Friday, February 20, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/20/09-Mayors, Markets, Burris and More

Good Friday evening. We've almost made it though a full week without Congress in session. They're back on Monday. Now, onto today's Daily Strike.

MAYORS COME TO THE WHITE HOUSE: Today, President Obama spoke to a group of mayors at the White House. He asked for accountability and responsibility in spending taxpayer money. He also said that stimulus money could be available to states and localities as early as next week. The best thing that can happen politically for the White House, is for governors and mayors to show tangible results from the funding. The more photo ops in front of new construction sites, the better.

From a non-political perspective, this money is badly needed to help states facing massive budget shortfalls. The audience was friendly, which is to be expected from a group of mayors representing big cities. He did give a shout out to the Strike's former mayor, San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, for spearheading an effort to insure health care for thousands of uninsured San Franciscans.

MARKETS: There has been a lot of talk this week about how the market is sliding because investors are not confident in Obama's plans to ease the banking and housing markets. The angst came to a head yesterday from a reporter on CNBC, who railed against "bailing out losers" in the housing plan, and freaking out about public "intrusion" into private markets. The crowd surrounding him at the Chicago Stock Exchange mostly cheered this guy. Watch it and weep:

Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, responded sharply basically indicating that this guy is clueless. Luckily the "investor" class, at the ones like this guy, are a clear minority. Their power, however, lies in the market. Today when Gibbs indicated that the White House was not interested in nationalizing banks, the stocks stopped free-falling. The White House has indicated that they will not make policy based on the everyday fluctuations of the market. But it can be hard when the Dow drops 300 points whenever a new plan is introduced (Fox News and the Drudge Report are always happy to make the correlation). The administration needs to remember that the trusting the "market" in making policy decisions is part of what got us into this problem in the first place. Let's not forget that the Dow was at 13000 in 2007, and things weren't exactly going in the right direction.

BURRIS: I've been hesitating to talk about Roland Burris, the newly sworn Senator from Illinois, because it's such a stupid story. Apparently, Burris agreed to raise money for disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the Senate seat. Burris has gone back and forth in his explanation of these allegations, but he admitted that he did indeed try and fail to raise money for the governor. Now everyone, including the new governor, is calling on Burris to resign. As a Democrat, it's incredibly frustrating to not just shore up this seat with someone with minimal ethical integrity, enough to at least get us to the next election. If Burris resigns (or is expelled by 2/3rds of the Senate), the governor has the power to make an appointment, although he has indicated that he'd rather have a special election to fill the seat. Which means that the Democrats could be one vote further away from breaking Republican filibusters. Come on, Roland.

STIMULUS REJECTION: We talked yesterday about Mark Sanford and his "reluctant" acceptance of federal stimulus money. Today, one governor is heroically walking the walk. Meet Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, the young Indian-American Republican who is seen as a rising star. Despite representing a state still marred by the ills of Hurricane Katrina, massive poverty, and unemployment, Jindal has decided to reject some of the stimulus money "on principle." Specifically, Jindal does not want to widen the pool of people eligible for unemployment benefits, and he does not want to extend current unemployment benefits another 20 weeks. His reasoning? It eventually will cause a tax increase on Louisianans. Of course, that probably won't be true, and even if it is, the increase would only affect those making above $250,000. Even if the tax increase affected lower income earners, it would be a few years down the line. In the meantime, Jindal will single-handedly deprive Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens of much-needed help.

Ladies and Gentleman, the 2009 Republican Party.

HEALTH CARE: The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about a series of meetings, spearheaded by Senator Ted Kennedy, to come up with a multi-stakeholder consensus on health reform. The group consists of representatives of labor, drug companies, big business and others. Apparently, a consensus is emerging around mandating that every citizen buy health insurance. While there are sticking points on how this will be achieved and enforced, it is striking that a diverse group of health care stakeholders would unite around a concept like this. Health care costs are hurting businesses in a number of ways, so for a change, their interests are aligned with labor and consumers.

The group's work is promising. As much as we'd like to vilify drug companies and big business, having them on our side while trying to enact health care reform will be an important advantage. As we learned from the stimulus debate, we shouldn't give up too much before we find out exactly how sincere they are in their cooperation. Another issue, sure to be brought up by Republicans, is how the process is happening behind closed doors. Few details about these meetings have been released. Republicans have so far rejected overtures to attend. Obama has criticized the 1993 Clinton Health Reform effort for not being transparent, so it is in his interest to try and make the process more open to the public.

Here we have another example of a time we need to abandon our ideology. Michael Moore would not be happy with having drug companies and corporations sitting at the table. But if it helps people get affordable health care, we need to do it.

One thing I think we can NOT compromise on is the creation of a universal public health care system. This system, which would be a version of Medicare available to citizens of all ages, would set baseline standards for price and quality. Therefore, if private companies wanted to compete, they'd have to either lower costs or improve services. Any thoughts on this? We would love your comments.

See you tomorrow night!

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