Nine Predictions for 2009

(The 2008 Bleeding Heartland election prediction champion gets out the crystal ball for the year to come... - promoted by desmoinesdem)

My apologies for not getting this in closer to the actual new year, but you could say that “a day late and a dollar short” has been the theme of the new year so far for me. Or five days short, as the case may be.

In any case, before we start the new political year for real, I thought it might be fun to share our predictions for the new year. Here are nine predictions of mine for two thousand and nine.

1. The state budget is in far worse shape then we think. Expect the fight over the budget to get ugly, quick.

The Iowa state fiscal year runs from July 1 2008 to June 30 2009–right in the heart of the economic meltdown. Given that the estimates for this period are just starting to come in, it's reasonable to assume that the stories we're currently hearing about the “budget crisis” represent only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Likewise, the 1.5% across-the-board cut currently proposed by Gov. Culver isn't going to be nearly enough to solve the crisis. It's going to get ugly and fast.

2. Unemployment will hit 10% by the end of 2009, and recovery will not come until early 2010.

Call me a pessimist, but I think things are going to get much worse before they get better. When you combine the potential failure of the Big 3 (a still unresolved issue, by the way), plus a global manufacturing slowdown, with the fact that up to 25% of retail stores may declare bankrupcy in the next year–you have the recipie for unmitigated economic disaster.  

To complicate matters, I do not expect President Obama's recovery measures to be passed before May of this year. (There are already signs that a long battle is ahead for this bill.) That means that many of the infrastructure projects given funds through the program will miss out on the summer construction window–meaning they likely won't start until Summer 2010. Many other measures, like tax cuts or social programs won't go into effect until 2010 as well…moving the light at the end of the tunnel further and further away.

3. The Big 3 will not survive in their current form. Get ready for the Big 2.

Regardless of whether the auto bailout was the correct move at the time, by the time the big ball drops in 2010–there will no longer be a Big 3 as we know them now. My best guess is that one of the Big 3 automakers (most likely Chrysler) will implode into disorganized bankrupcy. No buyer will be found, and the brand will simply cease to exist. This will spark a crisis that will either lead to the organized bankrupcy/restructuring of the other companies, or government assistance with severe Bob Corker style conditions. 

The good news is that out of the multitude of laid-off engineers and designers, we could see new  and innovative technologies, designs, and companies form. By 2020 we could all be driving solar hybrids designed and built by ex-Big 3 designers who started their own companies.

6. The Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Varnum v. Brien.

Beware the ides of March rings true in Iowa in 2009. Expect a ruling on the case of Varnum v. Brien to come down with a rulings for several other cases on March 13, the conclusion of the Court's March session. When that happens expect a whirlwind of craziness to descend on the state: national media, a rush of spring weddings, celebrity attention, half-cocked legal challenges, right-wing rants, Fred Phelps-ian protests, legislative blustering, Steve Deace's head exploding, and who knows what else.

I don't think the moon turning to blood, the dead walking the streets, or any other Pat Robertson-style pronouncements will come true…but expect a wild ride.

5. The Republican candidate for Governor will be a serious contender who already holds a major elected office.

The current fight over the RPI chair has a definite and familiar theme: change. Old hacks are out, new hacks are in. While there is a faction of the GOP that clings to BVP like life preserver, the majority of the party is, I think, waiting for someone new to come along.

That someone is either State Auditor David Vaudt, Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, or 4th District Congressman Tom Latham.

Vaudt looks to emerge as one of the main faces of opposition to Culver on budget issues, a position he could use to slingshot him to the governorship. Northey is the darling of the Republican Party and, with agricultural issues on the back-burner this year and little to do, may find the Governor's race an attractive prospect. Latham, by all measures a low-importance member of the minority party might decide that its now or never for him. And he has nothing to lose: if he wins, he's the Governor; if he loses, he can run again as the elder-statesman in the dogfight that will be the new 3rd district.

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The odds in favor of a good climate change bill just improved

An earthquake hit Capitol Hill today, as the House Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to make Representative Henry Waxman of California chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He will replace Representative John Dingell of Michigan, who has served in the House for more than 50 years (after his father represented the same district for more than two decades).

Dingell has been the top Democrat on the panel for 28 years and is an old-school supporter of the auto industry. Waxman has complained that the committee has been too slow to address environmental issues like global warming.

“The argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy,” Waxman said after the vote.

“The next two years are critical,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who spoke on Waxman’s behalf in the closed-door caucus. “It’s not personal. It’s about the American people demanding that we embrace change and work with the president on critical issues of climate change and energy and health care.”

This is more important than the Senate Democrats caving to Joe Lieberman on Tuesday.

It’s an excellent sign that the new Congress will be serious about progressive change. I had read yesterday that freshman Democrats were overwhelmingly for Waxman, while the Blue Dogs and Congressional Black Caucus were mostly for Dingell.

It’s unfortunate that Dingell has spent several decades trying to shield the big three American automakers from government regulation on fuel efficiency and other matters. If he had not “protected” them for so long, maybe U.S.-made cars would be more desirable for more consumers, and the automakers would not be on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, our employer-based health care system is another major drag on American manufacturers. With any luck we will be able to help uninsured Americans and major industry at the same time by passing universal health care reform.

Congratulations to Waxman for taking the first step in what will no doubt be a long slog.

UPDATE: A Siegel is encouraged by Obama’s speech to the recent bipartisan governors’ summit on climate change. Click the link for more details and the text of the speech.

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