Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/4/09-Sluggish Stimulus, Resurgent President

Thanks for joining us this Wednesday for the Daily Strike. Another busy day in Washington, so there is a lot to cover.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Today, President Obama achieved two major policy accomplishments. The first was setting a cap of $500,000 in salary for employees of companies who have received TARP (bailout) money. This is a shrewd move politically, as it capitalizes on populist outrage that has grown since extravagant banker bonuses were discovered last week. (See the Big Picture's post). The second major accomplishment was the signing of the State Children's Health Insurance Program Expansion. The President signed the bill this afternoon surrounded by key lawmakers, including Republican Senators Lugar and Snowe (trying to gain some support for the stimulus?). The bill expands a popular state health insurance program by assuring the coverage of 7 million Americans, and adding 4 million children to the rolls. President Bush twice vetoed identical bills. Today, therefore, we get another lesson in why elections matter. The parents 4 million children who had no health care yesterday can sleep a little easier. The bill was fresh from the House of Representatives, which approved the final version (with Senate amendments) by a vote of 290-135. 40 Republicans joined all but 2 Democrats in voting for the bill. The children-hating Democrats: Bright of Alabama and Marshall of Georgia. Republican "Aye" votes included a good deal of freshman members who could see the popularity of this bill from miles away, and the last remaining moderates in the GOP conference (Reps. Castle of Delaware and Buchanan of Florida, for example).

Please see our new tab on the right side of the screen documenting the President's accomplishments.

The good news in all of this for Obama is that the Daschle-talk from yesterday seemed to subside a bit. But more importantly, Obama will have some serious accomplishments under his belt to report to the American people when he speaks in front of a joint session of Congress on February 24th.

STIMULUS IN THE SENATE: The Senate today slogged over countless amendments as it considers its version of the economic stimulus package. The Democrats had a caucus retreat today, meaning that votes had to be lumped together and postponed until this evening. They are still voting as we speak, but here's a summary of what's gone on so far. One note, we got some clarification on what it means to waive the Congressional Budget Act. All amendments that spend more money than has been authorized by appropriations committee are in violation of budget rules. These rules can be temporarily waived with 60 votes. Thanks to Kagro X from CongressMatters for the explanation!! Therefore, most amendments under consideration essentially require 60 votes to pass. Here we go:

-The first vote was on the Vitter (LA) amendment, which would have erased about $35 billion worth of spending in the bill across the board. The amendment failed 65-32. All Democrats opposed the amendment, as did Republicans Collins (ME), Hutchison (TX), Lugar (IN), Murkowski (AK), Shelby (AL), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA) and Voinovich (OH).

-The next two amendments were approved by voice vote. The first was offered by Senator Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, and it increased a tax credit for home ownership by $15 billion. The second was an amendment from Senator Cardin, a Democrat of Maryland which increased funding for bonds to help small businesses.

-The third amendment, in my view, was the most important vote of the night. The amendment was to waive the budget act requirements for the DeMint (SC) amendment, which would have replaced the entire bill with an extension of the Bush tax cuts and additional cuts in corporate tax cuts. The vote failed 61-36. To me, this seems like a good bellwether of final passage, because the matter in question was whether to strip all spending in favor of tax relief. All Democrats voted against the amendment, as did the usual Republican suspects: Collins, Snowe, Specter and Voinovich.

-The next amendment was offered by Senator Thune of South Dakota, a Republican. This bizarre amendment would have prohibited the bill from spending money on programs not previously authorized by Congress as of February 1st of this year. This, of course, makes little sense, since many of the bill's programs are new and have not yet been authorized by Congress. The amendment failed 62-35. All Democrats voted no, as did Republicans Collins, Lugar (IN), Martinez (FL), Snowe and Specter.

-Next up was an amendment by good old John McCain. This was an interesting one. It would have required that after two consecutive months of economic growth, the government set budget limits with the goal of eliminating the deficit by 2015. The idea of the amendment was basically to limit spending in the bill to the immediate future when the economy is in recession. The amendment failed to get the 60 required votes to waive the budget act and failed by a vote of 53-44. All Republicans voted for the bill, as did Democrats Bayh (IN) Lieberman (sympathy for his best friend?), McCaskill and Nelson of Nebraska.

-The last amendment as of this posting was accepted by voice vote. It was an amendment offered by Senator Bond of Missouri that increased funding for low income housing and had broad bipartisan support.

There will be 3 or 4 more votes to cover tonight, and I will later this evening in our second "Late Night Strike." Stay tuned.

There is an interesting dynamic for Republicans right now. So far, they've offered sweeping amendments that either drastically reduce spending in the bill, or change the bill entirely. These amendments have little chance of passing. The amendments that do pass are often incremental spending cuts or the addition of additional tax cuts. If I were a Republican, I would stop offering sweeping, broad cuts that have no chance of passing, and try chipping away at unpopular spending items line by line. The Democrats are also in a bit of a quandray, as I talked about yesterday. They of course will reject the more egregious Republican amendments. But they also know that the current bill may not get the 60 votes required to pass under an agreement reached by Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell. They need the bill to change somewhat. The easy political solution for both sides, would seem to me to be a pending amendment from Democratic Senator Nelson of Nebraska and Collins of Maine which would strike a small amount of funding from the bill. This would ensure a couple of Republican votes, and thus final passage.

Of course, what I'd REALLY want, is the Democrats to not accept any of these changes, and realize that people are hurting economically and there is strong political will to get a big bill passed. Why is Reid coming up with these 60 vote agreements with McConnell? Let the Republicans stand on the floor and filibuster so the American people can physically see them obstructing their dreams.

I just heard Senator Reid speak on the future of the bill. He says that he wants to finish votes on amendments and final passage by tomorrow. He then wants the bill to go into conference to reconcile the House and Senate versions. Republicans are continuing to offer amendments, and their leader Mitch McConnell did not commit to finishing the bill tomorrow. If Reid gets tired of Republican amendments, he can file cloture to cut off debate which would require 60 votes. He would prefer to let the Republicans let their amendments fail, so that he doesn't have to field complaints about limiting debate.

So the bottom line is, the bill needs 60 votes to pass. Will the amendments adopted in the next day be enough to sway a couple of Republicans and moderate Democrats to support the bill?

Much more on the Senate's consideration of the bill throughout the week.

THE HOUSE: The House today, as I mentioned, approved the SCHIP bill and then moved on to a bill postponing the Digital TV Switch until June. The bill passed by a vote of 264-158 and will go to President Obama for his expected signature. The Republicans made a big fuss about the legislative process, complaining about how the bill didn't have proper hearings (they do this all the time; do they realize that no one cares about process outside a 5-mile radius of DC?). 10 Democrats voted against the bill, and 34 Republicans supported it.

The House is out the rest of the week for the Democratic policy retreat. They will return next week to consider a bill to fund the government through September (this was pushed back a week), as well as a bill full of measures previously blocked by Senator Coburn of Oklahoma which passed the upper chamber in January.

See you later tonight for the Late Night Strike.

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