied a more realistic formula that "blend[s]...higher private and lower public reimbursement rates."  Once that needed tweak was inserted into his computations, the total cost jumps by $6 trillion, destroying the Left's specious argument that 'Medicare for All' would somehow reduce total healthcare expenditures in America by $2 trillion; the far more accurate projection calls for a $4 trillion increase.  And how might US taxpayers even begin to pay for any of this?  Click through and weep.  Oddly, lefty politicians seem unwilling to grapple honestly with these highly unpleasant options.  Oh, and 'Medicare for All' would throw an estimated 156 million people off of their existing coverage.  You can't keep your plan, America.

[Four] - The total number of battleground state GOP Senators being boosted by spending from the Koch brothers' political network.  Kochworld is playing in Wisconsin, Missouri, Florida and Tennessee, but "missing from the list are Indiana, Montana, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Also not on the list, 99 days before the elections, is Nevada where Republican Sen. Dean Heller is trying to keep his seat in a state that Hillary Clinton won."  The Kochs are libertarian-leaning mega donors who seem to be increasingly disillusioned with the GOP.  As they review their return on investment on key issues like reducing federal spending, reforming immigration, and supporting free trade, the Kochs apparently don't feel terribly motivated to keep funneling money to the party they generally support.  Regardless of whether you agree with their priorities and worldview, can you blame them, based on the results they've seen?  "Shut up and get with the program," snarls Steve Bannon, missing the crucial point that the current Trumpist GOP program simply is not the Kochs' program.  Another notable race on this front is in North Dakota, where the Koch network has actually aided Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp over GOP nominee Kevin Cramer.  Unfazed by the snub, the NRSC dropped this ad against Heitkamp last this week:

Elsewhere on the 2018 Senate map, should Tennessee Democrats be worried about their nominee's underwhelming performance in the recent primary, especially compared to his GOP opponent?  And should Texas Republicans be at all antsy about Ted Cruz's mid-single-digit lead over hardcore liberal Beto O'Rourke?  Cruz is running behind other statewide Republicans in the latest batch of polling, a modest red flag.  I'd guess that Team Cruz is pushing for five debates because they'd like to capitalize on every opportunity to highlight O'Rourke's very un-Texan policy and political stances.

[One] - That's the percentage point lead held by the Republican nominee heading into next week's special Congressional election in Ohio, in which the GOP is hoping to retain a seat they've controlled for 36 years.  Democrat Danny O'Connor is neck-and-neck with Troy Balderson, according to a new Monmouth University poll.  The district still leans to the right -- voters surveyed said they'd prefer a Republican-held Congress by five points -- but President Trump's approval rating is slightly underwater there.  O'Connor is running as a centrist, anti-Pelosi moderate, but he was forced to admit that he'd support Pelosi if it came down to it, and in an interview on Benson & Harf, he dodged questions about single-payer healthcare while backing new gun control measures.  If Democrats pull off another Conor Lamb-style upset in the midwest next, look for new buzz about a major blue wave to start percolating.  Relatedly, could the GOP be in worse shape than the current prognostications would suggest?

[Five] - The number of senior-level national security officials who participated in a 'show of force' press conference at the White House on Thursday, underscoring the administration's efforts to combat Russia's ongoing project of interference in US elections.  In attendance at the briefing were the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and a four-star Army General who oversees cyber command.  The optics and substance sent a clear and unified message to the voting public, and to the world: Regardless of some presidential equivocations alongside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki a few weeks ago, the US government is well aware of the continued threat posed by Moscow, and is taking it very seriously.  I discussed the issue with Dana Perino on Fox shortly after it happened:

Incidentally, the comment about Fox anchor Bill Hemmer in that clip was in reference to the liberal guest's complaint that in an on-air exchange years ago, Hemmer had disputed the notion that 'all 17' US intelligence agencies were in agreement about Russian meddling.  Hemmer wasn't wrong to question that specific statistic, even though the IC's bottom-line, assessed and re-assessed, conclusion about the Kremlin's activities is beyond dispute.

[Friday Fun] - Following his latest dramatic antics in the White House briefing room, I chuckled at these Jim Acosta memes:

This criticism of Acosta's emotive performance art is more serious and scathing, however: