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.

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