Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/5/09-Marathon Cancelled

Well, two hours later and the Senate has quit for the night, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happens with the stimulus. Welcome to the Daily Strike.

STIMULUS: The Senate basically got nowhere closer tonight to finishing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Majority Leader Reid took the floor moments ago and declared the Senate in recess until tomorrow, when it will consider the remainder of the amendments and will, hopefully, vote on final passage. The hold up is apparently continuing negotiations on an amendment offered by Senators Collins, Republican of Maine, and Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, which would cut spending in the bill by $100 billion.Of course, it remains to be seen what exactly will be cut. Even though I don't know why the Democrats are offering any concessions at this point, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The Senate has already grown the bill to close to 1 trillion dollars, so the Collins/Nelson amendment would bring it back down to where the House bill was.

Having said that, how much longer will the Democrats attempt bipartisanship? The party has won 54 House seats, 13 Senate seats, and the Presidency in the last two elections. The American people have spoken clearly. At the end of the day, our system of democracy dictates that the Democratic proposals should emerge victorious if they can attract two Republican Senators. In my view, they should do what's necessary to make that happen as soon as possible. Reid threatened that if the Senate does not finish action on the bill tomorrow, he will file a motion to close off debate (called cloture), which would be voted upon on Sunday. This would require 60 votes (as does final passage of the bill at this point). Let's all hope Reid's threat coaxes Senators to hurry up and finish the bill tomorrow, so that a House and Senate conference can resolve differences in the two bills next week.

Let's do a run-down of the amendments offered today:

1. The first vote was a motion to waive the budget act relating to amendment by John McCain. The amendment failed by a vote of 57-40, falling 20 votes short of the 60 needed to pass. McCain's amendment would have done away with the entire bill and replaced it with a $441 billion bill (basically cutting the current bill in half) geared towards tax cuts, housing assistance, transportation infrastructure and unemployment insurance. This vote broke down exactly along party lines, the first time I remember that happening in this Congress. Two Senators did not vote: Ted Kennedy, who is still ill, and Judd Gregg, the Republican who has been nominated as Commerce Secretary. He has decided to recluse himself for all votes relating to the stimulus.

2. The Senate next rejected an amendment by the old team of McCain/Feingold (D-WI) which would have set stricter guidelines against earmarks. Apparently, the guidelines were too strict for 65 Senators. 32 Senators voted yes. This was the one vote that did not break down neatly along party lines. Of the 32 Senators who voted for the amendment, 6 were Democrats: Feingold, Cantwell (WA), Kaufman (Biden's replacement from Delaware), McCain's best buddy Joe Lieberman, Bayh (IN) and McCaskill (MO).

3. The next amendment from Democratic Senator Dorgan of ND was accepted by voice vote. This amendment had to do with "runaway plants." I was eating dinner during this one, and that's the description I could find of it online. They weren't talking about "Little Shop of Horror's," were they?

4. The Senate accepted two voice votes approving of amendments by Dodd and McCaskill that approved of further restrictions on executive pay, expanding on the executive orders issued yesterday by Obama.

4. The next amendment was a pet project of the right wing offered by Senator DeMint of South Carolina. The amendment sought to establish the "freedom of religion" at institutions of higher education that receive funding in the bill. This basically sought to overturn a Democratic provision that prohibted money to groups that have anti-gay views, like the Boy Scouts. Sorry, Bill O'Reilly, Secular Progressives win! The amendment goes down 54-43. All Republicans voted yes, save for Collins and Snowe of Maine. Democrats voting yes: Bayh, Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Lieberman and Nelson (NE).

5. The next amendment was a substitute offered by Senator Ensign of Nevada (a Republican). This bill would have allowed the government to refinance mortgages into lower, fixed 30 year rates (this would have included billionaires as wel). It failed to gain the 60 votes to override the budget rules. It lost 62-35. All Democrats voted no, as did Republicans Bunninng (KY), Collins, DeMint, Snowe and Voionovich (OH). Bunning and DeMint are two of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, so my guess is that their no vote was against a bill they thought was still too much spending.

6. Next up was the Thune substitute, which was the same as the House Republican's substitute bill that failed last week. It would have replaced the entire bill with a package of mostly tax cuts. It lost 60-37 (it needed 60 votes to pass anyway). All Democrats voted no, as did Republicans Collins, Snowe and Voinovich.

Then things got weird. After agreeing to an amendment by Senator Boxer of California, and rejecting an amendment by Senator Barrasso of Wyoming, both on voice vote, the Senate went into an extended period of negotiations. As a stall tactic (it seems), Senator Baucus of Montana called for a pending amendment from Senator Coburn of Oklahoma to be tabled (or killed). All Senators voted against this motion, besides Voinovich of Ohio (maybe he didn't get the message that they were just stalling?).

After this vote, Majority Leader Reid made his announcement.

OBAMA STRIKES NEW TONE: Obama has begun to play more hardball in the last couple of days as he starts to gear up a fight to push the stimulus through to passage. Today, in a speech the Department of Energy, he railed against critics of the bill, claiming that they were adhering to failed theories of the past. He struck a similar tone at a speech in Virginia, the site of the House Democratic retreat. Apparently going way off script, Obama mocked the GOP's criticism of the bill's spending. It seems like Obama got the picture that Republicans were inexplicably winning the message war on this bill, and that as President, he had to regain control over the terms of the debate. Hopefully this will inspire a bunch of people in Maine to call their Senators and tell them to get on the stimulus bandwagon!

SOLIS: Another day, another issue with an Obama nominee. The expected vote on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee was postponed so that Senators can "review more material." Apparently Solis' husband just paid some back taxes. Will this ever end? I don't think this will derail her eventual confirmation, but her pro-labor leadership is missing from the department.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: This is one of those days where we are all reminded that elections matter. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her late 70's, underwent surgery to remove pancreatic cancer. She will be in the hospital for the next week or so. Apparently, this type of cancer is quite serious. If she dies, god forbid, at least a liberal will be replaced with a fellow liberal on the court.

Stay tuned for the finale of the Senate's stimulus extravaganza. Good night!

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