Monday, February 23, 2009

The Weekly Strike-2/23-3/1

Happy Monday and welcome to the Weekly Strike. It will be a very busy week in the world of politics, and we've got you covered.

THE MAIN EVENTS: Tomorrow night, President Obama gives an address to a joint session of Congress. An address this time of year is normally referred to as "The State of the Union." While an address in the first year of a new President's term is technically not a State of the Union, it will have the media coverage and aura of the big event. Three years removed from having three gray-haired white guys up there (Bush, Cheney and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert), we will now have an African American, a woman (Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and...uh...a balding white guy (I guess he's Catholic, so that counts). The address will begin at 9pm EST when Obama is escorted into the chamber by a bicameral delegation of legislators to large applause. He then will hand a copy of his speech to Vice President Biden (who is also the President of the Senate) and Speaker Pelosi, before delivering his remarks.

The speech, all indications show, will be about the economy. Expect the President to defend the economic stimulus by showcasing projects that are soon to be underway. He'll also surely mention the fact that most workers will receieve more money in their paychecks beginning in April, due to a temporary reduction in the payroll tax.

Talking about the economy as a whole, Obama has to strike a balance between sober realism, and hopefulness in the future of the economy. This is the very reason why Obama is President, and Paul Krugman is not. Most economists will tell you that we're in deep hole, and it's not likely to get better anytime soon. But Obama's job is to help restore confidence and build national morale.

The President will also talk about the other major event of the week, the unveiling of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget on Thursday. The budget will reflect this week's theme of fiscal responsibility. Today, the President holds a bipartisan summit to talk about reigning in a growing federal budget. On Thursday, that talk is formalized by the budget proposal.

The proposal projects the deficit to be cut in half by 2013. The new sources of revenue would come from significant drawdowns of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for individuals and businesses making $250,000 per year in 2011. The proposal will call for closing tax loopholes to decrease fraud and increase revenue (every President says he's going to do this). The other big cut will be payments to the so-called "Medicare Advantage" program. This program pays private insurance companies money to cover senior citizens who would already be covered by Medicare. The program is a giveaway to insurance companies (who certainly don't need the money), doesn't help a single uninsured person in the country, and costs a lot of money.

So what will we be getting out of the budget proposal? The proposal will cover expected costs for significant health care reform, and energy legislation to be passed this year. It also is expected to include unprecedented investments in education and infrastructure (making the stimulus package a down-payment of sorts). It remains to be seen whether all of these programs will indeed be enacted this year. We will do a more in-depth entry this week on health care policy in the Obama budget.

The key things to look out for after the announcement of Obama's budget:

-Republicans who will undoubtedly call the proposal, "the biggest tax increase in the history of the United States"

-The reactions of House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND)

-How the media, which seems to love the idea of fiscal responsibility (especially the editorial pages) reacts to the proposal. I'm always amazed at how much the media emphasizes fiscal responsibility when evidence shows that people care a lot more about health care, energy and education.

THE HOUSE: Congress is back in session this week after a February recess. The House of Representatives today and tomorrow will consider non-controversial bills under supsension of the rules. The House adjourns early tomorrow so that they can do a security sweep of the chamber for the President's address. On Wednesday, the House takes up legislation enacting an all-encompassing (omnibus) budget to last us until October 1st. We are currently operating under the previous year's funding levels, thanks to a continuing resolution passed last September by Congress and President Bush. As I mentioned before, I expect the budget to be more Democratic-friendly (more funding for health care, clean energy and education), but they haven't yet released any details of the bill. It is also possible that the House considers the "Helping Families Save Their Homes Act," which would, presumably, reflect the housing proposals Obama offered last week. My guess is that consideration of this bill is postponed a week or two so that legislators can work out the kinks before it is brought to the floor. Barney Frank, the chair of the House Finance Committee, will surely want to implement some of his own ideas, as will Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel.

THE SENATE: The Senate has an equally busy week. Tomorrow, the Senate takes two key votes in the morning. The first is a motion relating to a law that would grant the District of Columbia representation in Congress. The bill would also temporarily give a House seat to Utah, in order to offset a Democratic seat with a Republican one. The bill passed the House in the last Congress, but was bottled up in the Senate by a filibuster and an expected veto by President Bush. With Democrats having gained 7 seats in the last election, and with President Obama's support, it looks as if the bill has a good chance of passing (whether it becomes law depends on what a bunch of judges interpretation is of "representatives from the several STATES.." in the constitution). The vote on Tuesday is a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Basically, the Senate is voting on whether to consider the bill, subject to a 60 vote threshold. The reason Majority Leader Reid scheduled such a vote is to test whether the legislation could get the necessary 60 votes to defeat a filibuster. Should cloture be invoked, the Senate would debate the bill this week and vote on final passage Thursday or Friday. I expect the vote tomorrow to be close, probably winning with 60-63 votes. I also expect that some Democratic Senators may vote to proceed on the bill, but vote against final passage.

The Senate next votes on the nomination of Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis, after a month of delays at the committee level. Should Solis be confirmed, the only remaining cabinet vacancies will be at the Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services. I expect that we may hear about nominations to those positions sometime this week. The Senate also might take up the Omnibus appropriations bill if the House finishes its work quickly. The current budget expires on March 6th (next Friday), so something has to pass before then (either this budget, or another continuing budget resolution) so that the government does not shut down.

I hope that gives you a good idea of the upcoming week in politics. We'd love to see some of your comments. See you tonight for the Daily Strike!

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