Monday, February 2, 2009

The Weekly Strike-2/1-2/8

Welcome to the Weekly Strike! Here's what's on deck this week in Washington:

CONGRESS: This is another huge week in Congress. The Senate starts debating the stimulus bill today, but will take a break to vote on the nomination of Eric Holder to be Attorney General. I predict that he passes with about 70 votes. He was passed out of committee 17-2, with the support of ranking Republican Arlen Specter, who had been one of his biggest critics. Part of the reason Holder will pass pretty easily is that Republicans now have bigger fish to fry. The new controversial nominee is Tom Daschle, who failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of income, including a limo and limo driver. Holder may have created controversy in the past by agreeing to President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich, but his hearing went quite well, and Republicans may want to pick their battles on nomination fights.

The Senate will resume debate on the stimulus tomorrow, and most likely won't finish the bill until Friday. I predict maybe 15 or so amendments will be voted on before final passage, most of them Republican efforts to add more tax cuts, and remove certain spending provisions. The House may not even recognize the bill when it returns to them next week. As Amendments are introduced and voted upon, I'll keep you posted. The final vote will depend on how many amendments are agreed to, and how much of the more "controversial" spending measures are removed from the bill. If the bill goes largely unchanged, it will pass with almost exactly 60 votes. If not, it could garner another 10 or so votes. I don't see the stimulus, in any form, getting more than 70 votes, because in that case, the Democrats would be sacrificing too much of the bill's content. If the Senate passes the bill, it will go into what is expected to be a difficult conference with House negotiators to work out differences in the two bills.

The House has a busy week as well, returning tomorrow for some votes on non-controversial measures under suspension of the rules. One bill that failed to garner the two-thirds vote necessary to suspend the rules was the Digital Transition Delay bill. The House will consider the bill under regular order Wednesday morning, and it will likely pass and be sent to Obama for his signature.

Apparently, the House leadership has accepted the Senate's changes to the State Children's Health Insurance Bill, and will vote on final passage Wednesday afternoon. I expect it to pass with about 280 votes, (about as many as the original bill got a couple of weeks ago) and sent to President Obama, who will sign it promptly. This is a very important bill that was twice vetoed by President Bush, and was a big part of Obama's plan to insure every child in this country. After he signs the bill this week, he'll be about 5 million children short of his goal. (side note, if you had a few votes to spare in each House, which they did, why didn't they expand the bill to cover ALL uninsured children??).

Finally, the House will vote on an omnibus bill finalizing the budget for the rest of Fiscal Year 2009, which ends September 30th. The debate on this bill should be contentious, since the money will most likely be redirected to Democratic spending priorities. I expect the budget to pass along strict party lines, and to move to the Senate for a vote next week. The House will be in recess Thursday and Friday for the Democrats' policy retreat.

HAPPENING AT THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama today meets with Democratic leaders in Congress to shore up support for the stimulus. You can bet he talks about the Daschle nomination as well. Daschle wrote a letter to his former colleagues today apologizing for his tax difficulties. I expect a rocky road in the next few days as he appears before the Senate Finance Committee. Ultimately, Daschle has built strong enough relationships in the Senate, that his nomination will ultimately be confirmed.

The other big news out of the White House is the expected nomination of Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, to be Commerce Secretary. Apparently, New Hampshire's Democratic governor John Lynch as agreed to appoint a Republican to replace Gregg. The move could have benefits for Democrats though. According to Chuck Todd of MSNBC, the leading candidate appears to be Bonnie Newman, a moderate former Gregg staffer. If Lynch picks her, she has to be more moderate than Gregg, right? Also, Gregg's presence in the cabinet may help delegate negotiations with Congressional Republicans on sensitive items like additional Wall Street bailouts.

On Obama's schedule today is a meeting with Vermont's Republican governor Jim Douglas. I bet that they won't be discussing the Super Bowl, since Obama needs the governor to help shore up support for the stimulus package.

NOMINATION UPDATE: We've already talked about Daschle, Holder and Gregg, who else is left? Only two nominees: Hilda Solis at Labor, Ron Kirk to be Trade Representative. Solis is being held up because some Republicans feel that she's been less than forthright on her views on controversial items such as pending card check legislation. Who knows what's happening with Kirk, although after Geithner and Daschle, I'm suspicious that maybe he has a hidden tax problem.

THE STRIKE'S FAVORITE CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Finally, an update from the 20th Congressional District of New York, where Kirsten Gillibrand recently resigned to become the Empire State's Junior Senator. The two nominees for the upcoming special election have been picked by the respective parties, and the Republicans have a decided advantage. The GOP selected James Tedisco, a popular assemblyman who has been the GOP Minority leader since 2005. I've met this guy, and he charmed even a liberal like myself. He has high name recognition, and fits the conservative lean of the district. The Democrats have countered with Scott Murphy, a local unknown venture capitalist. No chance, in my view, that the Democrats win this race. Assuming Solis is confirmed and replaced by a Democrat, and a Democrat wins the open seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel, Tedisco will probably make the final house numbers 256-179 in favor of the Democrats.

Have a good week!

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