Monday, February 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/9/09-The Vote and the Press Conference

Selling the stimulus was the name of the game today, in a variety of venues, and we have you covered. Welcome to the Daily Strike.

SENATE VOTE: First things first, how is this bill doing as it meanders through Congress? Today, the Senate voted to cut off debate on the stimulus bill by a vote of 61-36 (if it weren't for Senator John Cornyn's (R-TX) absurd decision to skip the vote to attend a New York fundraiser, I would have predicted it exactly right!) As expected, three Republicans voted for the bill, Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine, and Senator Specter of Pennsylvania. It's not easy being a dissenting Republican when you have the talk radio echo chamber on your case. Senator Specter even had to tell conservative radio host Laura Ingraham to cool it today when she was pressing him on his vote.

Next up, the Senate votes on whether to waive the budget rules on the Collins-Nelson amendment (which is now the underlying bill). This vote, as I mentioned in the last post, will require a 60 vote super majority. I expect the result to be exactly the same as today's, except that maybe cowboy Cornyn will show up this time. We'll keep tabs on when the House-Senate conference convenes, and will provide coverage of what happens in these meetings (from the little of these meetings that become publicly available).

OBAMA BACK ON THE TRAIL: Obama had two very important public appearances today. The first was a town hall meeting in Elkhart, IN. The meeting was not censored like the Bush town-halls, and many of the questions were quite pointed. Obama was introduced by a man who had been laid off by the RV plant he used to work out. He talked about how the stimulus bill will help him survive by enabling him to continue to collect unemployment insurance while he looks for a new job. This was very powerful, and I think representative of the strategy Obama frankly should have applied more forcefully: make the stimulus real in terms of how it affects average people's lives. The questions varied from those discussing alternative energy, one talking about whether money will flow to states or localities, and the obligatory cute kid who asked "what will you do for our schools?" The two most interesting questions:

1. This one guy got off to a great start, talking about how the previous 8 years have been misguided by a trickle-down economic philosophy, but then ended up with a disappointing finish of "why don't you just give us all a check?"

2. This one brave woman identified herself as someone who thinks Obama should have a beer with Sean Hannity and asked about the hypocrisy of the tax issues surrounding his nominees. Obama handled the question well by joking about Hannity's dislike of him, and then called the women's questions about his nominees "legitimate."

The main event was tonight's press conference in the East Room of the White House. The President took a very serious and somber tone in discussing, in very real terms, the impact of the economic crisis. In his opening remarks, he gave a couple of good anecdotes indicating how bad the economy really is. He talked about how a food bank in Indiana is advertising on TV, even though it is running out of food. This was very effective. He also gave a rather nuanced explanation of how government spending can break the economy out of a downward spiral in which low consumer demand causes businesses to fail, the businesses then cut jobs, which leads to lower demand etc etc. In a remark that would make Reagan jump in his grave, Obama essentially said that at this moment, government is the only entity that can save the economy from catastrophe.

This sort of explanation, I think, is necessary, since a couple of recent polls have shown that the general public still regards tax decreases as a better stimulus. (Side note: He should have tested the explanation out on new RNC chairman Michale Steele, who ridiculously said that government has never created a single job..this is from a guy who was on government payroll for four years). I think Obama could have been more effective in making the case, however. I know this is getting nit-picky, but he loses touch a bit when his talk becomes more wonky and therefore more difficult to relate to.

He answered the questions quite well, I thought. There were a couple about the lack of bipartisanship, to which Obama calmly reminded the assembled reporters of his numerous outreach efforts to Republican members of the House and the Senate, and implicitly chastised the right-wing ideology that these people espouse. A few questions related to foreign policy, which I think was strange, considering that the press conference was called for the express purpose of discussing the stimulus. Of course, someone had to ask about A-Rod, wasting the country's time. I think the press conference was an overall success, because he effectively explained why the economy needs immediate action, and why doing nothing would be so disastrous. Look for excessive Republican criticism in the coming days of Obama breaking his promise of bipartisanship, but it was only a matter of time before Obama fought back against his Republican critic.

CONGRESS TOMORROW: The House is in a holding pattern as it waits to get into conference on the stimulus bill. It held no votes today. Tomorrow, the House will take up some non-controversial bills under suspension of the rules, and then will vote on a procedural measure related to the stimulus called a "motion to construct conferees." Usually, these are votes that bind the conferees to insist on certain parts of the House-passed package and not adopt certain components of the Senate package. I'm not sure what the motion will consist of in tomorrow's case. I don't even know who has offered the motion, but I will, of course, keep you posted.

Then, the House will vote on what's called a "Privileged Resolution." These resolutions take precedence over all House business and deal with matters that affect the safety and integrity of the House. This resolution was introduced by Rep. John Carter of Texas (a Republican), and it states that New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means committee, has dishonored the House and should give up his chairmanship. This all stems from allegations that Rep. Rangel owes a lot of money in taxes on unreported income on various shady deals. I'm not going to defend Rangel, because the evidence against him is pretty bad, but it seems like a waste of time to being this resolution up for a vote. A privileged resolution is subject to one hour of debate unless someone offers a motion to table (kill) it. A Democrat has offered that motion, so the House will vote on whether to set aside this resolution and focus on something more pressing, like say, the economy.

The Senate, after finishing up their version of the stimulus bill, take up some nominations in the afternoon, including controversial Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who is a former lobbyist. He'll probably pass with 60-70 votes or so. There could be some other votes. We'll let you know.

OBAMA TOMORROW: The President heads to Fort Myers, Florida tomorrow to hold another town hall meeting about the stimulus. Joining Obama will be Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who has broken with his party to support the recovery package. I think that Governor Crist is a rising star within the party. He certainly has conservative views, but he doesn't let his ideology get in the way of desperately needed help for his constituents. He exhibited this same decency last year when he extended voting hours in some of Florida's poorest precincts, even though he knew it would cost his party votes. Of course, this sensitivity to people over the ideological dogma of his party just might ruin his chances at the GOP nomination in 2012. If he somehow did get the nomination, he would be a very formidable candidate.

Over the next day or so, we'll start to see what effect this public campaign will have on the views of the electorate, and if it helps Obama:

1. Win some battles in the House-Senate conference
2. Get the final bill by the weekend.

It will be an exciting week, so stay here with The Daily Strike for all of your political needs.

1 comment: