John Thune

The possibility that new voter-ID laws could disenfranchise thousands of Democratic- voters in pivotal swing states has received considerable attention recently. After all, 9.2 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania lack photo identification, including 18 percent of registered voters in heavily Democratic Philadelphia. But these flashy numbers might be misleading. If voter-ID laws have consequences for voter turnout, they’re difficult to detect. Several studies conducted in the wake of the 2006 midterms showed a weak correlation between tougher voter-ID laws and reduced turnout.

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Once again there was a vote on the Senate Republican compromise payroll-tax cut. Once again a majority of Republicans and all but two members of the Republican leadership failed to support the "Republican bill." Twenty-five Republican senators voted against the bill, 22 Republican senators voted for it, and the only members of the Senate leadership who cast ayes were Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and John Barrasso of West Virginia, vice-chairman of the Senate Republican conference.

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Take a moment to imagine the following GOP presidential field: two popular, former big-state governors (one a former U.S. Treasury secretary, the other a hero of the conservative movement), two Hall of Fame senators (one of them a former vice-presidential nominee, the other a future White House chief of staff), a former CIA director, ambassador, and party chair, and a couple of miscellaneous House members. Not bad, right? That’s your Republican candidate field in 1980: Ronald Reagan, John Connally, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, John Anderson, and Phil Crane.

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The Obama Administration is pulling the plug on CLASS, the long-term insurance program within the Affordable Care Act. The announcement came late Friday, most likely because administration officials hoped to bury the news. They did not succeed, as Republicans and their supporters were all over it. Here, for example, was Senator John Thune of South Dakota: After ignoring repeated warnings from my Republican colleagues and me about the fiscal solvency of the CLASS Act, the Obama Administration jammed Obamacare through Congress in order to score a political win.

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While all of Washington fastened its gaze on Chris Christie, the most important issue of the week—maybe of the year—was playing out on the floor of the Senate.

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For months now, some pundits have been certain that Mitt Romney was doomed because of his record on health care. And yet Romney has outlasted Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, and John Thune, and he’s still going strong. Not as strong, perhaps, as Rick Perry. And yet Perry, too, has an apparent fatal skeleton.

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With unemployment still too high and growth still too low, I'm not sure why budget deficits and the federal debt are suddenly the exclusive focus of our political conversation. But a serious conversation about how to stabilize the government's finances is now taking place, in the media and behind closed doors in Congress.  At least, it's supposed to be serious. But comments like this one from Republican Senator John Thune, during an interview with Slate's Dave Weigel, make me wonder: My view on that is that you've got to start where the problem is, and it's a spending issue.

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As some have pointed out, President Obama's recent polling surge has only a modestly suggestive impact on his reelection odds, but but one clear effect is to dissuade potentially strong challengers. Such as John Thune: South Dakota Sen.

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Tax Haven

The deficit is a huge dilemma that’s too big for one party to solve, say the pundits and various deficit scolds. (Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles: “Neither party can fix this problem on its own, and both parties have a responsibility to do their part.) Nonsense, I say. There’s a really easy, and 100 percent partisan, answer: Just let all the Bush tax cuts expire. President Obama can accomplish this without negotiations, compromise of any sort, or even putting aside petty agendas for the national good.

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Decision Time

The Republican Party—and indeed much of the media establishment—is living in a fantasy world when it comes to 2012. To hear most of the pundits and soothsayers tell it, the presidential nominating contest is still a long way off. The GOP heavies we’ve been talking about since 2008, such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Tim Pawlenty, are all terribly flawed: Mitt’s got his RomneyCare; Newt has been a national pariah; Huck has money problems; Palin is toxic outside her base; and T-Paw induces narcolepsy.

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