Political wrap-up: The 3 -tions: Inflation, Abortion, and the Election

As we wrap up the sixth season of EJBTalks, the midterm primaries are underway and Amy Cobb is back to talk with Stuart Shaprio about the hot topics in national politics. She asks for his take on inflation and the economy, who’s to blame (if anyone), and what we face next. The two talk about the history and the possible fate of Roe v. Wade, the turn to the states, and the cascading effects and threats on other precedents.  And finally, they discuss the important races of the 2022 Midterms and what the primary results and issues like abortion and inflation mean for the possible results.

Stuart Shapiro
Welcome to EJB Talks. I’m Stuart Shapiro, the Interim Dean of the Bloustein School, and the purpose of this podcast is to highlight the work my colleagues, and our alumni in the fields of policy, planning, and health are doing to make the world the country and New Jersey a better place.

We are at the end of another season of EJBtalks. So before we leave you for the summer, we’re going to do one of our regular check-ins on national politics, which is really how the podcast got started. Amy Cobb is stepping into the interviewer booth and I’ll be the guest, as we talk about the three -tions; inflation, abortion, and the 2022 election. Amy, take it away!

Amy Cobb
It kind of feels like we’re back to that “not normal” stuff that we had hoped would go away after the 2020 election. Hopes have been dashed.

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah… still more is normal than not normal. Certainly, compared to 2017 to 2020.

Amy Cobb
We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that.

Stuart Shapiro
Yup, that’s right.

Amy Cobb
So we’re talking about the three -tions, so I’m just going to dive right in. And we’re gonna talk about the topic du jour, inflation. So did a little bit of back research like I always do. And not surprisingly, a very recent Washington Post ABC News poll said that 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of the way that Biden and his administration are handling this issue. In fact, Biden and Jeff Bezos are in a Twitter tête-à-tête, talking about inflation, and Biden blaming the wealthiest corporations for not paying their fair share in taxes and Bezos responding about this is not the time to worry about this, we need to worry about taming inflation. So how did we get here? And what mistakes were made in the past? And what mistakes are being made currently by the administration? And where do Biden and the rest of the country go from there?

Stuart Shapiro
So if like, Amy, you have taken microeconomics, and if like Amy, you’ve taken it with me as your professor, you will know that prices go up for one of two reasons. One reason is the demand goes up. The other reason is, it becomes more expensive for suppliers to produce goods. What has happened over the past year, year and a half, is that both of those things have happened at the same time. Demand has been pushed up by the massive influx of cash that the government threw into the economy, to wrestle with the pandemic, and people that had saved money by not going out to restaurants and hotels during the pandemic. For all those reasons, lots of people had lots of money sitting in their savings accounts. And once the pandemic eased, they felt maybe not only the need but the desire to really spend it and reward themselves. So demand has shot up spectacularly. At the same time, the supply curve has moved inward…

Amy Cobb
I want those charts, we should be standing in front of the whiteboard… ((laughing))

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah, I’m drawing graphs in my mind as we speak. ((laughing))

But what that means is it’s become more expensive for producers to produce goods. You’ve all heard about the supply chain challenges that we’ve had in the past year. That makes it more expensive for suppliers to bring goods to consumers. That means they have to raise their prices to do so. Then you add into that the continued persistence of COVID, particularly in China. The war in Ukraine, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a number of other factors have all constricted supply, pushing prices up. So it’s those factors together. It’s not really with one exception, anything anyone did. It’s the economy just sort of chugging along.

Now, the one exception is that the government did throw all that money into the economy last year. I think that was probably, given what we knew at the time, the most appropriate thing to do. We were dealing with a pandemic. This was one of the possible consequences of it. And indeed, it has come to materialize. I don’t know that we go back and change that necessarily. But we have to live with the consequences now.

Now in terms of your last question, what do we do, what comes next here? That’s harder because despite what everybody thinks, despite everybody calling it Biden-flation or things along those lines, there’s not much the president can do. It was true of Trump, it was true of Obama, the economy is a very difficult thing to control. And so it’s not like Biden has a lot of choices here. He has to hope that the Fed gets it right as they raise interest rates. They have had a half-point raise recently, that was intended to slow inflation. There are going to be at least two or three more rises in the interest rates that the Fed controls over the next six months, and those should slow inflation.

On the other hand, they will likely increase unemployment. It’s a double-edged sword, and it’s the trade-off the Fed has to manage. So the Biden administration has to hope they get that right. They have to hope that COVID does not wreak havoc with the supply chain. They have to hope that things going on on the other side of the planet in Ukraine in China don’t disrupt supply even more than it has. So there’s a lot of wishing and hoping and not a ton that the administration can do.

Amy Cobb
So just a quick follow-up. So in the past, we’ve talked about the recession. So we had the Great Recession. And we’re kind of, and I hate to say it, I don’t want to bring it on, but we’re overdue is what a lot of people have said. So are these all precursors to a recession? Which technically we’re overdue for? And if it is, does it feel the same as it did before? Do you think it’s a long slog? Or is this more of the natural way of the economy?

Stuart Shapiro
Well, technically, we did have a recession starting in March of 2020. The COVID recession. It was much deeper, but also much faster than most previous recessions. So it’s hard to know that we are doomed for something. Because we are still right now, not that we are post-COVID, but we are post sort of 2020, no vaccine version of COVID. We’re in the post COVID economy right now. And so we are still recovering from that. And when new bursts of the virus come forth, that will affect economic activity. And we may plunge back towards a recession.

Certainly, if the Fed raises interest rates too quickly or too much, then that could lead us to a recession. But that’s not foreordained. There are a lot of other factors. We may have had our recession already. We may be ready for another period of good economic times. I don’t think they will come until inflation is under control, but what’s going to happen next is not due to some rules of the economic cycle.

Amy Cobb
Well, there you go. That’s, that’s some good news from somebody who’s an economist. Well, look at that. That was positive.

Stuart Shapiro
Well, look. Harry Truman once said he wanted a one-handed economist because economists always said on the one hand, and on the other hand. ((laughing)) What I’m saying is anything could still happen. But we’re not, we’re not fated for a recession.

Amy Cobb
Okay. All right. Well, I’ll take that as a positive Stuart. ((laughing))

Stuart Shapiro
There you go. ((laughing))

Amy Cobb
Okay, so we’re going to move on to our second -tion, which is abortion. So the draft opinion, it was leaked. Whatever anybody’s opinion on what that means the leak and what happens when you leak a document, we’re not going to even touch on that. But it is overwhelmingly on everyone’s minds. I can say, particularly as a woman, that it certainly is. So I’m going to ask very simply. How did we get here? What missteps and missed opportunities, and maybe mistakes were even made even by this most recent Biden administration, and where do Biden and our country go from here?

Stuart Shapiro
So once again, I don’t think there’s a lot Biden can do. I don’t think he bears much of the responsibility for what happened. Roe v. Wade was decided in the early 1970s. And the reaction to it was, from those that opposed abortion, and I want to use opposed abortion and support abortion. I don’t think very many people fall in either of those camps. Frankly, the mass of the American public is in the muddled middle, on abortion for the most part. But to simplify those who opposed abortion, essentially waged a 50-year struggle, and it was one that was built from the ground up. It was one that had, one might have argued little hope of success, particularly after the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in the 1990s.

But they stood at it. And you know, and they gained support. They had a political party essentially endorse their position. And then the focus on the courts, which the Republicans and conservatives have always been better at, than Democrats and liberals, led to a Supreme Court, which is now the most conservative court, at least since pre-New Deal times. It’s hard to sort of map what conservative means now versus what it meant then, but certainly the most conservative court in a long time, and one that seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I say seems because we don’t know the final outcome yet. We don’t know what the deliberations are going on within the chambers. I don’t think the opinion will come out until late June, or early July. The court still has 24 cases, I think they’ll have to decide. And they only announced decisions once or twice a week. So doing the math, and figuring that this will be in the last tranche of decisions announced, I don’t expect to see it for a little while. And I don’t think we know exactly what it will say.

Assuming that it overturns Roe, however, assuming that it does do that, the battleground shifts to the states. And this is going to be a set of issues that are fought state by state by state. The reality is, of course, it will be fought in 10 or 15 states. There will be about 20 states that will restrict the right to abortion fairly severely, I think most of them will probably go back to something like a six-week threshold like the Texas law did and will criminalize the provision of abortion by doctors. I think that’s what you’ll see in about 20 states or so. In 15 states, including New Jersey, you won’t notice any difference. The right to choose, you may see some symbolic statutes that enshrine the right to choose to have an abortion in state law, which wasn’t necessary while Roe was in the books, but you might see some of that.

And then it’s the last 15 states where this will go legislature by legislature and Governor by Governor and I would expect you’ll have 15 different sets of laws in those states. You’ll have some states with some restrictions. You’ll have some states with lots of restrictions, you’ll have some states with a few restrictions. They will run the gamut. And then it will go back to the courts as to what’s legal and what’s not legal in terms of what the states do. And that’s I think, where we’re headed, assuming Roe gets overturned.

Amy Cobb
So just as a follow on question. I know that there has been some talk in, the media have talked to Republican senators about this going to the Senate and then wanting to pass a bill to outlaw abortion period. So is that something to worry about for midterm elections and beyond, about what would happen federally?

Stuart Shapiro
So keeping in mind that I was wrong, and I’m surprised by the Alito opinion, I actually thought the result of the cases would look more like what the Roberts opinion probably looks like upholding Mississippi’s 15-week threshold. So I was wrong about that. So I could be wrong about what I’m going to say now. In order to do anything like outlawing abortion, they would have to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate, and they would have to have a Republican president. So is that possible? Sure.

I don’t think it’s possible, while Mitch McConnell is the Majority Leader. Mitch McConnell understands, as well as anyone, that the filibuster more often serves conservative preferences than it does liberal preferences. And so, therefore, he, I believe, would as long as he is in charge of the Senate, would fight to keep the filibuster in place which would prevent anything like an outright ban on abortion from coming out of Congress.

Could we live in a world where Mitch McConnell is no longer in charge of the Senate where there’s a Republican president and the filibuster disappears? Yeah, we could. I gotta say, as important as abortion is to so many people, if we get to that world, and presuming that the Republican Party is still a Trumpist party, the debate over abortion is one of the smaller ones that we have to worry about in that context. So in other words, yes, that could happen. But it would take the kind of change in our political climate, that would produce much more things that are at least as worrisome as an abortion ban.

Amy Cobb
Right. And I think one of my last follow ons was I realized that you know, Roe v. Wade and those decisions are really about the right to privacy, and they’ve talked about the cascading effect of, you know, Roe v. Wade being overturned, what it really means and including for gay marriage, you is that a real worry?

Stuart Shapiro
Those threats, I think, are real, because those are outside of the realm of politics, and in the realm of the court right now. And what this majority, if it overturns Roe will be showing is a willingness to do things that were thought to be settled law to undo them. And so gay marriage, in particular, I mean, I don’t think they’ll undo marriages that took place. But will they make it impossible for people… will they give states the ability to outlaw gay marriage? Yeah, I think that’s a plausible thing that’s coming, regardless of what happens in politics.

Amy Cobb
Okay. Not very positive right now, but glad to know that there are still possibilities for the states. And I’m very appreciative to live in New Jersey, I know that the Murphy administration took a stand quite a bit ago, Connecticut, and Illinois as well. So…

Stuart Shapiro
Yup, yup.

Amy Cobb
Yeah, it’s a comfort, but not very much comfort. So thanks for talking about that, Stuart.

So we’re going to move really these two things filter in and many other issues that are out there right now filter into what just took place yesterday, and what we’re looking forward to is the election and the midterm election. And as we both know midterms, they are a referendum on the incumbent president. Unfortunately, Biden’s approval rating, which doesn’t surprise you or I, is pretty, pretty low, I think, hovering right around the 40% mark. There are really slender majorities in the House and the Senate, and there is a lot of worry about who’s going to win. And I think the biggest thing I keep reading, which is the truth is you have a very weary, very exhausted, very disappointed nation. So what are the critical races Senate and House? And what should we be looking forward to over the course of the next six or so months?

Stuart Shapiro
So I think I will break that into two questions. The House and the Senate or three and the governors. I’ll talk a little bit about the end.

Amy Cobb
Is it 36 governors who are up for re-election?

Stuart Shapiro
Yeah, it’s something like that. A significant majority, certainly. The house I will talk about key races, because I don’t know with 435…

Amy Cobb
There’s a lot.

Stuart Shapiro
There are a lot. And there aren’t that many that are key, most of them won’t be terribly close, because of the redistricting that took place, Republicans generally chose to strengthen their existing districts, rather than challenge too many Democratic districts. But even with doing that, they will be favored in a majority of districts in November. And I think we can certainly still expect a Republican takeover of the house. I would put that now probably in the 85 to 90% likelihood range because as you said, it’s a referendum on the President. The President isn’t terribly popular right now, President’s even when popular sometimes suffers in the first midterm. All of those factors point together along with the inflation that we talked about earlier, to a difficult political environment for the Democrats. Because the Republicans made the choice they did in protecting their own seats, I don’t know that the Democrats are going to have a 2010 or 1994 disaster where they lose 50 seats. But a 30-seat loss certainly looks like a reasonable projection at this point.

The Senate though is more complicated because a Senator is more about individual races in which seats are up, etc, etc. And most pundits make the Republicans significant favorites in the Senate as well. I’m not so sure yet. The nomination of JD Vance and Tim Ryan in Ohio makes that race competitive. It’ll be an uphill climb for Ryan but not an impossible one. If the Republicans go ahead and nominate Herschel Walker in Georgia, a great running back, lousy senatorial candidate, then the Democrats will have a chance of holding on to Raphael Warnock’s seat. The Democrats have a chance of picking up Pennsylvania which held its primaries last night, behind Fetterman who I think will be a strong candidate there. So if you pick up a seat and Pennsylvania and you defend your seats in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and Maine, or no, not Maine, New Hampshire, sorry. Then all of a sudden, the chances for the Republicans to pick up the Senate started to narrow very quickly. We’ll see. There are a lot of ifs in there. But I do think the chance that the Democrats keep the Senate is still north of 40% at this point.

Amy Cobb
Well, last night wasn’t as one way or the other. It was kind of a mixed bag.

Stuart Shapiro
It was a very mixed bag of results last night. The most concerning result, and that’s a nice segue into talking about the governors, was the Republican nominee for governor, Mastriano, who is a 2020 election denier and has essentially said that he would make sure Pennsylvania’s electoral votes go to the Republican candidate in 2024. Making I think for democracy’s sake, the Pennsylvania governor’s race, is one of the most important in the country next year. Democrats will be favored, but it’s by no means a sure thing.

Same thing with Tony Evers and Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection bids in Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively. At least they’re the Democrats have the power of incumbency on their side. Hopefully, that will lead to reelections, but it will be uphill fights in both states. Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp will likely have a rematch in Georgia. I think Abrams is going to struggle to get as close as she did last time unless the invective against Kemp from the primary from his Trumpist right is so great that people don’t show up to vote for him. In Arizona,another key governor’s race, they are trying to replace Doug Ducey in Arizona. So a lot of very important governor’s races and where they are most important is in the effect they will have on the 2024 election.

Amy Cobb
I feel like we just got done with the 2020 election. It’s been a long, few years. ((laughing))

Stuart Shapiro
It has Yeah. ((laughing)) One of the problems with the American system is the perpetual election. And because our campaigns are so long in many countries they are… we just saw France, a couple of weeks ago, many cases the elections are two months long and that’s it. And we would profit greatly from moving to that phenomenon. But there’s no sort of real way to get there.

Amy Cobb
Well, it was a good season. I can’t believe we’re at the end of the 6th season. This is… it’s been a crazy one, Stuart.

Stuart Shapiro
We’ve been doing great. I urge listeners to listen to our earlier podcasts. Thank you, Amy, for stepping into the role of interviewer today, allowing me to blab on for a change. Thanks also to Karyn Olsen, who does some of the work behind the scenes.

We’re going to take the summer off now. But we will be back in the fall with Season Seven and boy it’ll be the best one. Yeah, I assure you. All right. Till then I hope everyone has a safe summer.