Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Weekly Strike-2/16-2/22

Back to work after the holiday weekend and time for the Weekly Strike, where we preview the upcoming week in politics.

OBAMA ON THE ROAD: Today, Obama heads to Denver to tour a solar power plant, and then sign the stimulus bill into law. He will be joined by Vice President Biden, and presumably, some lawmakers. Once the stimulus bill is signed, Obama turns to the other two legs of the economic recovery stool: housing and the financial sector.

His housing plan (or mortgage relief plan) will be unveiled tomorrow in Phoenix, AZ. At the forefront of the plan is a government subsidy to lenders as an inticement to reduce borrowers' interest rates. The plan would involve, according to the New York Times, "the government and the lender each contributing matching amounts to reduce a person’s monthly payment, possibly by several hundred dollars a month." The other proposal, which may be added as a rider to the omnibus spending bill coming up for a vote in a couple of weeks, is a provision that give bankruptcy judges the power to reduce mortgages. Expect these proposals to meet heavy Repulibican resistance because of associated costs. You have to wonder how they can oppose the first proposal, since it seems relatively Republican: give the company financial incentive to renegotiate mortgages.

On Thursday, Obama visits Canada to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his first international trip. I expect them to discuss, among many subjects, the war in Afghanistan. We keep hearing from the administration that a plan would be put forward soon that will temporarily increase forces in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban insurgency. That announcement could come this week as well.

There's also two other things I'm watching for. One, the President may reverse Bush's executive orders banning research on stem cells discovered after 2001. This would allow him to avoid a legislative battle on this issue. Also, we still need a Secretary of Health and Human Services and Commerce. I suspect that an announcement on those will be coming soon.

CONGRESS: Congress is in a district work period (vacation) this week. It will be interesting to see how voters react to votes on the stimulus. I'd be most worried if I were Joseph Cao from New Orleans, a Republican from a very Democratic district who voted against the bill, or a host of Democrats from very conservative areas, especially in the South, who supported the bill.

The Senate returns next Monday and will vote (finally!) on the nomination of Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary. They also will take a bill to give Washington D.C. representation in Congress. The bill would add a seat to DC, and another seat (at large) to conservative Utah in order to make sure the decision doesn't change the ideoligical makeup of the House. The number of seats in the House will temporarily rise to 237, before the 2010 census, in which all seats would be reapportioned based on population. The bill passed the House last Congress, but was filibustered by a more closely-divided Senate. I expect the bill to pass this time, because the Utah Republican Senators will support it (along with a few others). Obama will probably sign the bill into law. I'm not sure whether there will be consitutional challenges to the law, because the constitution calls for representatives from "the several states," but you need to pass the law first to find out, right?

The House will take up the omnibus budget package (which has yet to be unveiled) and also might start on the housing package. More on that next week.

LONG TERM AGENDA: Fresh off his victory on the stimulus, Obama will be going full speed ahead on a more ambitious domestic policy agenda. Besides the housing bill, the President will probably address:

-the budget through the end of FY 2009, which should reflect the administration's priorities more than the current budget, which was signed into law by President Bush.

-the budget for FY 2010. This budget, I expect, will be a vast reordering of federal spending priorities. I expect money to be taken away from places like the Pentagon and private medicare advantage plans, and towards priorities like clean energy, health care and education. He also has the oppotunity in this bill to change tax policy (Clinton and Reagan changed the tax structure in their first budget bills). One advantage of using the budget to achieve policy objectives is the so-called "reconciliation" process. Signed into law in 1974, the Budget Reconciliation process calls for the Congress to first set non-binding targets for each area of the federal government in a budget resolution. After the resolution passes both houses, committees make the cuts or additions necessary to meet these targets. The important thing is that the budget is NOT subject to a filibuster, meaning it only needs 50 votes (plus Joe Biden's possible tie-breaking vote) to pass the Senate. Obama, therefore, can be very ambitious because he could get the bill passed even if he loses a few Democrats.

-health care reform

-cap and trade energy legislation

Excited yet? As Eugene Robinson noted in his column today, Obama has already done more in his first month than Bush did in his last two years. A drastic reordering of our government policies is underway.

See you tonight! We would love your comments!

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