Making Sense of Energy Market Turmoil

I don’t know how else to say this: Energy markets are going a little crazy. First, crude oil prices plummeted, turning an earlier autumn rally into a bear-market rout. From its high of about $76 per barrel on Oct. 3., benchmark West Texas Intermediate plunged to about $55 in only five weeks. Then, natural gas prices went haywire, with the benchmark gas futures contract leaping from about $3 per million British thermal units to nearly $5 in a span of days, only to plunge back to $4 today. What exactly is going on? Continue reading “Making Sense of Energy Market Turmoil”

McConnell Big Midterm Winner

There is no savvier, effective politician in Washington than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican masterfully orchestrated a midterm campaign strategy for the Senate that not only stymied a nationwide Democratic surge, but led to his party gaining at  least one seat in the chamber, all while his party lost control of the House by a healthy margin.

The Senate map favored the GOP all along. Democrats defended a whopping 26 seats, compared with only nine held by Republicans. And eight of those GOP seats were in states President Trump won in 2016, while 10 of the Democratic ones were in Trump territory. Continue reading “McConnell Big Midterm Winner”

Taking Stock of the 2018 Midterms

Another Election Day has come and gone after the American people rendered a split decision on the Republican Party’s total control of Washington. As expected, the House of Representatives will be in Democratic hands for the first time since 2011 come January. Republicans managed not only to keep, but expand their Senate majority, knocking off a least three vulnerable Democratic incumbents in states that voted for President Trump in 2016.

What does this election cycle portend for Congress and the future of America’s two major political parties? Here are a few key takeaways:

Gridlock will almost certainly increase on Capitol Hill, perhaps as early as next week when lawmakers return to hold a lame-duck session of Congress to dispense with unfinished business. Although Trump and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that they will pursue a bipartisan agenda and could possibly work together on an elusive national infrastructure plan, any initial comity is unlikely to last. Just hours after praising Pelosi, Trump upped the ante by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

And once they assume the majority next year, Democrats will investigate everything from Trump’s tax returns to his business and possible political ties to Russia. Thorny immigration issues will inevitably arise, possibly as soon as next week. Plus, any bill passed by a Democratic-run House can easily be stopped by a Republican-led Senate.

More Republicans in the Senate means Trump—and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—can push even harder. Despite the loss of Dean Heller in Nevada, the party picked up seats in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and possibly Florida as well.

Undecided Senate races aside, Trump and McConnell should have no problem accomplishing their top priority: confirming conservative judges to federal courts. A larger GOP majority also gives the president more power to overhaul his cabinet, which he wasted no time setting to with Sessions’ dismissal. He also won’t have to contend with internal naysayers as Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two vocal Trump critics, are retiring at year’s end.

2016 foretold the future: Democrats continue to gain strength in urban and suburban areas, Republicans in rural ones. These electoral shifts may not amount to a “realignment,” as some observers are suggesting. But the trend lines are clear.

Take Minnesota, where on election night Democrats flipped two Republican-held districts in the Minneapolis suburbs, but lost two rural-based seats. Indeed, of the 32 seats Democrats definitely flipped (ballots are still being counted in some states), 31 are considered urban or suburban; some were represented by a Republican for decades. Contrast that with the 2006 midterms when Democrats took back the House by winning many of the districts that propelled Trump to victory in 2016.

The Senate tells largely the same story. Many forecasters thought incumbency might save such vulnerable red-state Democrats as Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Instead, both lost handily, thanks in part to Trump’s ability to juice GOP turnout in the party’s rural strongholds.

Last but not least, both parties set themselves up well for 2020, with Republicans winning statewide races in Florida and Ohio, both presidential bellwethers, and Democrats showing renewed strength in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, longtime blue strongholds that Trump won narrowly in 2016.

The joke around Washington is that the 2020 presidential campaign officially began as soon as the 2018 midterm results were in. Thankfully, that contest is far enough away Kiplinger need not offer a forecast just yet.

Congress Readies for ‘Lame Duck’ Session

Lawmakers will return their attention to governing, starting next week. Congress reconvenes on Tuesday to wrap up unfinished business before the new Congress is seated in January. Despite losing control of the House in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Republicans still run the show on both sides of Capitol Hill. They intend to take full advantage of their fleeting power during the lame-duck session that could run through the holidays.

Keeping the federal government open is the most pressing issue. Numerous agencies’ funding runs out Dec. 7. If lawmakers and President Trump can’t agree on how much money to appropriate each, the departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice, Interior, Agriculture and others would have to halt most operations come Dec. 8. Continue reading “Congress Readies for ‘Lame Duck’ Session”

Paul Ryan’s Last Stand

Maintaining Republicans’ House majority was outgoing-Speaker Paul Ryan’s final mission, even before President Trump dumped responsibility for holding the majority on the Wisconsin Republican. The task was Herculean from the outset: Defy modern history by being the first House leader not to lose a significant number of seats in a midterm when an unpopular president of the same party is in his first term.  Ryan’s decision to tell the world that he will retire seven months before Election Day was a tactical error, pundits said. A lame-duck speaker cannot keep his troops in line, and a retiring congressman cannot raise the huge sums of cash the GOP needs to keep the House, conventional wisdom held.

But despite what Trump will say if Democrats win control of the House (that Ryan’s lame-duck status is to blame), Ryan can take much credit for Republicans having a chance, albeit a slim one, of keeping their House majority. He has continued raising money hand over fist since his April 11 retirement announcement; he’s stumped incessantly for vulnerable incumbents and challengers across the country; and a super PAC closely affiliated with him, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has emerged as a game-changing force in this election cycle. Continue reading “Paul Ryan’s Last Stand”

Promising Trends Emerge for the Internet of Things

The internet of things is on the rise, with billions of additional devices, machines and sensors ready to connect to the web around the globe soon. But the pace of growth hinges on how fast the technology industry can overcome some major road blocks.

Security challenges are perhaps the biggest problem, with hackable products flooding the market and giving a bad rep to the potential of connected gear. Reliable wireless connectivity is another issue since businesses won’t enter the fray unless they know critical data can be transmitted without interruption, and at a reasonable price. Continue reading “Promising Trends Emerge for the Internet of Things”

Supreme Court Nomination Rests on Accuser’s Decision to Testify

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is on the rocks after a woman accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school, 35 years ago.

The allegations put what might otherwise have been a surefire confirmation on hold, with key Republicans initially joining Democrats in calling for additional time to evaluate the claims of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who finally went public with her story last week after notifying congressional Democrats in July. Continue reading “Supreme Court Nomination Rests on Accuser’s Decision to Testify”

What Privacy Regulations Mean for Your Business and Investment Portfolio

Look past the current privacy debate roiling Capitol Hill set off by Facebook’s huge data leak.  Businesses will have to deal with new rules of the road when it comes to consumer data. It’s only a matter of time before Congress settles on federal legislation, though serious consideration won’t start before 2019 and may take even longer than that.

Coping with more-stringent, and potentially costly, privacy regulations won’t be easy for many firms. New requirements will touch all types of businesses that deal with consumer data, both small and large, tech and non-tech. That means more money and time spent on managing customer data and keeping tabs on upcoming rules. Continue reading “What Privacy Regulations Mean for Your Business and Investment Portfolio”

All the President’s Congressmen

As a political outsider, candidate Donald Trump had little support on Capitol Hill during the nascent days of his presidential run. As he cranked into high gear in mid-2016, a small cadre of supporters emerged, mostly from the House. They became Trump loyalists and the relationship was mutually beneficial; the lawmakers got coveted access to the White House while Trump gained a critical foothold in Congress.

But like everything else in Trumpland’s constant state of flux, the list of Trump insiders looks very different now than it did two years ago. The only constant is that all members are Republicans. Expect the list to keep evolving as his White House tenure matures. Continue reading “All the President’s Congressmen”

Defense Industry Happy With Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Pick

Look for the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee to be more deferential to the Pentagon, the White House and the defense industry in the wake of Chairman John McCain’s (R-AZ) death.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, now the panel’s top Republican, is poised to take over the gavel as soon as this week. The committee plays a leading role in overseeing U.S. defense policy, including helping craft defense policy bills that do everything from specifying how many tanks the Army can buy to limiting U.S.-Russian military cooperation. Inhofe’s approach will contrast starkly with that of the “maverick” McCain. Continue reading “Defense Industry Happy With Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Pick”