Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/26/09-Budget Day

Good Thursday. A very busy day in Washington, especially with the unveiling of the President's budget proposal. Let's get to it.

BUDGET: The President unveiled his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal today, which projects budgetary levels for the next ten years. The budget is about $3 trillion and will bring the deficit up to $1.75 trillion, the highest percentage of GDP since World War II. But as much as the Republicans would like you to think otherwise, the money is not being thrown down the drain. For starters, the budget is an honest proposal. The previous administration used to use budget gimmicks to make the long-term deficit seem smaller. Obama's budget includes expected funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, additional money for money for a possible natural disaster, and even assumes that we'll need more money to bailout troubled banks. The budget also accounts for a vast array of policy initiatives, most notably in health care, energy and education (as mentioned in his speech the other night). Some highlights I've gleaned out:

-Health Care (probably the biggest news in this budget)
-Sets aside $634 billion to fund a new health reform proposal, which will presumably be worked out this year in Congress
-$6 billion in cancer research at the National Institutes of Health
-Builds on stimulus investment

-Invests in a new $2.5 billion program to help low income students attend college.
-Provides funding for additional charter schools
-Money to build on the $11 billion in the stimulus for a new electricity "smart-grid"
-"supports and secures development for clean technology"

So where will we find money to pay for this besides running up a deficit? For starters, tax cuts for those making over $250,000 will end starting in 2011 (much to the chagrin of some of us, who think they should be ended sooner). There will be new taxes on individuals and businesses who emit a lot of greenhouse gasses as part of a "cap-and-trade" proposal (of course that has to get through Congress first). Major cuts will be coming to a Medicare program in which the government pays private insurers to cover patients who would otherwise be covered by the public system. There are also cuts to "wasteful" programs in other departments, which will presumably be detailed with the President unveils his full budget in April.

This is a very ambitious proposal. It's not only unique in its intent to enact ambitious reforms in domestic policy, but it also is a budget, that economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, is the first that will truly redistribute income in a generation. Liberals rejoice!

Republicans reacted as expected. The ranking member of the House Budget committee joined his counterpart in the Senate, traitor-extraordinaire Judd Gregg, to denounce the budget for not doing enough to cut the deficit. House Minority Leader John Boehner said that Obama's budget proposal makes Bush look like a "piker," whatever that means. There's probably so much in this proposal that they want to criticize (massive expansion in domestic spending, redistribution of wealth etc.) that we may be hearing criticisms for a long time. Just wait until the official proposal comes out and they can identify their little pork projects.

SENATE: The Senate today passed a bill giving the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives. The Republicans didn't make it easy however, making the chamber vote on a series of irrelevant amendments. It did get Senators on record on a bunch of controversial issues. Let's run down the votes:

-The first was an amendment, offered by Senator Kyl (R-AZ), that would have provided for the retrocession of DC into Maryland. In other words, DC would be a part of Maryland. That idea didn't fly so well. It lost 67-30. All yes votes were from conservative Republicans, with the odd exception of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. I don't know why he would have done that.

-Next was an irrelevant battle on the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." Before Reagan canned it in the 1980's, the fairness doctrine mandated that the media devote equal time to all view points. Conservatives fear that the Rush Limbaugh show would be cut by an hour, God forbid. Anyways, Senator Durbin (D-IL) proposed an amendment that would have encouraged the FCC to promote diversity in media ownership (I don't know how you would enforce this) and to ensure that the public airwaves are used for the public interest. This amendment was basically an alternative to reimposing the fairness doctrine I guess. It passed 57-41 exactly along party lines. Next was an amendment from ultraconservative Jim DeMint of South Carolina that would outlaw the Fairness Doctrine. The folks at Fox News can rest a little easier tonight. The amendment was approved handily by a vote of 87-11. Dissenting Democrats: Bingaman (NM), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feinstein (CA), Harkin (IA), Johnson (SD), Kerry (MA), Reed (RI), Rockefeller (WV), Sanders (VT) and Whitehouse (RI).

-The final irrelevant amendment, offered by Senator Ensign, would prohibit the District of Columbia from enacting gun control laws that would "violate the 2nd Amendment." Basically this amendment seeks to ensure enforcement of last year's Supreme Court Decision DC v. Heller in which the court ruled that the 2nd Amendment guarenteed an individual's right to bear arms. The amendment passed 62-36. By far the most interesting "no" vote came from Senator Gillibrand of New York, who admitted recently to keeping guns under her bed. I guess things change when you represent New York City AS WELL as upstate New York. I could see Chuck Schumer looming over the newly appointed Senator as she went up to cast her vote.

After disposing of these amendments, the Senate moved on to final passage. Because of an agreement by the two leaders, the final vote was subject to a 60 vote threshold. The bill passed 61-37, with the coalition we talked about the other day staying intact. The only Senator who switched his vote was Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

THE HOUSE: The House today postponed voting on a housing proposal that would allow bankruptcy judges to renegotiated the terms of mortgages. Some conservative Blue Dog Democrats thought that the bill went too far. It was a bad sign when 26 Democrats voted against the rule governing debate on the bill. They will make some changes before resuming consideration on Tuesday.

That's it for today, see you tomorrow night!

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