Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/25/09-Omnibus, DC Voting Rights, Budget

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The political world is still digesting the President's address last night, but plenty more went on in Washington today. Let's get to it.

HOUSE: The House today passed an omnibus budget bill funding federal programs though September 30th. The bill consists of unfinished appropriations bills that couldn't be worked out last year between President Bush and the Democrats in Congress. The Democrats added about $20 billion on top of last year's funding levels. The Republican minority used some procedural roadblocks to slow passage of the bill, but ultimately, it passed relatively comfortably. The first vote was a procedural vote on whether to proceed with the bill despite the fact that it added to the federal deficit (the Republicans love to have these votes to get members on record.) The motion passed 234-177, with 8 Democrats voting no and 1 Republican voting yes.

Next was a vote on "the Previous Question" which basically is a vote on whether to proceed with the bill. Usually the minority forces this vote to delay proceedings. The previous question was ordered on a vote of 393-25. Following this, the House voted on a special rule to govern debate on the bill, which passed 398-24. Interesting thing with these two votes (and an explanation as to why they were so lopsided): part of the rule for governing debate was a motion to cancel Representatives' scheduled pay raise. In other words, if you voted against the previous question, or the rule, you were voting to keep your pay raise (not exactly political gold back home). Next was a vote on final passage, which was 245-178. The vote, surprisingly, wasn't strictly on party lines. Here are the crossovers:

Democrats voting no (18): Bean (IL), Cardoza (CA), Childers (MS), Coooper (TN), Donnelly (IN), Dreihaus (OH), Giffords (AZ), Hill (IN), Kind (WI), Kratovil (MD), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Peterson (MN), Tanner (TN) and Taylor (MS). These are most of the House's Blue Dog fiscal conservative Democrats

Republicans voting yes (16): Bono Mack (CA), Brown-Waite (FL), Cao (LA), Capito (WV), Castle (DE), Dent (PA), Emerson (MO), Gerlach (PA), LoBiondo (NJ), McHugh (NY), Miller (MI), Murphy (PA), Reichert (WA), Upton (MI), Whitfield (KY) and Young (AK). These are the few remaining Republican moderates (at least realists) who are probably getting a piece of the pie for their districts.

The bill now goes to the Senate, and will be up for a vote there next week.

The final vote was on a "privileged resolution" (a resolution that deals with the safety or integrity of the House) offered by Rep. Flake of Arizona. He was objecting to earmarks in the bill to some lobbying firm who had engaged in shady dealings with various members of both parties. Flake is notorious for his "principled" objection to Congressional earmarks. The House voted to table (kill) the resolution by a vote of 226-182 (with 12 members voting "Present"). The vote pretty much broke down along party lines, with 17 Democrats joining all but 2 Republicans in voting against killing the resolution. This vote might have caused some more political heartache a few years ago, but seriously, do we think the main issue in the next election will be Congressional earmarks when the economy is in the tanker?

The House considers a pretty comprehensive housing bill tomorrow, but I haven't heard many details about it. I'll keep you posted.

SENATE: The Senate resumed consideration of a bill to give Washington DC a voting member in Congress (while also temporarily giving a seat to Utah). Senator Reid filed cloture on the bill tonight, because Republicans were stalling by bringing up some pretty absurd amendments. A vote to cut off debate on this bill will come in the next day or so. There will most likely be enough votes to get this bill passed. How do we know? Yesterday, the Senate voted 62-36 on a procedural test vote to move to consideration of the bill. Today, Senator John McCain raised a point of order claiming that the bill violated the constitution because it grants representation to an entity that is not a state. The point of order was determined null by a vote of, you guessed it, 62-36. It was an identical vote to yesterday. It seems like no matter how you slice it, 62 Senators want voting rights for DC. To see the voting coalition, check out yesterday's Daily Strike.

The only other vote was on a silly amendment offered by bizzarro Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, which would have substituted the whole bill and instead eliminate income taxes in DC. I guess the idea is that DC is a good laboratory for Democracy, and Coburn wanted to see what would happen to us those lab rats if they stopped paying taxes, you know, just for fun. It lost 91-7, only gaining the votes of Coburn, Graham (SC), Burr (NC), Wicker (MS), Kyl (AZ), DeMint (SC) and Bunning (KY).

THE WHITE HOUSE: A very busy post-speech day at the White House. First, Obama officially nominated former Washington Governor Gary Locke to be Commerce Secretary. Unless something comes up during confirmation hearings, it looks like the third time will be a charm when it comes to filling this position. Locke is a pretty non-controversial pick.

The only other cabinet position not yet appointed is at Health and Human Services. The position will become increasingly critical because it looks as if Obama is about to include a $634 billion down payment on Health Care reform as part of his budget proposal. Obama will meet with lawmakers in the coming months to hammer out exact details on how and when to achieve universal coverage, but with this budget proposal, he's making clear that his promise to enact health care reform this year is serious. Early indications are that the plan will be paid for by raising taxes on the rich, eliminating payments to private insurers to cover Medicare patients, and by limiting tax deductions on health coverage to high wage earners. We'll talk more about the full plan when we get the details.

Budgeting for the full health plan is a smart strategy, in my view. It gives Congress the broad cost parameters as it tries to enact comprehensive health reform. Unlike the Clinton health care debacle of 1993, Obama seems to be giving Congress leeway (or at least significant input) in crafting the plan. This will help avoid the very intra-party squabbles that helped doom the previous effort.

Another advantage Obama has this time, which is perhaps more important, is that all major stakeholders now seem to understand the urgent need for health reform. With the country in financial crisis, but business and labor have to bear the brunt of sky high health prices that fund a largely low-quality, inefficient health care delivery system. I expect groups like the Chamber of Commerce to be far more open to progressive health reform than they have been in the past.

That's it for tonight. We'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on the day in politics. Did I miss anything?

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