Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/31/09-Daschle, Gregg, Vocab V

It's Saturday and there's relative quiet in the political world, but still enough for a Daily Strike.

DASCHLE IN TROUBLE: Another one of Obama's appointees, HHS nominee Tom Daschle, is in trouble for not paying taxes on, most notably, a private limo and driver. The Senate Finance will be meeting on Monday to discuss if and how to proceed with his nomination. My guess is that he eventually will be confirmed because of his long experience in the Senate, but this is another embarrassment for Obama's team. Couldn't they have done a better job of vetting this stuff? I bet the Republicans make a stink out of this to try and get some more mileage from the "Democrats are Corrupt" storyline. It probably seems to them that they are onto something: Blago, Daschle, Geithner, Charlie Rangel. In the end, they won't have enough votes to block him.

GREGG UPDATE: A White House Spokesman said today that New Hampshire GOP Senator Judd Gregg is a top contender for the Commerce post, and an announcement could be coming as soon as Monday. The political shuffling that would take place to fill his Senate seat is still largely in question. Apparently Gregg is conditioning his acceptance on Democratic Governor John Lynch appointing a Republican. Nate Silver suggests Liz Hager, who has expressed interest in the seat. Hager is a former state Representative who endorsed Obama last year because of his pro-choice views. Yet, she still calls herself a Republican. You could bet that she'd be a pretty reliable vote for the Democrats, and could help Obama with his bipartisan bona fides.

REPUBLICAN RETREAT: Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall at the House Republican retreat this weekend in Virginia? Speakers have included Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and polling guru Frank Luntz. The mood apparently is pretty upbeat, and the general consensus seems to be that the party is more united than ever in conservative principles of small taxes and limited government. Apparently there was a lot of bragging about the House GOP's unanimous rejection of the stimulus package. I don't understand the Republicans' thinking here. They are not exactly winning any popularity contests, and they are now bragging about stopping a popular President's signature initiative, when it is abundantly clear to the American public that Obama reached out to them repeatedly. New GOP Chairman Michael Steele gave a cameo appearance and spoke out against "wealth redistribution." If I were the Repbulican party, I wouldn't repeat slogans from a campaign that you lost pretty badly a couple of months ago. Steele's communications should help the GOP develop a new, innovative message, but they'll have to come up with some viable policy alternatives that don't always involve tax cuts.

OBAMA WEEKLY ADDRESS: Obama's address this week again focused (obviously) on the economy. He talked about the stimulus package, and how he will work with leaders of both parties to improve the bill. He also spoke about the culture of greed and corruption on Wall Street, and mentioned this week's revelation that recipients of federal bailout money were getting multi-million dollar bonuses. Obama's Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is expected to unveil a package of financial reforms in a week or so.

REPUBLICAN DIVIDE: There's an interesting piece on MSNBC's website about how GOP governors are breaking with their party members in Congress to push for passage of the stimulus. Ahead of the effort are Florida Governor Charlie Crist (who I think is a rising star in the Republican party) and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas. These governors are in charge of states who are facing massive budget shortfalls and significant job losses. It's a lot easier to be against a stimulus package when you are not directly managing a state. One governor not on the bandwagon is the chair of the Republican Governor's Association, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who has railed against the bailout effort, staying true to his ideological belief in fiscal conservatism. This backfired, however, when he was forced to end his opposition to federal money for state unemployment services. The point is, it's a lot easier to be ideologically opposed to something when people aren't suffering and in desperate need of help. The Big Picture will be talking about this subject in the coming days.

VOCAB V: Today's term is President Pro Tempore. The Vice President is technically the President of the Senate, but his only role is to swear in new members and to break ties. In reality, he rarely shows up to the chamber. The consitution mandates that the Senate choose a President Pro Tempore, who will preside over the chamber in case the Vice President is absent or is currently acting as President. What most people don't know is that the President Pro Tempore himself rarely presides over the Senate. Over the years, the role has become largely ceremonial and is traditionally given to the most senior member of the majority party (currently 92 year old Robert Byrd of West Virginia). The guy presiding over the Senate is usually a freshman or sophomore Senator of the majority party. This allows new Senators to learn the rules of the chamber. It also is a bit of a hazing excercise for new Senators, as they have to sit up there for hours while their colleagues can meet with lobbyists in the comfort of their own offices.

The issue with the modern President Pro Tempore, in my view, is that he is 3rd in line to the President behind the Vice President and Speaker of the House. So if Obama, Biden and Nancy Pelosi were to be in the same room when a bomb hit, a 92 year old, barely cognizant, former KKK member would be President of the United States.

See you tomorrow!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Big Picture: Surprising Thoughts on a Surprising Decision

As a liberal Democrat, I am very annoyed by the victory of Michael Steele for the reasons the Strike articulated - he is a very different, compelling new face for the party. He is the best communicator and the most positive (and least angry-sounding) of all their candidates, and of course his race alone will be a positive for Republicans - not so much with blacks, but with whites who may want to vote Republican but feel uncomfortable supporting a blatantly exclusive party. I was really hoping that the Republicans would confirm our worst stereotype of them by choosing Katon Dawson, an elite white man from first-to-secede, Confederate-flag-waving South Carolina who long belonged to an all-white country club and declared that he would be our first black President's "worst nightmare". 

But after expressing my partisan irritation, I found myself surprisingly proud that Steele was elected by conservative Republicans. To be sure, it is a textbook case of tokenism, of putting a diverse face on a still almost all-white party. A black titular head does not in any way make up for decades of driving racial wedges and implementing policies that punish blacks. BUT, it is a pretty stunning advance for the country that even such a conservative group as the RNC would vote to have a black man as their leader. As earth-shattering as Obama's victory was, he still lost the white vote. Today, the majority of white conservative Republican committeemembers voted for a black man. Even this conservative group is not overtly racist. If our goal is to move the entire nation in a more progressive direction, it's a significant step for the conservative element of the country to move from advocating white supremacy to voting for the supremacy of a black man in their party.  The heads of both political parties in the United States are black. Forget all the "yeah, but"s for a second, and consider THAT.

The Daily Strike-1/30/09-Steele, Vocab IV

Good Friday afternoon and welcome to the Daily Strike! No votes in Congress today, but some interesting stuff going on, starting with the election at the RNC:

RNC ELECTION: Michael Steele has been elected the next chairman of the Republican National Commiteee on the sixth ballot by a vote of 91-77 over Katon Dawson. Incumbent chairman Mike Duncan led the first two ballots, but dropped out after losing support on the third ballot. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell dropped out after the 4th ballot, and threw his support (and 15 votes, most likely) to Steele, in a somewhat surprising move, considering that Blackwell is considered far more conservative than Steele. Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis dropped out after round 3, leaving the final contest between Steele and South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson. This was quite the contrast for RNC members: a black, outsider from Maryland, or a white Southerner who used to belong to an all-white country club.

The Republicans made the absolute right choice in my view. Steele not only can help the Republican party overcome its stereotype as a regional, ethnocentric party, but also has proven to be media friendly(he's frequently on Fox News, and he argues the conservative agenda quite well). He even came reasonably close to winning a U.S. Senate seat in Maryland in 2006 during a Democratic wave. I predict that Steele will be an effective, reasonable voice of the Republican Party, far more so than any other of those candidates would have. If I were a Republican, I'd much rather have Steele's face out there than Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

This, of course, will not even come close to solving the GOP's inherent problems with minority voters. Afterall, this is the party that has given us Justice Thomas, Rep. J.C. Watts, Condi Rice and Colin Powell, and they have maxed out at about 11% of the African American vote in Presidential Elections. File this election under the "could have been a lot worse" or "breathe a sigh of relief" category for national Republicans.

LABOR DAY: The biggest news out of the White House today was the creation a commission on middle class issues to be led by Vice President Joe Biden. The first meeting will take place next month in Philadelphia, and the task force will focus on creating jobs, especially in the green energy sector. Obama and Biden both took some shots at Bush during the morning Press Conference, with Biden saying to labor leaders, "it's nice to finally welcome you back to the White House." Obama also overturned three Bush executive orders:

-one which would require federal contractors to offer jobs to current workers when contracts change

-one which would make it more difficult for federal contractors to discourage union activities.

-and the one I mentioned yesterday about discontinuing a policy that allows businesses to inform workers in union jobs that they are not required to join a union.

These are minor, but important steps in shifting the balance between business and labor. Labor didn't even have a place at the table when Bush was in office.

MORE ON GREGG: New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg confirmed today that he is in the running for Commerce Secretary. Democrats are clamoring at the idea of adding a new Democratic Senator, and Republicans (apparently) are urging Gregg to reject the offer. I read somewhere that the governor of New Hampshire, John Lynch, is the type of guy who would appoint a Republican in Gregg's place to prove his bipartisan potential. Even if that were the case, New Hampshire's new Senator would certainly be a more reliable vote for Democrats than Judd Gregg, who is pretty much a down-the-line conservative. We'll see what happens with this. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will be making a decision "soon," whatever that means.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Obama will spend this weekend at a couple of social events. One is the annual Alfalfa Dinner in DC, and Sarah Palin will be there. That should be interesting. He's also apparently going to be watching the Super Bowl with a bipartisan delegation from Congress.

On Monday, the Senate takes up the nomination of Eric Holder. More on that on Monday in the Weekly Strike. The Senate will then consider its version of the stimulus bill. The House will most likely work on finalizing a budget that lasts until September of this year.

VOCAB IV: Today's term is "Quorum Call" (the Senate version). When watching CSPAN2, you'll frequently see that the Senate is in a quorum call, and there will be some classical music playing in the background. A quorum call is ordered, technically, to take attendance and establish a quorum. However, in practice, it is used to temporarily delay proceedings when no Senator wishes to speak. Thus, the Senate almost always goes into a quorum call if there is a long break between speeches. When a Senator sees that no one else on the floor wishes to speak, he will say "I wish to note the absence of a quorum." The presiding officer will ask the clerk to call the roll. She usually only calls the first name on the sheet (poor Mr. Akaka) and the chamber is silent until someone wishes to speak. To end the quorum call, a Senator must say, " I ask unanimous consent that the call of the quorum be rescinded." Oftentimes Senators forget to say this and just start talking. This creates an awkward situation in which the presiding officer must remind the Senator that " we are in a quorum call."

One interesting note from someone whose been inside the Senate chamber, they don't ACTUALLY play classical music during quorum calls. It's deathly silent in there. The classical music is courtesy of CSPAN so we have something nice to listen to before the next Senator comes to the floor and wishes to speak.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/29/09-Republican Amendments Fall Like Dominoes

Good Thursday evening. A busy day in the Senate with the State Children's Health Insurance Bill, mostly in the mode of failed Republican Amendments.

SCHIP PASSED: In a huge legislative victory for the Democrats, a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate passed the SCHIP bill 66-32. All Democrats voted for the bill, along with the following Republicans:

Alexander (TN) I'm pretty shocked about this, but he has a bit of a moderate streak
Collins (ME)
Corker (TN) There must be a lot of poor children in Tennessee who need health care.
Hutchison (TX) This is another yes vote for Hutchison, who also voted for final passage of the Ledbetter bill. She's positioning herself to run for Governor of Texas, and may want to moderate her views somewhat for an electorate that actually still is majority Democratic.
Lugar (IN)
Martinez (FL) He's retiring, so he probably feels like there's no point in listening to his leadership.
Murkowski (AK)
Snowe (ME)
Specter (PA)

Looks like there are still Republicans in the Senate who are willing to break ranks. This may not be as controversial as say, the union card check legislation, but Obama and the Democrats should be encouraged that they got this many GOP votes, considering what happened yesterday in the House.

The final vote followed the rejection of several more Republican amendments, all of which followed yesterday's pattern of trying to scale down the program and narrow its scope to the poorest children. The failed amendments:

-A Coburn (OK) amendment to encourage parents not to take their children off of private insurance. It failed 62-36.

-A Bunning amendment that would have barred the states of New Jersey and New York from receiving federal matching funding because they have opted to cover children up to 300 percent of the national poverty line. (This of course, is highly misleading, because New York and New Jersey's poverty line is much higher than the national average, and even the Bush administration allowed them to cover children of higher income parents). Failed 54-44. Some surprising "Yes" votes from Democrats: Carper of Delaware (has some moderate tendencies now and then), Kohl of Wisconsin (ditto) and Nelson of Nebraska (not surprising in his case). All Republicans voted Yes.

-A Hatch amendment that was an abortion question in disguise. It would have said that unborn children deserve the same health assistance as born children. Thankfully for pro-choice advocates, the amendment failed 59-39. All Democrats voted No besides Nelson of Nebraska and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who is strictly pro-life (oddly enough he is 100% liberal on everything else). Pro-choice Republicans Collins, Murkowski, Specter and Snowe voted no.

-A DeMint amendment that would have provided a tax credit to certain children equal in amount to money provided for children of legal immigrants. This failed 58-40 with Bayh (IN), Nelson (NE) and Jim Webb of Virginia voting with the Republicans. (in the past, all of these Senators have been against immigration reform, is there a connection here?)

-A Coburn alternative which would have shut down the SCHIP program overtime and replaced it with a private insurance program. Thankfully, considering the current state of the private market, this amendment failed 62-36.

-A Bingaman (finally a Democrat!!!) amendment seeking to auto-enroll children who are eligible for SCHIP, but never signed up. This passed 55-43 with surprise no votes from Boxer and Feinstein of California, and Webb and Warner of Virginia. I wonder if there's something about those states in relation to this amendment that we don't know about.

-A Hutchison amendment to provide assistance to states that have trouble enrolling people in the SCHIP program. This failed badly 81-17.

So basically, the Republicans held up Senate business for two days to offer a myriad of amendments which all failed by sizable margins. Not exactly the pathway back to the majority, in my view. The bill will now go into conference so that the House and Senate can reconcile their versions of the bill. Expect SCHIP and the Stimulus to emerge from Congress by the February break. These are big, big changes to policy in this country, and it could all come in the first month of Obama's presidency!

LEDBETTER SIGNING: The President signed his first bill today, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extends the statute of limitations on worker discrimination suits. He was surrounded by mostly female legislators including Speaker Pelosi, and Republican Senators Snowe and Collins from Maine. Ledbetter herself was in attendance, as was the First Lady. Michelle Obama made a speech AFTER the President had already left to get an economic briefing.

UNION DUES: The President tomorrow is expected to overturn Bush administration directives on labor relations. The only one known so far will be reversing a decision that forces unionized businesses to has a sign that says "You don't have to join a union." Obama will also announce the establishment of a task force on middle class issues led by Joe Biden (a good token role for the Vice President.)

It was a good day for labor though, as Obama blasted corporations for issuing huge bonuses to CEO's, calling them "outrageous."

GREGG???: There was a rumor going around that Obama may pick New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, a pretty conservative Republican, to be Secretary of Commerce. The pick would be advantageous to Democrats, because Gregg's vacancy would allow the Democratic Governor, John Lynch, to make an appointment. With the expected victory of Al Franken, this would give the Democrats their coveted 60 filibuster-proof votes in the Senate. Two questions: would Gregg give up the Senate seat knowing that it would cost his party power to do anything in the Senate? Would Obama really pick someone this fiscally conservative as Secretary of Commerce? TBD.

BLAGO OUT: It happened today, Blago was convicted by the Illinois State Senate and thrown out of office. Does anyone else suddenly have some sympathy for Blagojevich? He's insane, but part of me has a soft spot for him. Anyway, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn takes over.

LIBERAL PRESSURE: The liberals are stepping up the pressure on GOP lawmakers, especially moderate Senators from blue states. A variety of interest groups are beginning to run ads urging passage of the Obama plan. One group, Americans United for Change, is running ads asking "which side are you on? Obama's or Limbaugh's?" That seems like a good way of framing things for Democrats. I think these ads could be helpful in starting to put pressure of GOP members in more liberal areas. My thought though, is that Obama himself is enormously popular, far more so than any liberal interest group. Why should he have them do the dirty work? He should do it himself!

GOP CHAIR VOTE: Stay tuned for tomorrow's vote on the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. The candidates:

-Saul Anuzis (an RNC member from Michigan who has emphasized the need for Republicans to appeal to moderates in the midwest)
-Kenneth Blackwell (the African American former Secretary of State of Ohio, beloved by social conservatives)
-Mike Duncan (the incumbent)
-Michael Steele (the former Lt. Governor of Maryland, also an African American)
-Katon Dawson (the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party)

I'd say the state of the race is a tossup. My guess is that members deem Steele "too moderate" for not opposing abortion in cases of rape (yeah, I think it's true) and vote for either Duncan, Dawson or Anuzis. The missing candidate? Chip Saltsman of Tennessee, the guy who sent the GOP the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro." He dropped out of the race today.

Guest Blogger: Small Town Roots

We are pleased to welcome our newest guest blogger, Small Town Roots. Roots is a native of Paradise, CA (one of the reddest areas in California) who was a friend of The Big Picture from Berkeley. Among us, he was by far the earliest supporter of Barack Obama, even sporting his "Barack and Roll" t-shirt at a Senate hearing with Obama in the Summer of 2007. He worked almost every day from June through Election Day running a regional fundraising operation for the Democratic Party, and now leads another fundraising office for progressive causes. He brings the perspective of his experience on the ground, actually interacting with dozens of different people each day.

Small Town Roots: The fissures within the political system on both sides of the aisle underscore one of the key difficulties the new administration is going to have to navigate, but a great opportunity. As beautiful as Obama's campaign was organized (and in the end that does have to be attributed to his leadership from the top) he still has to prove that he can be the cohesive figure that keeps the majority together. Obviously, the larger Democratic majority makes navigating within the party a much more difficult task, and it is still yet to be determined how much political capital Obama has to use on items such as the stimulus to keep the majority together. If he has to go to the grassroots base and call for progressives to apply pressure on every issue on his platform, that resource may dry up quickly if things do not move in a positive direction.

However, if he does mobilize people effectively on a couple of key issues early in the presidency, the grassroots base that created his historic fundraising and organizing operation could become the driving force behind the political agenda. People in Washington know he did not get elected in a very typical fashion, but it is still undetermined how those forces transfer to driving policy. When he does demonstrate he can use the networks he established effectively, particularly on something as important and large as this stimulus package, then we are witnessing a truly radical alteration in the political landscape.

The Big Picture with The Strike: Selling the Plan

The following is an exchange of ideas between The Strike and The Big Picture on the politics of the Economic Stimulus:

The Strike: Today, Rasmussen (the pollster Nate Silver said he'd take with him to a desert island) polled various elements of the economic stimulus. In a nutshell, the Obama plan has lost some popularity, only being favored 42-39, and the Republican alternative (more tax cuts, less spending) has actually gained in popularity. In fact, there are now more people who believe the government will do too much rather than too little. The biggest change in opinion from last week seems to be from political independents. There are a few important things to remember. Opinions on the package are quite nebulous, a lot of it depends on how you ask the question. People generally want something to get done, and generally like Obama, but may be wary about the government spending $800 billion after last fall's financial bailout.

The Big Picture: Yeah, that is troubling. Part of the reason is what Media Matters noted, which is that there is a gigantic gap between Republicans and Democrats on the news networks arguing over the bill. Partly the media's fault, but I think that Democrats in Congress and liberals in general aren't as enthusiastic about the stimulus package as Congressional Republicans and conservatives in general are passionately opposed to it. And that's a problem. It hasn't been sold very effectively or very wholeheartedly. There are a ton of arguments Democrats could be using, both about its necessity to people's lives and (in) mocking its opponents, that are barely being used. Let's see if Obama amps up his promotion of it in the next couple weeks.

I think he thought he could do it without throwing his full weight behind it. I can see reasons for both sides on this. On the one hand, Obama as the popular President with the mandate to fix the economy needs to be wholeheartedly selling his program. It will be a big part of how his Presidency is judged, so he might as well take full ownership of it and mold it the way he wants. On the other hand, Obama justifiably does not want to put everything he has behind something that is inherently a tough sell, even now - big expansion in government to help the needy most of all. A key number in that poll was that a big majority of Americans still think tax cuts are more effective than government spending. That has to be changed. I think Obama's rhetoric can change some of that, but I think it will have to be proven first, and then Obama can sell it based on reality. So a ton depends on it working, or people perceiving government spending having a positive effect. That will be a huge step in the ideological realignment of the country.

The Strike: I agree. I don't think you can expect the public, even with your personal popularity, to automatically line up behind a giant, largely abstract recovery project even when they are personally struggling. Part of it is that there is so much distrust of the federal government after the Bush administration's failures, including the bailout. Obama first needs to rally his own troops on the hill to look beyond their own narrow interests and fight for the bill. There are reasonable criticisms leveled by liberals like Rep. Peter DeFazio, that the bill doesn't have enough transportation funding, or enough of this or that, but Congressmen need to look at the forest and not the trees. People are hurting and really need relief, and we need to come up with a strong, cohesive solution. My hope is that once the bill is finalized, Democrats in Congress will become more passionate advocates and will convince their constituents of the importance of action.

Then, we need perhaps the most rhetorically gifted President ever, to go out and talk, as you have said, to people about what this bill would mean to their lives. Make it personal. People need to feel in their gut why they NEED this recovery package. You need to explain why people are struggling now, and why this bill is a viable solution. It's not enough to cite bad jobs numbers, you need to articulate the root causes of the problem: inequality of opportunity, a culture of selfishness and irresponsibility on Wall Street, and the failure of Washington to look out for the Middle Class. Then, explain why this plan attacks those problems. Be bold, ask constituents to call their Congressman, ask them to have high hopes, and to help make this change happens. He still has time, but he hasn't been doing any of that so far.

The Big Picture:
It's hard to know what to think. There is an enormous amount of churn in the political system right now, a ton of fluidity, where different groups are operating in different realities and different points in "political time". You know what it feels like? A split-squad baseball game in spring training. Normally politics has the two teams competing on the same field with the same rules and they are both trying to win in the short-term. Democrats and Republicans each want a particular set of policies enacted, and one side wins. But now we have different parts of each party on different fields. Some Democrats want to pass a pure, bold progressive bill and ignore bipartisanship, while others want to deliver for people a politically popular bill that may have more tax cuts than they'd otherwise like. Some Republicans, in the Limbaugh mode, want to stop anything from passing to maintain their idelogical purity and connect with the base, while others want the bill to have a Republican inprint on it. These factions are not always competing against each other, and, like a split-squad game in March, it's not clear if they're trying their hardest to win now, or to develop for the much longer season in the future. Much much harder to keep track of who's up and who's down. Still, it's a much more exciting and potentially radical time than we've seen in decades.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/28/09-A Stimulating (and LONG) Day

Happy Wednesday, a day full of action in Congress. This will be one of the longer entries, so let's get to it!!

STIMULUS PASSES: The House of Representatives gave President Obama a big victory this evening in approving his stimulus package by a vote of 244-188. The bill received exactly zero Republican votes. My guess is that the leadership decided it was more politically advantageous to oppose the bill for a number of reasons, and figured that it would send the biggest message to have full party unity. This is dangerous for House Republicans. They have no power to actually stop the bill from passing, but they run the risk of being labeled as the "just say no" crowd, especially since a) Obama has explicitly reached out to them, b) the Democrats offered significant concessions, c) they have gotten killed in two straight elections and d) they're up against a popular President in a time of economic peril.. It also doesn't help that the face of their party this week has been Rush Limbaugh. When Phil Gingrey, a Representative from Georgia, criticized Rush for questioning the Republican leadership in Congress, he was forced to call in to Limbaugh's show to apologize. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip and architect of the Republican alternative, was engaging in some group-think with Limbaugh today, and the two of them agreed that the bill should be called the "pork-ulus." The House has lost most of its moderate Republicans, and I suspect it will lose more if it continues to act with such ideological rigidity.

But enough about them. Who were the 11 Democrats who bucked their party? Some familiar conservative Democrats:

-Boyd (FL)
-Bright (AL)
-Cooper (TN)
-Ellsworth (IN)
-Griffith (AL)
-Kanjorski (PA) (this one is more interesting. Kanjorski thinks there wasn't enough spending on transportation. He almost lost reelection last year even though he's held the seat for 24 years.)
-Kratovil (MD) (he's from a VERY Republican district in Maryland)
-Minnick (ID)
-Peterson (MN)
-Shuler (NC) (insert football joke)
-Taylor (MS)

The vote on final passage followed several procedural votes. The Republicans offered two alternatives. The first was a substitute amendment that would have made the bill almost entirely tax cuts instead of spending. It also had some other proposals, such as increased corporate tax cuts, some relief for home foreclosure and other measures. The bill failed by a vote of 266-170, largely along party lines. The other alternative would have stripped the bill of about 160 billion worth of spending, and replaced it with 30 billion more in infrastructure spending. This lost badly, partially because 30 House Republicans thought that even THIS alternative had too much spending. Final score? 270-159. Previously, the House had rejected some silly amendments, one from Rep. Neugebauer of Texas that would have stripped the bill of ALL spending, and the other from Rep. Flake of Arizona, whose pet cause seems to be eliminating funding for Amtrak. Several other amendments were agreed to on voice vote (no one requested a recorded vote).

The bill now moves on the Senate. The Senate version may actually be bigger than the House version, which would seem to not bode well for passage. However, the bill has added some Republican measures, like another temporary fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax (a tax that originally was intended for millionaires, but now hits middle-income people because it was never adjusted for inflation). The bill got some bipartisan support in Senate committees, so expect at least a few Republican votes in the Senate to assure passage. I expect that votes on amendments and final passage will be next week. Once it passes the Senate, the two Houses will have to work out differences in a conference committee to make the bills identical.

THE SENATE: Not to be outdone, the Senate had a busy day rejecting numerous Republican amendments on the State Children's Health Insurance Bill. What did the Senate reject?

-A Republican Substitute that would have cut the bill's size from 30 million to 10 million and would have mandated that only children under 200% of the poverty line would receive SCHIP care. The bill was defeated 65-32.

-An amendment by Sen. Martinez of Florida that would have overturned Obama's decision to allow government funding to overseas family planning services. (what does that have to do with anything?) It lost 60-37.

-An amendment by Sen. Cornyn of Texas that would have required money to be redirected toward coverage, outreach and enrollment of low income children instead of covering higher income children. Rejected 64-33.

-An amendment by Senator Roberts of Kansas that sought to prohibit SCHIP payments to states in which the income eligibility for Medicaid is greater than the income eligibility of SCHIP. Lost 60-36.

-An amendment by Sen. Kyl to prevent crowding out of private insurance programs. Lost 56-42.

-An amendment by Sen. Murkowski of Alaska to establish Best Practices. (this has to do with what I do for a living, but I still don't really understand it).

The common thread of all of these failed amendments is to limit coverage to poor children. The strategy here is to "means-test" the program so that only poorer kids are eligible. If middle-class families are eligible, Republicans worry, they will opt for the public program, and the slippery slope to single-payer health care will ensue. Once middle-class families take the public insurance, they will give political support to the program and ensure its viability. That's why I'm always in favor of entitlements instead of means-tested programs, because it gives more people a stake in government programs, which helps to ensure accountability and effectiveness.

NOTES ON THE VOTES: There were a handful of Republicans who voted against most of these amendments, and thus, would appear likely to support the underlying bill. These include: Senators Bond, Collins, Snowe, Specter and Murkowski (although she voted for her own amendment). Only the Kyl and Murkowski amendments got unanimous Republican support. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat, voted FOR all of the amendments except the Republican alternative. The Murkowski amendment was the closest of all the votes, and included the support of some liberal Democrats, like Sens. Bingaman of NM and Klobuchar of MN.

One funny note, I think that Senator Vitter pulled a Hutchison by voting YES on a motion to kill the Cornyn amendment. I think he probably thought he was voting FOR the amendment itself. Seems like something the former customer of the DC Madam would do.

Tomorrow, the House is out for the Republican retreat. The Senate will finish the SCHIP bill, and we'll break down the final vote. Also, President Obama will sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (see yesterday's strike) and will presumably continue his stimulus push.

See you tomorrow night!

The Big Picture: The "Liberal" Media and The Stimulus

By The Big Picture

I'm annoyed at the work from the media right now: Mika Brezinski of Morning Joe, saying "Historically, dumping money hasn't helped the economy grow." What is she talking about? Historically, investing in education is absolutely the BEST way to ensure growth. Senator Barbara Boxer, her guest, cut her down pretty well by saying that investing in education is the opposite of 'dumping', and that history shows that government investment is the key to economic recovery, but it's all part of the smug "conventional wisdom" about spending that is so off-target. The New York Times is in on the act with two front-page articles on the stimulus which I guess I should be heartened by, but instead deeply irk me because they obsess about how much it's costing, and don't focus at all on how this will improve most Americans' lives in signficant ways. Tons of ideologically-based quotes from Republicans and none from people who will be positively affected by strengthening the social safety net and investing in health care and education.

I can't understand why spending on the recovery is now a matter of grave concern when: a)people's lives and restoring a strong economy for the future are far more important than a short-term deficit, b) it's completely accepted by everyone that this spending will actually pay for itself by helping the economy recover thereby leading to higher tax revenue, whereas the cost of inaction will lead to a worse economy and lower tax revenue, and c) no one seemed to care when we spent far more money on tax cuts to millionaires and on an unnecessary and extraordinarily costly war?!

Forget for a minute the effect on real people, and let's play on the GOP and media's preferred turf of sudden obsession with government spending. There are different ways money can leave the federal treasury. Here's the Democrats' idea for how to spend that money:
1) social spending that will improve the economy and invest in America for long-term benefit, leading to a stronger economy and higher revenues, more than paying for itself
2) unemployment relief, food stamps, and tax cuts for the working and middle class, almost 100% of which will immediately be pumped into the economy.
Republicans and the media question that, but they don't question money leaving the federal treasury for:
1) failing to act to help the economy recover, leading to worse lives for everyone, and much lower tax revenues, meaning it's the equivalent of spending! Except that it's all a loss, and everyone suffers.
2) Huge tax cuts to the people who are least likely to spend it.
3) Unnecessary wars where the money goes down a rat hole and gets very little bang for its buck, and of course necessitates huge additional expenditures in war contracting, in health care for wounded veterans, and in increasing our homeland security because the war leaves us in far greater danger.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/27/09-Lilly, ARRA, Day on the Hill, Vocab III

Good Tuesday Evening and welcome to the Daily Strike!

CONGRESS: Today was a very busy day in Congress. This afternoon, President Obama met with the House Republicans. Their fearless leader, John Boehner of Ohio, set a "great" tone for the meeting by announcing to his members that they should oppose the bill. From inside accounts, the meeting was cordial. Obama told them that he would not compromise on the tax portion of the bill and even encouraged Republicans to "beat me over the head" with it.

The Republicans will largely oppose this bill, so these meetings are mostly for show. If Obama doesn't get Republican votes, he can at least say that he reached out.

The House of Representatives passed a final version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act by a vote of 250-177. 3 Republicans joined 245 Democrats in voting for the bill, and 5 Democrats joined the remaining Republicans in opposition. Who are the guilty Dems? Dan Boren of Oklahoma (he of "I won't vote for Obama" fame), Bobby Bright of Alabama, who seems like the second most conservative freshman Democrat, Parker Griffith of Alabama, Allen Boyd of Florida and Travis Childers of Mississippi. The bill now goes to President Obama for his first signature in office. Watch for a large signing ceremony with a lot of women present!

Perhaps the most important vote of the day was on a procedural measure to begin debate on the stimulus. Voting for the measure meant voting to consider the bill despite the fact that it does not adhere to the House's Pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. The vote was very close, as 27 Democrats joined every Republican in voting against the motion. The final vote was 224-199. This is an important sign that even with significant opposition from the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, the House leadership can still largely exact its will with 10 to 15 votes to spare. This is the ULTIMATE test, because the signature issue of the Blue Dogs is Pay-as-you-go budgeting. Tomorrow, the House will vote on a Republican alternative and on final passage, which will be the biggest moment of Obama's young Presidency. The other day, I predicted passage with 240-260 votes, which now seems a bit high, seeing how Republicans are intent on not cooperating with the President. I'd say it will pass with 230-240 votes, with little to no Republican support, and some conservative Democratic opposition. We'll talk about the votes tomorrow.

The Senate began consideration of the State Children's Health Insurance Program today. The Republicans are expressing opposition to the bill for a whole host of reasons. The only vote today was to kill an amendment offered by the ultra-conservative South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to make children of parents who make above 200% of the poverty line make co-pays for health insurance. It was killed, thankfully. The final vote was 60-37, largely along party lines. Republican crossvers: Collins (ME), Hutchison (TX) (did she realize what she was voting for? I think she may have thought she was voting FOR the amendment, and not to KILL the amendment), and Specter (PA). Claire McCaskill voted with the Republicans, but she may have made the same mistake as Hutchison. I can't explain why she would vote to allow that amendment. Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on more amendments, a Republican alternative, and possibly final passage of the bill. SCHIP will most likely return to the House before being signed by President Obama as a major accomplishment early in his Presidency.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved their portion of the stimulus bill by a vote of 21-9.

A cool link today from the great Nate Silver, who analyzes which Republicans have been voting with the new President in the Senate:

VOCAB III: Today's term is "The Committee of the Whole." When the House of Representatives is debating legislation it often resolves itself into the "committee of the whole." This means that the House is acting as if it is one large committee, for the purpose of expediting debate. When the House is in the Committee of the Whole, it can debate without some of the stricter rules that exist in the regular House of Representatives, such as requiring 218 members to establish a quorum. Debate on amendments is limited to five minutes per side. Amendments can be voted on in the Committee of the Whole. When the debate is over, the committee rises and becomes the full House of Representatives, which must approve the amendments passed in the committee of the whole (usually a formality). No votes on final passage can occur when the House is in the committee of the whole. Complicated? Yes. Pointless? Probably. Do I, a parliamentary nerd, understand it? Not really.

The Big Picture with The Strike: From Euphoria to Passion: The Return of Political Polarization

1. I think why I was so outraged by conservatives yesterday - personally infuriated to the point that I had to breathe deeply for at least five minutes before I could calm down enough to go to bed - was that I was still feeling so euphoric and idealistic about politics after the inauguration, and had almost forgotten about the despicable people, strategies, and ideas that have made politics so frustrating for so long. It’s very disheartening to realize that conservatives still exist, and that their power now lay solely with a dangerous network of ideological right-wing radio hosts, who tell their drone listeners to call their right-wing Congressmen, and together, they all mock everything we’re trying to do. If the Right knows how to do anything, it's how to mock things that ordinary people desperately need, and demean and and deride anyone who is doing something about it. It’s more than Limbaugh who wants us to fail, it’s the whole lot of them, because if this bill succeeds, it will create a whole new generation of Democrats.

2. Even understanding the right’s presence, I think we have come to the point where we have to move from euphoria to constructive criticism. We control the levers of government, and we should get the best darn bill we can possibly muster without worrying about 2010. There's a great quote from FDR when he is meeting with labor leaders who wanted him to move left: "Make me". Exactly. Krugman and Reich and everyone else needs to continuously pull Obama left, especially on the economy. The great thing is that a) tons of left-wing or generally idealistic and compassionate people are now inspired to participate in politics, and they'll pull him left, and b) Obama has to listen to his base, and will listen to left-wing criticism and be moved by it - not all the time, but a million times more than Bush did.

3. Obama especially needs to be pulled left on the issue where I have my one legitimate criticism of his centrism: economic policy and almost as much the politics of economics. What liberal critics have been saying is somewhat true: given the challenges in the country, given the unbelievably receptive political climate and his amazing powers of persuasion, and given the critical importance of bold economic policy, he should be bolder, especially in the way he articulates and advocates his vision. More "hit you in the gut", more defending hardworking people from the bloodsuckers who have dragged us down. Why isn’t he OUT THERE, right now, selling this plan to the country? Why isn’t he in a factory in Ohio every day articulating why public investment is so crucial for our short term and long term economic health, what the deeper societal problems of economic inequality mean for the average American, and why this stimulus should give people hope Obama himself admitted last year that his greatest weakness was passionately advocating his economic vision and programs. He's improved as a salesman a great deal, but there is a ton of room to grow. The good news is that FDR really grew in this regard, as did LBJ, and JFK on Civil Rights. He will be pulled by the Left and pushed by events.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/26/08-Geithner Confirmation/Vocab II

Good evening from Washington.

GEITHNER: About an hour ago, the Senate voted to confirm Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner by a vote of 60-34, somewhat closer than I expected. The vote was largely along party lines, with some notable twists. The "Yes" votes on the Republican side were from the "compromisers" like Senator Hatch of Utah, Corker of Tennessee and Voinovich of Ohio. One surprising Yes vote was from Sen. John Cornyn, who tried to stall Hillary Clinton's nomination last week. He is usually an ideologically rigid Republican. The "No" Democrats were a collection of populists who are most likely so angry with the culture of greed on Wall Street, and with the bailout bill, that they couldn't confirm someone like Geithner, who helped shape policy as the chairman of the Federal Reserve of the State of New York. The "No" Democrats: Byrd of West Virginia, Harkin of Iowa, Feingold of Wisconsin and Independent self-avowed socialist Bernard Sanders of Vermont. 4 Senators did not vote, and there remain two vacancies (the ongoing recount in Minnesota and the seat that will be occupied by Kirsten Gillibrand tomorrow).

It remains to be seen what kind of policies Geithner will champion at the Treasury. We'll talk more about some badly needed financial regulations that he might put in place in the coming weeks. This leaves Solis, Daschle, Holder and Ron Kirk as the outstanding cabinet nominees.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama spoke this morning about an executive order overturning Bush administration environmental policy, most notably, the Obama administration will allow states like California to set their own emission standards. Yet another example of why elections matter. This is part of Obama's well-coordinated effort to mark a significant departure from Bush administration policy almost every day that he's been in office.

Also today at the White House, the email was out apparently, which is pretty funny. Tomorrow Obama meets with Capital Hill Republicans. My guess is that both sides are "appreciative" of the dialogue, but not much else gets done. It seems to me like the Republicans are, as E.J. Dionne noted in a good column this morning, are banking on the failure of Democratic policies. Their strategy at this point seems to be using 1980's conservative language, like "big government spending" and "borrow and spend" to try and stake out a slot in the "I told you so" column if the program is not successful. They'll also make sure you know about all of the crazy things in the bill, like refurbishing the National Mall, and funding Medicaid programs that conduct family planning. (They'll call it "money for contraceptives.)

VOCAB II: Today's term is "Suspension Bill." The House of Representative typically starts the week by considering bills that are non-controversial, stuff as trivial as "Recognizing the Florida Gators for winning the Bowl Championship Series Title." Bill like this pass so overwhelmingly that they would not need rules to govern debate. Therefore, the House votes to both "suspend the rules" and agree to the legislation. Hence, the term "Suspension Bills." Suspension bills require 2/3rds of the House to vote "yes," which almost always happen. They also do not allow amendments, and debate is limited to 40 minutes, equally divided.

See you tomorrow night!

Guest Blogger: The Big Picture

Note from the Strike: From time to time, we will be featuring guest bloggers to analyze different aspects of the Obama agenda. One of our recurring guest bloggers will be my friend Andy from New York, who will be writing about "The Big Picture," such as what Obama's agenda means for the broad scope of American politics and policy, what lessons the Obama team should take from history and putting the President's decisions in their proper context. His first entry is below:

The Big Picture: After having been in office for one week, Obama will have taken decisive, far-reaching action setting the United States in a significantly diffferent direction on a) how we conduct the war on terror, b) our global image, c) global warming and energy efficiency, d) children's health care, taking the biggest step in decades in the direction of health care as an entitlement for all rather than means-tested for the poor, and e) standing on the side of the victims of discrmination rather than its perpetrators, and more broadly workers rather than corporations, f) free speech, the right to choose, science over ideology, and most importantly family planning to help poor people across the world gain control over their own lives in the most crucial way.

It's important to note that each of these accomplishments point to Obama's unique political skill in making progressive policies seem "non-ideological." Hillary might have done all these things, but they would have been screwed up somehow, turned into a P.R. nightmare, rather than decisions that matter a ton to the people affected, but are causing no waves with Republicans. A new dawn, indeed.

The Weekly Strike-1/26 to 2/1

Good Monday morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where I'll give you the rundown of what to expect this week in politics.

BIG VOTES: This week, there will be some very key votes in both the House and Senate. Tonight the Senate votes on the confirmation of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at 6pm. This will follow the swearing-in of New York's newest Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. (EDIT-THIS WILL ACTUALLY BE TOMORROW) Analysis of the Roll Call will be available here tonight. I expect him to pass relatively easily. He got a few no-votes in the committee due to his tax problems, and I expect those votes to transfer to the full Senate. I would guess he gets about 70-75 votes and will take office tomorrow. The Senate then moves to consider the SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) bill. This is a bill to expand a popular state sponsored health insurance program for children whose parents make too much to be covered by Medicaid. Congress twice passed versions of it in the previous Congress, and President Bush twice vetoed it. The latest version passed the House a couple of weeks ago by a strong majority. I expect that the Senate will follow suit, although some of the Republicans who supported it in the past have some objections to language allowing children of legal immigrants to covered immediately. Majority Leader Reid is open to Republican amendments, so I expect the Senate version to come out slightly different from the House version, meaning it will be a little while before this ends up on President Obama's desk for a signature. Either way, passage would be a huge accomplishment for the Democrats and an early victory for the President. A final vote on the bill probably won't happen until tomorrow or Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in the House, nothing important today (some Suspension Bills...definition to come). Tomorrow, the House will vote on the Senate version of the Lilly Ledbetter Bill, a bill which makes it easier for people to sue their previous employer for wage discrimination. The bill reverses a Supreme Court decision handed down last year. The bill's passage is a formality. The original bill passed the House in early January. The Senate altered it a bit, and passed it's own version last week, and that version now goes back to the House, and most likely, on to the President, who will have his first big legislative accomplishment.

The Super Bowl of votes will happen on Wednesday when the House takes up the first version of the economic stimulus bill, in what will be a huge test for the new President. I expect most Democrats to support it (you haven't heard much grumbling amont Democrats on this bill for a week or two) and most Republicans to oppose it, meaning it will pass with 240-260 votes if I had to guess. It will be interesting to note the crossover votes and I will make sure I do that on Wednesday night. Prior to the vote on final passage, there will most likely be a Republican motion to recommit the bill (definition coming!!), meaning they will offer their alternative, which will most likely be rejected loosely on party lines. I expect some more conservative Democrats will vote for their alternative, since it is probably more geared toward marginal income tax cuts and corporate tax cuts. Shall we say 190-200 votes? The Republicans will hold their policy retreat Thursday and Friday, so Congress will have a four day weekend to digest the stimulus vote.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Today, the White House is expected to announce new rules permitting states to set their own targets for emission standards. This represents a sharp break from the Bush administration which denied waivers to states looking to lower greenhouse gasses. This is another chance for Obama to use Executive Orders to establish some early victories. The announcement comes this morning.

Tomorrow, he heads to Capital Hill to meet with House Republicans on the stimulus. This seems like a meeting to show off his bipartisan credentials. Don't expect him to make any major concessions in the bill to the diminished House minority.

The rest of the week will probably be a giant sales pitch for the stimulus package, and we'll keep you posted on that.

NOMINATION UPDATE: All cabinet nominees are confirmed except for:

-Geithner, who should be confirmed today

-Eric Holder, Attorney General, whose committee vote was stalled last week by Senate Republicans. He will be voted on in committee most likely this Wednesday.

-Hilda Solis, Labor. Republicans are holding up her nomination to get more information on her stance on the Employee Free Choice Act, which she supports. They want her to be on record supporting it before they vote on her nomination.

-Tom Daschle, Health and Human Services...What's the holdup here? I have no idea. Maybe something to do with his wife's lobbying? We'll keep you posted.

EDIT-U.S. Trade Rep nominee Ron Kirk still has to be confirmed, as does the yet-to-be-named Commerce Secretary.

There's also the question of undersecretaries, the most notable being William Lynn at Defense, who has been under fire for lobbying on behalf of Raytheon. He will probably be confirmed, but the Ranking Republican on the Armed Services committee happens to be John McCain, so there could be some interesting confrontation there.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Daily Strike-1/25/09-Vocab Word I

Sunday's are usually slow in politics, so today's Daily Strike will be the first in a series of vocabulary lessons that can help us understand the ins and outs of Congress. Today's term is "Special Rule." When the House of Representatives considers a bill, it first must pass a rule that governs debate. The rule originates in the Rules Committee, which is an arm of the Majority leadership. The current chairwoman is Louise Slaughter of New York, and the ranking Republican is David Dreier of California (you'll frequently see him debating the rules and complaining about how the minority has been shut out of the legislative process). The Rules Committee customarily is heavily weighted in the majority's favor. There are three types of rules that govern debate. An open rule allows for any member to offer amendments. This is pretty unusual, because you don't want your members to have to take tough votes on amendments proposed by the other side. A modified open rule allows amendments predetermined by the rules committee. A closed rule allows no amendments. Most bills these days are considered under closed rules, which the minority party often complains about. The rule must be voted upon before debate can officially begin on a bill. The vote on the rule usually is along party lines. Why is this important? The rules committee can help the majority achieve its will by limiting the minority's power to affect legislation.

Elsewhere today:

-Not much news coming from the Sunday talk-shows, except that John McCain claims he will not support the stimulus bill in its current form. This is not surprising, although it could be a sign that McCain's renewed maverick streak is coming to a close.

-The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, talked about the appointment of Gillibrand, saying that her one concern was that the Democrats may lose her House seat. This concern, of course, is very valid. There were rumors that Gillibrand and Pelosi had a less than harmoneous relationship, but both vehemently deny any tension.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Weekly Strike, an overview of the coming week in Congress, and tomorrow's Daily Strike.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

20th Congressional District

I'm quite proud of the selection of Kirsten Gillibrand to be the next Senator from New York. I was a resident of her district in college and was able to meet her a couple of times. Her selection does set up a bit of a battle in her relatively conservative upstate NY district. A lot of people have talked about how this seat has a Republican lean, but due to the diligence of the folks at, we now know that Obama narrowly won the district in 2008. Bush had won by 8 points in 2004. The real problem for the Democrats is that they have a very narrow bench. Their best option seems to be a series of county chairmen, unless former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter were to run. The Republicans have some appealing candidates, like Assemblyman James Tedisco, who is the affable minority leader of the state assembly. There's also John Faso, who lost to Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 Governor's race, and Sandy Treadwell, who lost to Gillibrand last time around. The election will be held within 30 to 40 days after Governor David Paterson calls for it, which could be awhile, since he may want to give the Democrats maximum time to find a good candidate.

Currently, with Gillibrand set to resign the House, the Democrats' advantage stands at 255-178. If Hilda Solis is confirmed as Labor Secretary, the advantage will be 254-178.


Welcome to my new blog! The idea is to filter what happens in Congress to my friends and other people who might see this, so they can track the progress of the Obama administration without having to know all of the arcane procedural rules of Congress. When Congress is in session, I will write a post at the end of the day to update what bills have passed, to analyze the bills and who voted for them, and to discuss what political impact they'll have. I will also occasionally provide some useless information on Congressional procedure. I hope you enjoy!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the title of the blog is a parliamentary technique in the House of Representatives to extend the debate on an amendment. When the House is in the Committee of the Whole (I'll explain later), amendments are only debating for five minutes on each side, unless you offer an amendment to the amendment. If you don't actually want to offer a new amendment, but you still want to debate, you can ask to "strike the last word" as a pro forma amendment. This means that you are amending the amendment by eliminating the last word. In reality, the chair assumes that the person offering this "amendment" is really just doing it for more debate time, and won't actually do anything about striking the last word.