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!

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