Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Late Night Strike...Wow, That's Close

I've been refreshing the real-time results from the AP for about two hours. After teetering back and forth, Democrat Scott Murphy has a 65 vote lead over Republican Jim Tedisco out of about 125000 votes cast with all precincts reporting. That's about .004 of a percent.

First, let's take advantage of this as a learning experience. NEVER skip an election because you think your vote doesn't matter! That goes for you, Skidmore students.

Now to the race itself. There are 5900 outstanding absentee ballots, so the extremely narrow Murphy lead is not final. Absentee ballots tend to go Republican, so I'm not getting my hopes up. But who knows what the absentee voting population was like in this election? It could be old, bitter, lazy O'Reilly Factor viewers who don't want to leave their house, or they could be working class men and women who couldn't get time off to go to the polls. Tedisco will need to win about 51.1% of the absentee ballots to overcome the small deficit.

The one thing we do know is that the side stories of this race will probably be pretty muted. Because we don't have a definitive winner tonight, no party can crow about "capturing momentum" or "repudiating the President's agenda." At the end of the day, the winner will either make the already large Democratic majority slightly bigger, or the diminutive Republican minority slightly less pathetic.

The Daily Strike-3/31/09-Election Day in The Strike's Favorite District!!

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Believe it or not, today is election day. Let's get to it.

NY20: Today, voters in New York's 20th Congressional District head to the polls to elect their next member of Congress. The seat was vacated by newly appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. On the Republican side is Jim Tedisco, the state assembly minority leader and well known local politician. For the Democrats is political novice and entrepreneur Scott Murphy. The Strike was lucky enough to go to college in this district, so this election has a special place in his heart. Let's go over the ins-and-outs of this election:

1. This election is more than just an election for one of 435 members of Congress. Because it is happening in an off year, it's turned into a bell weather to measure the current strength of the two political parties. This is especially true because the district is very competitive. It went narrowly for George Bush in 2004 before going for President Obama last year. Republicans see this election as an opportunity to prove that they can still win in areas besides the plain states and the deep South. They were optimistic at the outset because Republicans have a registration advantage in the district. The Republicans also see it as an opportunity to send President Obama a political message about his economic stimulus package. Murphy forcefully supported the bill, while Tedisco (eventually) came out against this. If Tedisco wins, Republicans can argue that the stimulus is a political loser in a swing district. If Murphy wins, it will be clear that Republican rock-ribbed opposition to the economic recovery package was a bit of an overreach.

2. This district is changing pretty rapidly. Upstate New York used to be the hub of Rockefeller Republicans, those who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate. The Republican domination of upstate politics was the reason the GOP controlled the state Senate until last year. Since 2006, however, Republicans have lost 5 Congressional seats in the region (including this one). The main reason for this, in my view, is the economic hardship faced by upstaters. Once home to booming industry and manufacturing, years of Republican policies have decimated the upstate job market. Companies have been moving out of the region at a rapid rate. When jobs move, so do "the best and brightest," who see economic opportunity elsewhere. This brain drain helps contribute to the downward spiral. Therefore, even though Republicans have a registration advantage in the district, political attitudes have certainly shifted.

3. It will come down to Saratoga County. The location of the great Skidmore College (which, with the Strike's "awesome" leadership, voted heavily for Obama over Hillary in the primary!) is going to be the key county to watch tonight. 188 of the district's 610 precincts are in this county. The county is also a good bell weather for the district as a whole, as it too went for Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008.

One thing I fear is the organization (or lack thereof) of the Democratic Party in Saratoga County. This is one of the few things in this blog that I can attest to personally, but the Democratic party in Saratoga Springs, and to a lesser extent, Saratoga county, was a huge mess when I left it last May. There was a bitter divide on the city and county Democratic committees between the old bulls and the younger reformers. Having taken sides in this divide, I know it can get VERY ugly, and these two factions hate each other. In fact, they hated each other so much that they voted for Republicans over their intra-party rivals. I only hope that the party has reorganized itself a bit. Maybe Murphy's candidacy has united them. Let's hope so.

We will bring you full comprehensive coverage of the results as they come available tonight when the polls close at 9pm EDT. I'll write a Late Night Strike to fill you in on all the details. To my friends at Skidmore, make sure you've made it up to Case Center to vote!

SENATE: With President Obama en route to London today, the major news came from Capital Hill. Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius had her confirmation hearing today. It seemed to go relatively smoothly, except for an awkward exchange with a jealous John McCain, who quizzed the Kansas Governor on health care tax credits. Our friend Ezra Klein has the transcript on his site. A very emotional part of the hearing occurred when committee chairman Ted Kennedy spoke about how he has seen the American health care system firsthand during his ten month struggle with brain cancer. Health reform has been Senator Kennedy's life's work, and I only hope he lives to see it get done this year.

Yet AGAIN, though, we have a nominee with tax issues. Due to various errors in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (yikes!), Sebelius was forced to pay over $7000 in back taxes this year. No word yet on whether this derails her nomination, but I get the feeling that Senators have outrage fatigue. What's the big deal about back taxes after all those AIG bonuses?

The Senate also had some votes today on amendments to the annual budget resolution. The first set of votes related to an amendment from South Dakota Republican John Thune. Thune, an opponent of "cap-and-trade" emissions regulations, sought to ensure that the reserve fund for climate legislation does not increase electricity or gasoline prices. Of course, the beauty of cap-and-trade is that big polluters will INDEED have higher energy costs, but the revenue will be used to help average Americans offset high energy costs. Evidently, this is too complicated for Mr. Thune to understand. Senator Boxer of California, sensing that this amendment might be used to curb future legislation, proposed a 2nd degree amendment (amending the amendment, if that makes sense) that clarifies that Thune's language would only be relevant if the overall burden on consumers is not increased. Boxer was pretty clever here. If Thune's amendment was unchanged, he could have raised a point of order on any climate change bill saying that it "raises taxes on consumers" even if the bill only raises taxes on big oil companies and large polluters. Boxer's language clarifies only increases to the "overall burden on consumers" would be out of order. Therefore, we can tax the heck out big polluters as long as the net burden on consumers is not increased.

The Boxer amendment was agreed to first by a vote of 54-43. All Republicans voted against it. Democrats Bingaman (NM) and Byrd (WV) voted no. Bingaman is such a stalwart environmentalist that he may have thought even Boxer's language went to far. I would guess that in his mind, it's ok to increase the overall burden on consumers if it helps save the planet.

The Thune amendment was passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 89-8. All no votes were from liberal Democrats, except for Tennessee Republican Bob Corker (that's got to be a mis-vote).

Finally, the Senate voted on a snarky amendment by Senator Judd "Judas" Gregg of New Hampshire. This amendment would prohibit our annual national debt from equaling the total amount of debt the United States has accumulated since its founding in 1789. He called it the "1789" amendment. Of course, Judd Gregg knows full well that a dollar of debt in 1789 is not quite worth the same as a dollar of debt now because of that whole inflation thing. OF COURSE our debt, if not adjusted into real terms, was a lot lower in the past than it is now. It's one of those instances where you can tell that Judd thinks he's so clever for coming up with this idea, but in my view, it's pretty stupid. Anyway, the amendment failed 54-43. All Republicans voted for it, as did fiscal hawk Democrats Nelson (FL) and Tester (MT).

More amendment votes will take place tomorrow, with final passage coming either Thursday or Friday.

THE HOUSE: The House had a very busy day today. Most importantly, it passed a final version of the public service bill, thereby sending it to the President for his approval. This bill expands public service jobs from 75,000 to 250,000 and gives college aid to those who do public service. The bill passed with over 300 votes last time, but this time only passed 275-149. Only 26 Republicans voted for it. As The Big Picture and I discussed earlier, there's no logical explanation for opposing this bipartisan bill unless you have the expressed intention of opposing everything the President does. Conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was a cosponsor, for crying out loud. This bill won't get a lot of attention, but it's a big step in beginning a national renewal. It's heartening that our government will help thousands of Americans go to work on behalf of their country.

The House also voted on a slew of suspension bills, on subjects ranging from increased vision care for children, to a authorizing a new Congressional clerkship program for law students (the Strike needs the sign-up sheet!). The House moves on to the budget resolution tomorrow. It will also consider legislation curbing executive pay for companies receiving bailout money, and a bill to impose new regulations on tobacco. Quite a busy week for the lower chamber.

That's it for us right now, but come back later for our full coverage of today's special election. Please share your comments with us! We will post the most insightful comment later this week.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/30/09-Cars

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Good to be back with you. Make sure you catch up by reading the Weekly Strike (below) and the great pinch-hitting work from The Big Picture this weekend.

CARS: As we mentioned earlier today, President Obama made big news by deeming reconstruction proposals from GM and Chrysler "not viable." GM now has 60 days to submit an additional plan before it may be forced into bankruptcy. Chrysler will have 30 days to finalize a merger with Italian company FIAT, or it too, will be in danger of going under. The President is not giving these companies the complete cold shoulder. GM will be getting government bailout money during next two months to cover operating costs. Chrysler will receive government money for the next month, and will get an additional $6 billion if it merges with FIAT.

I talked earlier about the double standard in how the President treats failed auto companies and failed financial institutions. I think there are some important differences worth mentioning.

1. Power. The financial sector, as noted today in a brilliant article by MIT economist Simon Johnson, makes up about 41% of our gross national product. Because they've made so much money, they've gained unfettered access to politicians of both parties. Politicians are far less likely to act punitively towards their big donors, and the bank rollers of huge amounts of government revenue.

2. Ripple Effect. For better or worse (ok, worse) the financial sector is vital to the overall health of the economy to a far larger extent than the auto companies. As much as I hate many financial institutions, if we allowed them to fail, millions of Americans would lose their hard earned pensions and life savings. Most Americans save money to retire, and they trust it to banks. If people were to lose those assets, they wouldn't have money to spend now or in the future, and the economy would suffer as a result. If an auto company fails, 3 million people might lose jobs, and that would be a big hit to the economy, but certainly not to the same degree as if, say, Citibank were to go bankrupt and tens of millions of Americans lost all of their assets.

3. National Ethos. One thing worth mentioning is that their seems to be a national contempt towards auto companies and their workers. The data clearly show that Americans don't want to help auto companies. They see their failures as a result of years of bad management, bloated union contracts, and lack of innovation. To a certain extent, they're right. It's easy for your average American to see how the domestic auto companies have failed us when we drive our reliable, fuel efficient Hondas and Toyotas. Until the last year or so, the financial sector wasn't viewed with the same sort of contempt. In fact, they were seen as the "creators of wealth" and innovative entrepreneurs. Just now, the country is figuring out that financial institutions are actually the "takers of wealth" through risky schemes like derivatives trading. Even though Americans have come around recently and now have distrust of financial institutions. But, it took awhile for that contempt to sink in with our political leaders and the mainstream media.

Let's just hope our national ethos changes so that we respect and admire those who work hard and have concern for the common good instead of those who simply want to accumulate massive amounts of wealth for themselves.

CONGRESS: Not much action today in Congress (typical for a Monday). The House voted this evening (for the 6th time!!) to table (kill) a resolution offered by Rep. Jeff Flake to start an investigation regarding the relationship between lobbyist firm PMA and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). As Politico noted earlier today, more Democrats seem to be jumping ship every time Flake brings up a new version of the resolution. Democratic leaders are worried that eventually they won't have the votes to kill the measure, and that they would have to watch one of their members get excoriated during hours of debate on the House floor. The vote today was 210-173 to table the resolution, with 13 members voting "present." The House also passed a couple of other suspension bills.

I mentioned in today's Weekly Strike that the Democratic leadership wanted to bring up the Senate amendments to the public service bill under expedited suspension procedures that would have required a 2/3rds majority vote. It looks like they've decided to scrap that plan. Instead, they will consider the bill under regular order. The obvious reason for this (as far as I can see) is that the leadership determined that they didn't have the 2/3rds majority necessary to suspend the rules and pass the bill. As a result, the bill will probably come up for a vote on Wednesday or Thursday, and it should pass with a relatively large majority.

No action in the Senate today. Votes on amendments to the budget resolution are possible tomorrow, and we'll cover them if they happen.

Oh, and finally, after a year of obstruction from Senator Tom Coburn, President Obama finally signed the Omnibus Public Lands bill into law during a ceremony at the White House. He praised the bipartisan delegation who helped pass the bill for protecting our natural resources. He also mentioned a little-known provision in the bill, which is money for research to help those who suffer from spinal cord injuries. The measure was advocated by the relatives of the late actor Christopher Reeves. I hope Coburn enjoyed his parliamentary games, because it's pretty clear that he could have delayed cures to life-limiting illnesses. Thanks Coburn.

That's it for tonight, the budget battle begins in earnest tomorrow (mostly on the floor of the Senate) and we'll let you know of all the going-ons. Make sure you share your comments! We'll feature the best one in its own post later in the week. Also, PLEASE add yourself as a follower of the blog if you have not already done so.

The Weekly Strike-3/30-4/5

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Many thanks to the Big Picture for pinch-hitting while I was gone. Also, thanks to those who left comments, especially the one that defended my traveling activities! Please write some comments this week! We will feature the best one on Friday's Daily Strike. A very big week in politics coming up, so let's get to it. There will be two stories dominating the news this week, the budget battle in Congress and President Obama's trip abroad for the G20 summit. We'll make sure you are well-informed on both.

THE HOUSE: The House, having been in a holding pattern for a few weeks, has a packed schedule. Starting today, the House will consider a long slew of suspension bills. Interestingly, the Senate amendments to the public service bill will be coming up under suspension of the rules, meaning it will need a 2/3rds majority to pass. This bill, as we've talked about, would expand funding for public service programs. The House passed its version with about 300 votes. If that majority holds for the vote on the Senate amendments to the bill, President Obama should be receiving a copy for his signature by Friday. Usually, the House does not take up bills of this much substance under these expedited procedures, but since the House already agreed to the underlying bill, and with it's schedule packed for the remainder of the week, it looks like the leadership wanted to get this done as quickly as possible. I'm curious to see whether some Republicans vote against the bill because they object to using these expedited procedures. If enough of them bolt, the House would have to pass a special rule and consider the bill later in the week.

After dealing with 23 suspension bills, the House will move to consideration of a measure setting out funding for various Congressional Committees. I don't expect this to be too controversial, although some Republicans may take exception with increased funding for Congressional committee activity during a recession. Next, the House will take up another bill dealing with executive compensation. This bill would amend last year's bailout legislation to forbid companies receiving TARP money from giving out "unreasonable and excessive" executive compensation packages. What's interesting about this bill is that it doesn't define what is "unreasonable and excessive," but rather leaves that determination to the Treasury Secretary. That's quite a responsibility for Mr. Geithner, and seems like a pretty significant ceding of power to the executive branch.

Finally, of course, the House will deal with the budget resolution which sets non-binding spending targets for Fiscal Year 2010. I read through the bill last night and a couple of things stood out to me. First, a lot of the President's priorities have been set aside under "reserve funds" meaning that spending will be determined by legislation down the line. For example, the resolution gives only vague suggestions on what a health reform would look like, but sets a side a ton of money to deal with it. The other interesting thing I noticed were the reconciliation instructions embedded in the budget. (Reconciliation instructions, if you're new to the blog, instruct committees to bring spending to pre-set levels. Reconciliation bills are not subject to a filibuster in the Senate, meaning the bill would only need 50 votes to pass). The section heading under reconciliation reads "health care reform" but the instructions only call for the committees of jurisdiction to "reduce spending so that the deficit decreases by $1 billion over 10 years." Now, in the context of the full federal budget, $1 billion is basically nothing, so it's clear that these instructions have little to do with decreasing the deficit. Instead, this seems to be a tool to get around possible procedural hurdles. Because of the so-called "Byrd Rule," all reconciliation legislation has to create changes in either revenues or outlays. Basically, the House Energy and Commerce committee, which deals with most health care legislation, could come up with a comprehensive health care plan, which spends a lot now, but saves $1 billion in the long run, and they will have fulfilled the reconciliation instructions. Of course, the resolution could have instructed the committee to spend more money, and thus increase the deficit, but in this case, the Democrats can enact health reform and even look like they're saving money in the process!

The Republicans will have a chance to amend the bill, most likely by offering a substitute budget. Let's hope it contains actual numbers when it comes to the floor.

The Senate version of the bill does not include reconciliation instructions, so Democratic leaders in both chambers will have to wrangle over whether to include the controversial fast-track procedure in a conference committee. After the House is does with the budget bill, it will go on a one week Easter recess.

SENATE: The Senate begins consideration of it's own budget resolution this evening. I expect the Republicans to propose a series of amendments, which should drag out the process until late Thursday or Friday. Because the Democrats have a commanding 58-41 majority, I don't think many of their amendments have a chance of passing. The resolution itself is not subject to the filibuster, so unless 8 Democrats abandon their own party's budget blueprint, the resolution will be agreed to. I expect a few defections from moderate deficit-hawks, but not enough to derail the bill.

I'm pretty sure that since the budget resolutions are ambitious in pursuing a broad progressive agenda, they will receive zero Republican votes in either the House or Senate. We'll make sure you are up-to-date on all the budget details as the week continues.

THE PRESIDENT: Before leaving for a very important international trip (the first overseas journey of his Presidency), President Obama will hold a press conference this morning to discuss the auto industry bailouts. The President will get tough with both GM and Chrysler. He has already pushed out GM CEO Rick Wagoner, who announced his resignation yesterday. These two companies have requested an additional $17 billion in bailout money, on top of the money President Bush gave them last November. As part of last year's bailout, the companies were required to submit restructuring plans by the end of this month. Obama is going to reject these plans, because both car makers have failed to prove their viability. GM will be given some money for 60 days, and it will be instructed to come up with a better plan to stay solvent. If that fails, they'll probably be on their own and will have to declare bankruptcy. In Chrysler's case, the government is giving them 30 days to complete an expected merger with European company FIAT. If the merger goes down, the government will pay $6 billion to help with the transition. If not, Chrysler too will be allowed to fail.

President Obama seems to be setting much tougher conditions for bailout money to automakers than he is to financial firms. Part of it is that the financial companies have more resources to effectively lobby Congress and the administration. The other part of it is that the failure of financial institutions would be more harmful to the national economy. It still bothers me that the Federal government holds these companies in such contempt. The workers at these companies have already been forced to give up some of their benefits, and in my view, it's imperative that we don't let the backbone of our manufacturing sector fall by the wayside.

The President will also sign the "Tomnibus" public lands bill into law today at a small White House ceremony. He will travel to London for the G20 conference tomorrow morning, and make stops in Strasbourg, France (for the NATO summit); Prague; Ankara, Turkey and Istanbul (he will be fulfilling a promise to give a major address in a Muslim nation). I'm very curious to see how the President is received overseas. We very well may be reminded this week of one of the major consequences of Obama's election: the return of goodwill and respect from the international community. We'll give you comprehensive coverage and analysis from each of his stops on this week-long journey. The G20 summit, which brings together leaders from the top 20 industrial countries, will mostly discuss the global economy, but is also expected to deal with other issues like climate change.

Be sure to tune in tonight for the Daily Strike. Leave comments!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The (Daily) Big Picture: Crisis and Service

OBAMA HONORS RESCUE EFFORTS: President Obama used his weekly radio address today to honor the rescue efforts in the Dakotas and Minnesota to save families and communities at risk of devastation from flooding. It was an understated but still moving address, paying tribute to the volunteers who packed a stadium in Fargo to fill sandbags. Obama, the master at tying things together and putting things in context, made the connection between the inspiring scenes of citizens helping out their neighbors and the National Service Act passed by the Senate and House. Obama said that the Dakotans and Minnesotans whose backs ache and hands are sore from serving their community, serving the greater good, in a time of crisis, are an example to us all because "we are all in this together". He called on all Americans to join in the national service program (in which paid coordinators organize volunteers) because we are in a time of crisis.

First, it's a good use of Obama's bully pulpit to honor everyday heroes, to lend his moral support, and show that the country cares. But second, as this is a political blog, I think it's smart strategically to use his address to rise above the partisan squabbling, the myopic selfish shortsightedness of the elite opinion-makers, and call Americans to a higher purpose. The contrast between his determined, not taking any bullshit, "I'm not going to play your games" demeanor in his press conference when dealing with the Washington crowd vs. his deeply respectful, inspiring, and hopeful tone when speaking of the American people in his weekly address was sharp, justified, and politically savvy. When I was concerned about Obama laughing in his 60 Minutes interview, it was because I didn't want ordinary people thinking he had become one of the self-satisfied clubby elites, but this sharp contrast alleviates any concern. People elected Obama because a) he was a serious guy with a serious approach, not at all of Washington and its culture, there to cut through the crap and take care of business, and b) because he represents what is best in all of us, and people are truly inspired by the example of him and his family and by his vision of pulling all Americans together to bring out the best in ourselves and our country.

As Obama is able to move past the immediate concerns of cleaning up the Bush era's mess, he will hopefully expand his appeals and his substantive programs to pull Americans up, tap into the collective yearning to serve. Chuck Todd, our favorite media figure, asked a great question at the Press Conference - "You've said this is the equivalent of World War II: how are you going to call on all Americans to sacrifice?" Obama was very right to say that Americans are sacrificing right now, but Todd hit on something that was at the core of Obama's initial appeal, and that people feel even more strongly now that we are in this crisis: our nation has steadily declined because the culture - most of all in the halls of power in Washington and New York, but not only - is geared toward selfishness, shortsightedness, superficialities. Obama must articulate people's sense that we can't go back to that kind of America, but move toward the America of World War II, where we pulled our economy from recession to unparalleled boom and defeated the mightiest enemies in history, because we all pulled together. As Michelle Obama said about the White House Garden(and the Picturette is surely rolling her eyes because I always bring this up), "Everyone's gotta pitch in. No excuses." Hopefully that will become the defining mantra of the Obama Era.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The (Daily) Big Picture

The Strike is out cavorting around the East Coast, abandoning his solemn responsibilities, so I am taking his place for the weekend. Please use the comments section to let him know how you feel about this dereliction of duty.

AFGHANISTAN: The major story of the day is Obama announcing a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan to accompany the tens of thousands of additional troops he is sending. The basic strategy seems sensible: it deals with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, it combines carrots - the potential for $1.5 billion more in aid for economic development and support for Afghan and Pakistani security forces - with sticks, primarily Obama's declaration that our support is not open-ended, he will be constantly re-evaluating the mission, and he could withdraw the support that props up the fragile (to say the least) Afghan government if they fail to achieve real progress. This all seems reasonable enough, and it is refreshing to have the sense that there is an actual plan, and an actual possibility of actually accomplishing measurable goals, or if it's not working, then we'll get out.

I am still extremely skeptical about the possibility for success in this mission. The sense of deja vu is overwhelming when I read columns like David Brooks' today about how the war in Afghanistan is winnable because we have such smart commanders and the people really want us there and feel that we owe them. No one gets suckered in like David Brooks. We've spent years and years, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, and into the trillions of dollars thanks to the ceaseless cheerleading, the "this time it's gonna work!" assurances of the "reasonable" analysts and policy-makers. I know the "this isn't change we can believe in" is an absurdly over-used attack line against Obama, but in this case for once it rings true: the biggest reason I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primaries was that he was not one of these "reasonable" Establishment figures who are always wrong, never admits it, and smugly assumes that they should still be in charge. I didn't vote for him to fall into the same traps, the same delusions. That said, given that Obama has already committed the troops, I'm pleased to see that there's a serious strategy behind it, and that he is laying the groundwork for an exit strategy.

THE CLOWN PARTY: Speaking of serious, it is certainly not a word that should be applied to the Republican Party. The latest evidence is their laughable internal dispute about the budget. The Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor camps had the chutzpah to accuse their colleagues John Boehner and Mike Pence of releasing the Republican budget because he wanted to be a camera hog. Obviously Cantor and Ryan wouldn't know anything about using gimmicks and cheap demogoguery to earn some camera time. They are very serious legislators.

One thing that the Strike didn't stress quite enough last night is the sheer childishness of the Republican counter-budget. First of all, their budget did not have any numbers in it. It made a bunch of pronouncements - such as they wanted massive tax cuts, they wanted to balance the budget, they wanted affordable health care for everyone, and they wanted to cut unnamed programs - without any specifics! Of course it's easy to say you want all those things, but the point of being a political party is to present a plan for actually achieving them. This actually gets to a broader criticism of the entire political-media-business establishment: they love to say they're in favor of making "tough choices" but they seem to conveniently never actually make any tough choices or indeed present any actual plan for how their ideas would work in practice. For example, much of the "objective, keeping them honest" media and conservative Democratic Senators like Kent Conrad solemnly swear to be in favor of balanced budgets. But when actual proposals to cut the budge deficit are proposed - making the deductions for charities fair, ending agriculture subsidies, investing in health care, investing in a green econom, cutting prison and military budgets. To borrow from one of the Strike's favorite comedian/commentators, we have a New Rule: no self-righteous criticism unless you have a better plan. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and get to work. I'd like to see Michelle Obama in charge of keeping all these Establishment children in line. "Do you have a plan for how you're going to grow up healthy without eating your vegetables? No? Alright then eat them!" We need a lot more of that serious talk in America today.

JIM WEBB IS THE OPPOSITE OF A CLOWN: We'll close out tonight with a shout-out to our favorite Senator, the incomparable Jim Webb of Virginia (literally incomparable - is there anyone remotely comparable to him?) He is taking on one of the most important but politically suicidal issues in America today - our out-of-control prison system. He gave a speech today explaining, among other disturbing facts, that though Americans are only 5% of the world's population, we have 25% of the prisoners. And the vast increase in the population has come since 1980. Either Americans over the past 30 years - living in a society, that for all its flaws, is one of the richest and freest in human history - have become more evil than all previous generations of Americans and all other people in the world, or we have serious problems with our entire prison-industrial-legal complex. Along with the many moral problems posed by this huge incarcerated population is the absurdity of spending so much money - and wasting all the potential productivity of those in prison - just to lock people up and satisfy our childish urge to get the bad guys. Jim Webb is taking on an issue that opens himself up to all sorts of cheap and easy demogogic attacks. I don't always agree with him, but there is no doubt that Jim Webb, unlike most of his colleagues in the political-media-business elite, takes his responsibilities seriously.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/26/09-Budget Preview

Good evening once again from Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks to those who have offered comments in the past few days. If you haven't yet, please do. We're always looking for input.

BUDGET PRIMER: The main legislative event happens next week when the House and Senate consider their annual budget resolutions. Each of them will mostly resemble the proposal put forward last month by President Obama. We'll make sure to go over the difference between the House and Senate versions next week.

First, I want to clear up some important process components of the budget. The annual budget resolutions are non-binding, meaning they do not actually go the the President. Rather, the resolutions serve two purposes. First, they set spending targets for each of the 13 appropriations subcategories. The House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will use the numbers laid out in the budget resolution when they craft the 13 annual appropriations bills which determine all discretionary spending. The other main function of the budget resolution is to lay out your party's priorities. Since the budget is such a large, all-encompassing legislative bonanza, it's a good way to show where your party wants to invest money, how much it wants to tax, and what policy initiatives will be on the front burner. This year, the Democrats are using the budget resolution to outline their priorities of health care reform, energy legislation, education investment and deficit reduction.

Because the budget resolution pretty much articulates everything a party stands for, it's pretty unlikely that you're going to get many votes from the other party. Therefore, budget resolutions are almost always strict party line votes. Also, due to special rules, the resolution is not subject to a filibuster, and therefore needs only 50 votes to pass the Senate. The other special part of the budget resolution is that it can include reconciliation instructions (which we talked about yesterday.)

Now to the current budget debate. The opposition party almost always releases an alternative budget to showcase their own policy priorities. It is custom to include the alternative as a substitute amendment on the floor of both chambers. President Obama had dared the Republicans to release an alternative. It's especially significant this year, because of the economic crisis. It's easy to criticize someone else's budget for taxing and spending too much. But it's a lot harder to make the tough choices.

The Republicans released their alternative budget today. Apparently it wasn't really a budget at all, but a 19 page blueprint that had basically zero details. It called for cuts in spending through weeding out "waste, fraud and abuse" which basically is budget-speak for "we don't want to cut anything politically popular." It also calls for taxes for those making above $100,000 to be cut to 25 percent. So basically, you'll cut rich people's taxes by 10 percent. Of course, those making $100,000-200,000 only currently pay slightly more than that in taxes right now. So the real cuts are for the VERY wealthy. In fairness, they would cut taxes for those making under $100,000 to 10 percent, which is the current rate paid by low income earners. As if this budget proposal wasn't absurd enough, Republican Whip Eric Cantor and ranking member of the Budget Committee Paul Ryan were angry at the House Republican Leadership for releasing their budget alternative before the budget committee Republicans could hammer out their own proposal. Talk about the low point for a political party, they are infighting on an alternative to a non-binding measure that has zero chance of passing. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Republican Party.

The actually important news today was that the Senate Budget Committee approved their version of the budget today on a party line vote. Their proposal, as we talked about yesterday, sways slightly from Obama's, but still holds true to the President's basic goals. We'll have full coverage of the budget fight next week.

THE SENATE: The Senate today passed their version of a bill to expand funding for public service programs. The bill was sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. The House and Senate will reconcile their versions of the bill in the next couple of weeks, and I assume, will send it to the President in April. The President has promised to sign the bill, and even took time to praise it in his address to Congress. The bill passed by a vote of 79-19 (it was subject to the 60 vote threshold by prior agreement). All no votes were from Republicans. Several amendments were voted on before final passage:

-An amendment to express the sense of the Senate on charitable income tax contributions. I have no idea what this was about, but it was agreed to 56-41 on a pure party line vote.

-The Republicans then offered another amendment on that same subject, and it failed by a vote of 49-48. Democrats crossing over included Bayh (IN), Boxer (CA), Hagan (NC), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE) and Webb (VA). I'll see if I can find out what the difference between these two amendments was.

-Next was a vote on a joke amendment by Clown Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, which would have prohibited any money in the bill from going to Republican Boogie Man group ACORN (they're actually community activists). The amendment was killed 53-43. Senators Byrd (WV) and Nelson (NE) were the Democratic ACORN-haters.

Other amendments were accepted by unanimous consent.

THE HOUSE: The House had a mostly quiet day. They passed a bill to increase funding authorization to fight wildfires by an overwhelming 412-3 vote. Anti-spending Reps. Flake (R-AZ), Paul (R-TX) and Sensenbrenner (R-WI) voted against the bill. Prior to passage, the House voted on various amendments, but it's getting late, and I don't want to belabor the point on this relatively minor bill.

I'll save the uber-details for the budget next week.


-Geithner's Proposal: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled a list of sweeping new financial system reforms today. As The Big Picture wisely noted, the devil is in the details. But on paper, these proposals look like a very promising attempt at changing some of the poor structures that led to the current crisis. The proposal includes six elements:

-Create a single entity for ensuring sustainability among large financial institutions
-Require that high-risk financial institutions maintain more cash on hand
-Require hedge funds to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission
-Establish a "comprehensive framework" to provide oversight on derivatives market
-Regulations to protect against rapid market withdrawals from money market accounts
-Establish a stronger resolution authority that makes it easier for the federal government to take over troublesome financial institution, the same power that the FDIC has over commercial banks.

Sounds pretty ambitious to me, but apparently Wall Street types were saying that this was "not real reform" and "low hanging fruit." Even that would be a lot better than what we've had for the last 30 years.

-The President held a digital town hall meeting today. I won't go into it too much, but for all you teenagers-at-heart out there, the President made news by saying he does not favor the legalization of marijuana.

-More importantly, the President is expected to release a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan in the next few days that will apparently include additional troop increases of 4,000, a new set of benchmarks to measure progress, and renewed diplomatic efforts. I don't want to judge the plan before I see it in its entirety, but it worries me that they seem to be doubling down on Afghanistan after sending 17,000 new troops last month. There better be a darn good diplomatic effort in store.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I wanted to address a great comment last night from someone who asked how a Senator can propose an amendment completely unrelated to an underlying bill. For some reason, it wouldn't let me post a comment in the comments section, but I figure I should address it. The commenter is exactly right. Senate rules do not restrict amendments to those that are germane to the matter at hand. The House requires all amendments to meet certain germane-ness standards. This is a very important difference in the two chambers, because Senators can bring down a bill by forcing a vote on a completely unrelated hot-button issue. Thanks for your comment!

Also, this will be the last post until next Monday's Weekly Strike, because I am traveling over the weekend. Hopefully The Big Picture will chip in. If you have questions about what's going on, write them in the comment section, and I'll ditch my friends to respond to you. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/25/09-Budget Pressure/Tomnibus/Public Service

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The fight for the budget is gearing up, with both chambers set to take up budget resolutions next week. Let's get to it.

OBAMA/SENATE DEMOCRATS MEETING: Obama met with Senate Democrats for 41 minutes today, urging them to stay true to core principals in their budget resolution. Moderates like Budget Chairman Kent Conrad have tried their best in recent days to pare down Obama's ambitious budget by making cuts in proposed discretionary spending. Obama told them that minor changes are acceptable, but the budget must contain reform in the core areas of health care, energy, education and deficit reduction. Obama friend and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin called the meeting a discussion about "what (the Democrats) stand for as a party. Why we were elected, why we want to be reelected, and [laid out the] the basics,”

It sounds like stuff some Senate Democrats really need to hear. It's not about you. It's not about your career or reputation, it's about achieving our common priorities. Obama also, cleverly, tried to create some positive polarization by demonizing Republicans. He said that the Republicans were only offering criticism because they have no alternatives. Obama is trying to associate those Democrats who question his budget with "just say no" Republicans. Very smart.

Another interesting strategy Obama seems to be taking is that he's trying to minimize the differences between his budget and the budget resolution coming from Congress. OMB Director Peter Orszag said today that the two budgets may not be identical twins, but they are brothers. It's probably a good way to keep Kent Conrad et. al. on the team, but not calling them out in public, but you don't want to give up too much to these self-appointed fiscal-watchdogs.

The budget-hawk from North Dakota still plans to eliminate Obama's signature "make work pay" tax cut, and significantly cut other areas of spending. According to Senator Schumer of New York, Obama's message was "we rise and fall together." I think this is the message I would drill into Conrad's head. The Democrats, and the country, will suffer if the Democrats let internal squabbling get in the way of delivering for the average American.

Another tidbit that came out of the meeting:

The House Democrats have included reconciliation instructions in their version of the budget resolution to deal with health care reform. Using the reconciliation process would eliminate the ability of Republicans to filibuster in the Senate, and thus would allow health reform to pass with only 50 votes. According to sources, House Democrats want to use the threat of reconciliation as a bargaining chip to get some Republicans to agree to comprehensive health care reform. Senate Democrats have not put reconciliation instructions in their version of the budget. I know that Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and ranking Republican Judd "Judas" Gregg are good friends, and Gregg has signaled stiff opposition to reconciliation. Just saying. In my mind, it's critical to at least have the threat of reconciliation, so that if Republicans won't agree on a deal, we can still pass health care reform this year. Many "principles of the process" legislators might object to using these expedited procedures. I hope that the instructions are kept in the bill during conference negotiations.

THE SENATE: The Senate continued today with consideration of the bill expanding public service program. Senators voted on two amendments today. The first was an unrelated amendment (you can do that in the Senate) to expand the borrowing power of the FDIC, authored by Republican Senator Mike Crapo. Because the amendment violated budget rules, it would have required 60 votes to pass. The amendment was rejected 49-48. All Republicans voted for it, as did Democrats Baucus (MT), Cantwell (WA), Dorgan (ND), Feingold (WI), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE) and Tester (MT). I don't know much about the amendment, but my guess is that most Democrats voted against it because it set overall caps for FDIC borrowing authority that they may have seen as too low.

The other amendment was offered by Senator Ensign of Nevada. The Senate tabled (killed) the amendment by a vote of 56-41. The amendment would "clarify that nonprofit organizations assisted under the Nonprofit Capacity Building Program include certain crisis pregnancy centers, and organizations that serve battled women or victims of rape or incest."

I don't know much about this either, but you can just sort of tell this was a proxy abortion vote by reading between the lines. Anyway, Collins and Snowe (ME) were the only Republicans voting to table, while pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, Kent Conrad (I'm getting fed up with him!) and Ben Nelson (NE) voted against killing the amendment.

The Senate also voted unanimously to approve several other amendments, like ones to expand foster care programs, special olympics funding (hint, hint Obama) and peer outreach for high school students.

The Senate will consider a few additional amendments tomorrow. Majority Leader Reid wants to pass a final version of the bill tomorrow night, but if Republicans object, Reid will file a motion to cut off debate Friday morning. Either way, the bill will be passed at some point this week, which will most likely trigger a House-Senate conference. (Side note: no way this conference convenes during the budget battle next week. National service organizations will have to wait a little while for this funding).

THE HOUSE: The House voted today (finally!) to approve the "Tomnibus" public lands bill, a collection of bills blocked in the previous Congress by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). 38 Republicans joined all by 4 Democrats in voting to send this bill to President Obama. Our good friends at CongressMatters (http://congressmatters.com/) give a good summary of the bill. It's actually more extensive in protecting public land than I originally thought. Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

The House also voted (AGAIN) to table a privileged resolution offered by Rep. Flake of Arizona that seeks to start an investigation of earmarks geared to beneficiaries of the lobbying group PMA. This is 4th time his resolution has failed. He has already filed the resolution again for a vote next week. Will it ever end?

The House votes tomorrow on a bill to authorize additional funding to fight wildfires. The House approved a rule governing debate on the bill that restricts amendments to those previously approved by the Rules Committee.

That's it for tonight. Did I miss anything? Please include in the comments section! We'd really appreciate it!


A correction from today's Daily Strike:

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was confirmed by unanimous consent today. No roll call vote will be necessary, and he'll be sworn in tomorrow or Thursday. I regret the error.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/24/09-Press Conference II

Good evening from the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. I remember this county as the one Democrats look for on election night for a huge turnout when trying to win a statewide race. For 2008, I say, thank you Cleveland!

PRESS CONFERENCE: The President gave his second prime time press conference tonight, this time to sell his $3.6 trillion budget. The President not only has to sell his budget to the American people, but also to members of his own party in Congress who are balking at increased discretionary spending. Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, who has become the biggest roadblock to the President's agenda thus far, said today that he plans to slash discretionary spending increases in the Obama budget by half. His "alternative" budget even eliminates the $400 "make work pay" tax credit. This is starting to look dangerously like the Carter and Clinton years, when the Democrats in Congress couldn't be team players because they were protecting their own interests and only looking out for themselves. I'm curious to see if Kent Conrad's prized farm subsidies are among the cuts in the budget.

Anyways, the press conference itself went reasonably well for the President. He stated that the budget and recovery are "inseparable" because it lays the foundation for secure and lasting prosperity. On the financial recovery, Obama sounded a bit more like the conciliatory candidate Obama than the fiery populist Obama some of us dream of. He stated that while he believes “The days of out sized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over," he also knows that "the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit.” It looks like Obama has been more cautious lately in his Wall Street-bashing, which may make it more likely that investors will buy into the toxic asset plan, but not more likely that the underlying problems in our economy will be taken care of.

The President showed his shrewd political side when questioned by CNN's Ed Henry on why he didn't show outrage at the AIG bonuses earlier. He told Henry that he likes to "know what he's talking about before he speaks."

Clearly, the main point of the Press Conference was to drum up public support for the budget. I don't think he hurt himself tonight in this effort. But if he can't get Kent Conrad and others on Capital Hill to be team players on his most important policy initiative, the progressive dream for America may continue to be out of reach. My suggestion to all political activists out there is to call the Senate Budget Committee office and let them know that you support the President's plan.

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT: Before you make that call, be sure to phone the office of Republican Senator Arlen Specter to voice your displeasure. Today, the Pennsylvania lawmaker announced on the Senate floor that he is withdrawing his support of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that makes it easier for workers to join a union. Specter was the only Republican who voted for EFCA in the previous Congress, and his vote was absolutely essential to break a Republican filibuster in the current Congress. Mr. Specter wants us to think that he changed his mind because of the changing conditions in the economy, but let's get real here. Pat Toomey, a former Congressman and arch conservative, is threatening to run against Specter in the Republican primary. If Specter supported this bill, he wouldn't have made it out of the primary.

This is really a huge blow to those who want to see organized labor revitalized and re-energized. Senator Specter's decision comes after intense lobbying from both labor and business, and it appears, for the moment, that business has one. As we've written about earlier, it's hardly a surprise that business is a formidable opponent. But if labor (and the rest of us progressives) don't get to work, it looks like the opportunity to pass EFCA may be slipping away.

Wow, this is turning into a depressing post.

THE SENATE: The Senate today held no roll call votes. It continues to debate amendments to the public service bill. Votes on amendments will occur throughout the day tomorrow. We'll have coverage of those tomorrow night. The Senate will also vote on the nomination of David Kris to be Assistant Attorney General. No word yet on when the Roll Call vote will come on Commerce Secretary nominee Gary Locke.

THE HOUSE: The House today dealt with non-controversial bills today under suspension of the rules. Tomorrow, the House will vote on the Senate amendments to the "Tomnibus" Public Lands bill (presumably sending it to the President's desk.) It will also begin consideration of the "FLAME" Act, a bill to authorize more money to fight wildfires.

Then, for the fifth time, the House will be forced to vote to dispose of a privileged resolution offered by Rep. Jeff Flake. The resolution calls for an investigation of members getting earmarks on behalf of embattled lobbying group PMA. When will Flake realize that he's wasting the country's time?

That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/23/09-Geithner's Big Day

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Tonight's entry will be short, because we've already covered a lot in the Weekly Strike, and the previous entry (a dialogue between The Big Picture and me).

THE NEW PLAN: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner finally had a good day today. His plan to buy toxic assets through a public-private partnership was well-received on Wall Street, with the Dow climbing almost 500 points. I'm very curious to hear the thoughts of those who blamed Obama when the stock market was going down. I assume they'll give him full credit for today's increase!

Of course we need to remember that what's good for the stock market is not necessarily good for the country. That's probably one of the top two or three lessons learned during the Bush years. Someone on the other blog mentioned the following scenario. Imagine if the government levied an extra 10 percent tax on middle class Americans and said it would direct that money to hedge fund managers. That would obviously be bad for the country. But it would be very good for the investor class. They would anticipate very high profits, and the stock-market would skyrocket. So we must remember to never interpret a rise or fall in the stock-market as any indication on the overall health of the economy.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: President Obama gave a speech today touting investments in alternative energy in the FY 2010 budget. He said that alternative energy is part of a comprehensive approach to grow the economy. The speech came on the same day that a key EPA report was released, which asserted that greenhouse gases threaten people's health. Can you imagine the Bush EPA coming out with a report like that? Another reminder that elections have consequences.

SENATE: The Senate voted moments ago to move ahead with a bill to expand national service programs. The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. I was interested to see if some Republicans would vote against this procedural motion to protest that the Senate was not considering the bonus tax bill. That doesn't seem to have been the case. The motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed was agreed to by a vote of 79-14, with all no votes coming from Republicans.

HOUSE: The House dealt today with non-controversial bills under suspension of the rules. They'll do the same tomorrow before voting on the "Tomnibus" public lands bill and FLAME Act later in the week.

That's it for tonight, I'll be writing tomorrow night from a conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Should be pretty exciting.

The Big Picture and the Strike: The Pit in Our Stomach

The Big Picture: I was really wrestling with myself on the train this morning, between trying to heed my own column of Saturday night, while also feeling pretty disappointed in Obama's banking plan, as well as his flippancy and lack of passion talking about the economic crisis and the financial bloodsuckers on 60 Minutes, and (and this is something that may merit a post) a huge disagreement I have with him about taxes. First of all, I think it's extremely disingenuous to say we shouldn't target taxes, because the tax code has literally millions of specific tax subsidies and surcharges, often ludicrous ones in fact (such as that tax subsidy to the rum industry that got the original TARP passed), and Obama just signed SCHIP, which gets ALL its money from a very targeted, punishing tax - on cigarettes. So it's highly misleading to say that we shouldn't have targeted taxation, it should only be broad - it really is very elitist: all those other taxes are fine, all the penalties people pay for being renters and various other things, and especially all those poor people smoking cigarettes, but don't come tax my million dollar bonus that I stole from average people! That's sacrosanct! Similar dynamic to contracts - which can be torn up for workers, but must be honored for bloodsucking AIG execs. And, I actually do think that a great role for taxation is to incentivize socially constructive behavior and disincentivize socially destructive behavior. I was hoping Obama would really move us in that direction. It makes me think about how there are different sides to Obama's philosophy and goals: there's the South Side/Dreams From My Father/Axelrod/Michelle side, which is populist-progressive, passionate, and then there's the University of Chicago/David Brooks/Tim Geithner side, which is detached, analytical, technocratic, the kind of side that laughs repeatedly at how funny it is, apparently, that on the one side the bankers want one thing, and on the other side the American people want another, they're so silly and immature we have to keep them in check. You don't work for the bankers or the professors, you don't have to consider their interest, the only interest that matters is the American people. Of course that may mean in this case that to save people we are forced to do some things for the bankers in the short term, but in no way is that our goal, is that who we're trying to help. He really needs to clarify that, because if that's my impression, I have to assume other people who are more economically insecure - and less enamored of Obama - feel it much stronger.

The Strike: First, I’ll say that I’m in complete agreement with you on the tax argument. That’s the reason liberals cringed when Bush talked about “simplifying the tax code.” It’s a great way to reward good behavior and discourage bad behavior. In fact, it’s an incredibly integral policy tool of democratic government. It’s the best way to control people’s behavior without being directly involved in their lives. Also, as I wrote the other day, every time we’ve tried to take ANY step to curb the excesses of rampant capitalism, the Wall Street “financial analysts” tell us that it will cause economic ruin. Why the hell would we ever listen to them again? And, it’s not even targeting one group. It’s targeting people making more than $250,000 whose companies took federal bailout money in excess of $5 billion. In other words, rich people who don’t deserve the money they’ve earned.

I think Obama fundamentally understands that, because his budget proposal reflects those views. Raising taxes on capital gains, cutting taxes on working families and small businesses, punishing big polluters. I think he’s listening too much to his cautious “University of Chicago” advisers on this bonus tax.

However, I think you need to heed your own advice on that 60 Minutes interview. You know in your heart that he cares far more about the American people than bankers. It’s also a very “John Kyl/Lamar Alexander grasping at straws” criticism about him laughing on 60 minutes last night. He needs to keep himself centered. One thing that you mentioned, that’s incredibly important, is that he maintains his cool and doesn’t govern through anger, but with policies that deliver for the American people. It’s sometimes frustrating to see him take the long view, but he has to do it.

For the two comparisons you’ve given in the past:

It must have been incredibly frustrating for the black radicals to see Martin Luther King Jr. meeting with Lyndon Johnson at the White House, and talking about loving his “white brothers and sisters,” because they were justifiably angry. But ultimately, the MLK/John Lewis did so much more to further the interest of civil rights in the long term.

John Edwards talked a good game about being a populist moral crusader, but he had a hedge fund, and was a philanderer.

Obama will continue to frustrate us with his effort to seek consensus and moderation on some policies. In fact, it will go beyond frustrating us, he will definitely make some policy mistakes, especially if he doesn’t keep the Geithners in check. But you have to have some faith not only that he knows what he’s doing, but that he has the right values.

The Big Picture: You're right about the core values and how it's absurdly missing the forest for the trees to question who Obama stands for. But, I still say there's a couple problems. While I would not say, based on the budget and what I know of his character, that Obama is too pro-banker, there is the concern that on an issue he doesn't know that much about, like the banking crisis, he gives in too much to the Tom Friedman/David Brooks "what do the really smart people think?" views. I think there's a tension there, because Obama at core has a healthy distrust of the "best and the brightest" as he said on 60 Minutes. The commentators we take most seriously have been saying their biggest concern with Obama is that in the realm of finance and banking, he's relying far too much on the insiders, the old hands. Obama chose, and is listening to, people like Geithner and Summers, and it is difficult to believe that Geithner and Summers will ever break free of the "restore business as usual on Wall Street" mindset when they are so much of that culture. It's part of that elite Washington-Manhattan consensus that the most powerful high-credentialed figures are the only serious ones, even when they screw up massively, and never admit the full extent of their errors.

The other big problem is messaging. People are very concerned that all those elites in Washington and New York don't really care about them, they're still looking out for their own interests even as they pretend to care, and that it's all sort of a big game to those people. I firmly believe that Obama's biggest political priority has to be set himself up against that crowd and that attitude as staunchly as possible, to show that he's not an insider at all, but an outsider, of the people, helping them. He doesn't have to be angry or call people out, but he does need to act like a) he really cares about ordinary people, and b) he is in no way part of the Morning Joe "let's laugh about all these huge problems that we're not addressing" culture. He had a great opportunity on national television to show his core values, how this stuff really does bother him, how he's here to clean up this mess - maybe we'll have to do some uncomfortable things, but this is about saving people's livelihoods, this is about saving the country, this is dead serious. We know Obama can and often has struck that tone about these issues. He also did strike that tone in the very same interview, when talking about Dick Cheney, in the most sincerely angry and intense I have ever seen Obama. He needs to show more of that side when talking about the banking crisis. That's where I agree with Maureen Dowd's column from Sunday, when she was saying we need Michelle and her staunchness, her "this is what we're going to do" attitude, as she said about pulling out the weeds in the White House garden: "Everyone, including the President, is going to participate - whether they like it or not." That seriousness of purpose, refusal to accept excuses, is what the American people are looking for.

The Strike: I’m worried less about the messaging than I am about the policy. I just can’t fathom that Barack Obama would ever suffer from being perceived as “too inside the beltway” or part of the Washington/New York elite. Polling shows that people overwhelmingly believe that he understands their problems. People like Bush said they were Washington outsiders, but it was obvious that they weren’t. Only the far right wing has ever called Obama elitist, and I think you and I both know what they are ACTUALLY referring to.

I think you are right on in terms of banking. My worry is that the banking crisis is Obama’s Vietnam. It’s an issue he doesn’t want to have to think about, but he’s been thrust into the middle of it and doesn’t want to be seen as not addressing the problem. So, he’s letting “the best and the brightest” take care of things. These people are so consumed with the conventional wisdom and the old way of doing things, that they are actually a huge part of the problem. The difference is that there was a much easier moral answer for Vietnam: get out. There’s no answer like that for the banking crisis. We need to do something, but nobody quite knows what the right answer is.

The other major difference is that Lyndon Johnson had huge underlying character flaws that corrupted his decision-making. He was very insecure and wanted himself and the Democratic party to be seen as “strong.” I don’t see those character flaws with Obama.

The Big Picture: That is definitely the fear that it will be Vietnam - although Afghanistan may compete for that dubious honor. Heart-wrenching watching Obama say his toughest decision was to send troops to Afghanistan. Especially when he said they decided it before they finished their strategic review! That's very Vietnam/Iraq-esque. Really disturbing. I very much agree that Obama lacks those character flaws, deep insecurities, that brought down Johnson and others, BUT there may be some of that with the military, needing to shore up his rep with the tough guys in there, because he didn't serve and he ran as anti-war candidate.

The Strike: You may be right and that makes me feel a real pit in my stomach.

The Big Picture: The reason it causes a pit in our stomach is that our faith in Obama is what's keeping us from really freaking out at the realistic prospect of a deep global recession and all the misery that would cause, and unwinnable wars that sap our lives, resources, and national morale. That faith is rooted in our conviction that a) despite surface appearances to the contrary, Obama is motivated by values and a long-term vision that is deeply right and necessary, and b) Obama makes his decisions based on an extraordinarily reasoned and perceptive analysis of the best move for the achievement of that long-term vision, and not based on personal insecurities, irrational fears or wishful thinking. Anything that makes us question those basic assumptions gives us a pit in our stomach because it shakes the very core of the faith that is keeping us from freaking out.

The Weekly Strike-3/23-3/29

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview another busy week in Washington.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The White House has probably already had its most important event of the week. At 8:45 this morning, Tim Geithner briefed reporters on the administration's plan to buy up toxic assets as part of a public-private partnership. Geithner's previous attempt to articulate his banking plan was a total air ball, so today's announcement carries extra weight. If the market tanks this morning, every Republican in the country, as well as every mainstream political commentator, will be gunning for Geithner's head again. Geithner outlined the basic tenets of the plan in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Basically it works like this:

-A public-private coalition (the federal government + some private firms) will purchase real-estate related loans (read: subprime mortgages). Banks will have the opportunity to sell groups of these loans to dedicated funds. Investors will then bid to buy these loans, taking advantage of the favorable financing from the government. The funds established in this program will be unique because a) they'll have the resources of capital from the treasury and financing from the FDIC and federal reserve, b) the private companies will share the risk (and potential profit) with the taxpayers and c) these funds will be open to all different types of investors.

Is it just me, or does this sound like exactly the types of transactions that got us in trouble in the first place? Where's the wealth going to come from in this scenario? As Paul Krugman said, we're just throwing money at trash right now. I'm no financial analyst, but I have serious doubts about taking an approach, that (again, in the words of Krugman, who I trust more than anyone on these issues) represents what the Bush administration tried and failed. The plan, Krugman notes, would only worked if we believed that the only problem with our financial system was lack of confidence. In this alternate universe, these "troubled assets" are actually worth a lot, but on one has enough confidence to take a risk on them. It seems pretty clear that assets are actually NOT worth anything, and this plan is just an extension of the bubble market Obama himself has criticized. The Big Picture reminds us that Paul Krugman has doubted Obama from the beginning. But, you can still count me as a skeptic.

So far the market likes it, it's up 250 points this morning. Problem solved, right?

The other big task for the White House this week is to drum up grassroots support for the President's budget. Next week, the House will take up a non-binding budget resolution that sets spending targets for the next fiscal year. The Democratic House will likely use Obama's budget proposal as the basic blueprint of the resolution, with some changes here and there. Senate Budget Committee Chairman, budget-hawk Kent Conrad, has said he wants to cut about $28 billion from the President's blueprint in the Senate version of the budget resolution.

If he can't change Conrad's mind directly, hopefully he can get the American people to apply some pressure. The President holds another prime time news conference tomorrow night. Obama will try as much as he can to focus on his budget proposal, but you can bet the media will want to ask him about AIG and the banking plan. Stay tuned.

THE SENATE: The Senate this week will take up a bill expanding public service jobs to 250,000. The bill passed the House two weeks ago with overwhelming bipartisan support. The first vote will be this evening, on a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed. This is a test vote to see whether Democrats can get to the magic 60 on the underlying bill. I'm almost certain that they will. The bill in the Senate is sponsored by Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican Orrin Hatch. I expect a series of amendments to be voted on tomorrow and Wednesday, with final passage later in the week.

The more interesting work this week will be when the Senate takes up a revised version of the House-passed bill that imposes a 90 percent tax on bonuses to bailed-out companies. Many Republican Senators have expressed constitutional concerns about the bill, and they may have an unlikely ally. Last night on 60 Minutes, President Obama implied that he had doubts about the bill. He said that he would rather not use the tax code to punish particular companies (The Big Picture and the Strike write about this in the next post). I expect some version of this bill to pass the Senate by the end of the week. This would trigger a House-Senate conference, which could become pretty contentious. I expect the Senate bill to be a watered-down version of the House bill. Seems like the Founding Fathers would approve: The House reflects the angry whims of the public and passes a far-reaching bill, and the Senate takes the longer view and tempers the bill down. Obama may secretly hope that the Senate Republicans kill the bill so that he doesn't have to issue an unpopular veto. I can't bring myself to believe that Obama would veto this if it came to his desk, but that remains to be seen.

THE HOUSE: The House has a bit of a calm-before-the-storm week. After dealing with various suspension bills today and tomorrow, the House will vote on Senate amendments to the "Tomnibus" public lands bill. This is a bill comprised of various measures blocked in the previous Congress by Senator Tom Coburn. The Senate attached this bill as a rider to an unrelated House-passed bill. This way, the House can vote directly on the Senate amendment, and doesn't have to worry about poison pill amendments (special rules generally prohibit amendments or motions to recommit when the House votes on Senate amendments to a bill).

The House will then consider the brilliantly-acronymed FLAME Act (Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act). The bill adds supplemental funding to efforts to protect against the spread of wildfires. I assume this bill will pass rather easily. You can bet, though, that the Republicans will complain vociferously that the House is taking up a wildfires bill during an economic crisis.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section! See you tonight for the Daily Strike!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/22/09-Tick Tick Tick

Sunday is a great day in politics, because the talk shows give us the pulse of some of Washington's major players. This Sunday was even better, because we got to watch a full interview with the President himself. Welcome to the Daily Strike!

60 MINUTES: The President is one of the few politicians in America that only benefits from increased media exposure. In my view, he always comes off well after a one-on-one interview. Today's interview with Steve Kroft on 60 minutes was no exception. In between sweet moments when the President talked about his daughter's new play structure and his daily routine, Obama made several news-worthy comments.

First, the President expressed full confidence in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He said that he would keep Geithner in his job even if the secretary wanted to resign. I think that was an important vote of confidence before perhaps the biggest day of Geithner's tenure, when he unveils the new government plan to buy toxic assets. More on that later.

The President also said that the economy still risks systemic failure that could cause a Great Depression. He expressed confidence that this would not happen. At least if it does, he can say that he saw it coming.

Obama also sharply rebuked former Vice President Cheney's assertion that the President's actions have made the country less safe. Obama rightly pointed out that zero terrorists have been brought to justice under the system implemented by the Bush administration. He also talked about how our actions have fueled the fire of anti-American sentiment abroad. The Strike and The Big Picture were saying this stuff in 2001, and back then, it was considered a pretty radical view of foreign policy in the post-9/11 world. It's sometimes still hard to believe that the President of the United States holds these views.

TALK SHOW BASHING: The biggest story of the Sunday talk shows was the high stakes budget-bashing by two prominent Republican Senators. Judd Gregg, the Republican Senator from New Hampshire and former Obama Commerce Secretary nominee, said that the President's budget would bankrupt America. I was trying to think of a real world equivalent of Judd Gregg. Imagine a girl asks a guy out, and the guy is totally smitten and agrees. The girl is a devout Christian, and the guy is an atheist. After a few dates, the guy tells the girl that even though he had a great time, he just can't get beyond their philosophical differences. Then, the guy goes around a trashes the girl to his friends, calls her nasty names, and writes about how horrible she is in the school newspaper. To me, that guy is Judd Gregg. Putting aside the personal betrayal, I can't understand how Judd Gregg can be making that argument. In the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, we have no choice but to spend some money. Yes, we're going to accumulate deficits in the short-run. But if we invest in job creation, that will be the best way to create real wealth, which in turn will increase tax revenues. What is Judd Gregg's alternative? Cutting taxes? That will "bankrupt" us just as much. Not do anything? The recession lasts even longer and tax revenues continue to remain stagnant.

The other commentary today came from Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). He said that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may not be the man for the job, and also predicted that our national debt will swell to $20 trillion. That's twice what it is now. No word on how he arrived at that number.

From the administration side, Economic Council Chair (and frequent Sunday optimist) says she is confident that the economy will recover in the next year and that everything the administration is "working." Doesn't quite seem to be the story Obama told us on 60 minutes. It's possible that Romer is more cheery than her boss. More likely, the administration wants someone out there expressing confidence in the economy to ease the fears of investors, but doesn't want Obama himself on record saying the economy will soon recover.

Tomorrow morning, Treasury Secretary Geithner will unveil the administration's plan to buy back toxic assets. The plan calls for the government to join private companies in in funds that will "provide a market for the legacy loans and securities that currently burden the financial system." I'm not exactly sure how this plan is supposed to work, but the economists I trust most (Paul Krugman) seem to think it's a disaster. Oh, Geithner.

Join us tomorrow for the Weekly Strike, our preview of the week in politics. Also, make sure you read the great Big Picture entry below.

The Big Picture: Perspective from the Real World

I've been out in Chicago for the last couple days, and as has consistently happened when I step outside of the world of the Strike and I constantly reading articles and sending them to each other and generally getting too carried away in the daily tizzy of media politicos, time in the real world restores my sense of perspective. It means realizing once again the primacy of the Three Big Truths - deep concern about the economy, disgust with Bush and the Republican Party, and hope and faith in Barack Obama. These three truths are so much important than the ups and downs of the daily or weekly news cycle. I know I sound like a broken record repeating this, but those Three Big Truths dominate the landscape, and they won't be relinquishing that position for a long, long time. For the political operatives, reporters, and commentators, a long time is one week. To these types, the two months since the Inauguration are an eternity, the national euphoria of that weekend a relic of some bygone era. But it is extremely important to remember that the sense of time is completely different for most people in America.

Though the blogs and the cable news channels track winners and losers daily, people's political opinions shift at a glacial speed, taking years and even decades to change in any significant way. High-speed technology has drastically sped up the cycles of opinions of the hyper-well-informed (the Picturette and Lady Strike might say "obsessed"), but they didn't speed up political realignments, just as all the fanciest technology hasn't been able to replace the central power of door-to-door, face-to-face organizing at creating political change. This is why it is extraordinarily premature to declare any sort of end to Obama's honeymoon, or a "backlash" to big government.

The key word in poltical change is inertia. Like a gigantic boulder, it takes a great deal of force to set change in motion. But once the change is in motion, pebbles and bushes and even trees in the way can't stop the inertia of the boulder in motion. The combination of the massive public rejection of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party, the economic crisis causing tremendous terror and insecurity and a desperate search for solutions, and the rise of Barack Obama as the man who embodies everything we're looking for, and is the opposite of everything we're rejecting - this combination was powerful enough to get the boulder to start rolling, to break from the basic alignment, power dynamics, and spectrum of debate that had prevailed for 30-40 years in the Reagan Era. These earthshattering, realigning events of the past 4 years are in the process of seriously realigning American politics, of the way Americans view their government and their society, and you can really sense that in both the quantitative evidence of polls and elections, and the qualititative evidence of personal observations and conversations as well as reading lots and lots of newspaper articles. People's basic political guideposts - which really only shift in a politically significant way every three or four decades - are in serious flux, or as the Strike and I like to say, churn. The story of the day or week may slightly alter the speed or direction of that change, but they're not stopping the avalanche.

Out here in Chicago we did a little tour of the Obama rise, from the South Side neighborhoods where Michelle grew up and Barack worked as an organizer, to his big house in Hyde Park, to the deli Manny's where his top adviser David Axelrod plotted his strategy to turn a longshot nobody into a Senator and a President, to Grant Park where he celebrated his stunning and historic victory. People often speak of Obama's rise as meteoric, but it is very instructive to be reminded that Obama did not rise to the Presidency overnight, with one big step, but rather with decades of steady work. In the same way, as Obama likes to remind us, we did not fall us into this crisis in a month, or a year, or even a decade, but over the course of many decades. Obama is too gracious and politically shrewd to add this, but I will: not only did we take decades to fall into this ditch, but the very same people, institutions, and ideologies who drove us in are still there, still powerful, still smugly, self-righteously standing in the way of progress.

The takeaway is both pessimistic and optimistic. I am sobered when I realize that, even with the stunning political realignment set in motion by the Three Big Truths, we as a nation and a world are in deep trouble, we're not going to get out of it to a brighter day soon, and there will be many frustrations and setbacks along the way. However, I still feel optimistic. The epochal churn unleashed by the Three Big Truths is real, not a product of my wildest dreams, and in fact it's a lot more real than the daily coverage on TV and the internet. I am even more optimistic when I consider the career of Barack Obama. To a casual observer, Obama's talent and appeal is his ability to deliver thrilling moments, to sweep people up, to create unprecedented excitement. But in fact, as my Chicago trip has reminded me, Obama's greatest strength is his day-after-day solid consistency. His communication skills and effortless cool have been great complementary pieces, but the most impressive and superhuman aspect of Obama is his ability to stay steady, to keep disciplined, to stick to the goal and accomplish that goal, even as he can entertain doubts and opposing points of view and adjust to circumstances and new ideas. To sum it up, he gets things done, big things, seemingly impossible things. Looking back at his rise we remember the thrills of primary nights and convention speeches, but he didn't come from way behind to take down the Clinton campaign because of a few good nights. We remember the gushing celebrity endorsements and media hype, but he did not win because of that. He won because day in and day out he stayed steady and solid, his organization accomplished what they needed to. In the dark days when they were way behind, they never got discouraged, and during a week where the media ran wild, they adjusted and re-calibrated but never panicked, they weathered the storm, kept their heads.

So when there's a tough day or a tough week, when the media is on his back, remember that all of them wrote him off many many times, finding countless "obvious" reasons he could never win. When the powerful politicians in both parties tell him that he's not going to accomplish his goals, remember that almost of all of them endorsed someone else, and thought Obama could never come close to challenging Hillary, let alone beat her and then win the Presidency. Six years ago, this guy was an unknown black state senator from Chicago named Barack Hussein Obama, when the two big national enemies were Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, who had publicly opposed a war that 2/3 of Americans supported, who had been humiliatingly crushed in his last political campaign, living in a country with no black Senators, where racial polarization and fear of big cities had powered a Reagan era that showed no signs of receding. Now that guy is President of the United States.

Times have changed. They're not changing back. And if I were a politician or a media commentator, I would think long and hard before I EVER underestimated Barack Obama.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/21/09-The Budget Springs Eternal

Good Saturday night and welcome to the first entry in the Spring. Tonight's entry will be quick.

RECONCILIATION INSTRUCTIONS: George Stephanopolous of ABC News had a very interesting tidbit yesterday on how the administration and Congress plan to move their signature health and energy reforms through Congress. Because each of these issues are particularly controversial, it will be very difficult to find 60 votes in the Senate to break a Republican filibuster, unless the bills become watered down. The Democrats have been exploring the idea of using the reconciliation procedures. We talked about this before, but reconciliation is an expedited procedural tool for considering bills that change overall revenue levels. The way it works is that the majority party will include "reconciliation instructions" in the annual non-binding budget resolution (which should be coming up for a vote in the next couple of weeks) that instructs specific committees to bring mandatory spending levels in line with pre-set limits. Once the committees make the required cuts, the bill is considered and voted on in each house of Congress. The reconciliation process was created to make it easier for Congress to do necessary, but politically unpopular things (like raise taxes or cut spending). Fortunately, it's also possible to use reconciliation instructions to raise revenue or lower taxes. Bush used the reconciliation process to get his tax cuts through Congress in 2001.

The question for the Obama administration is whether to use the reconciliation procedure to pass health care reform or energy legislation. The "Byrd Rule" (named after Senator Robert Byrd) forbid the reconciliation process for being used on bills that don't change overall revenue levels, and it also forbids the reconciliation process if the bill produces "a change in outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision."

I'm not sure whether these two measures would satisfy that second requirement, but let's say it does. On the one hand, it would seem like Democrats would be stupid not to use the reconciliation process. They only have 58 votes in the Senate, so if they used reconciliation, they could even lose a few moderates and get universal health care and cap and trade. A couple of problems have arisen that complicate this problem. First, there are some Democratic Senators who are "morally" against using reconciliation (especially for cap and trade) because they don't want to shut Republicans out of the legislative process. Additionally, Republicans would not be in the mood to compromise on other important legislation if they get steamrolled by the reconciliation process. In my view, these concerns are very "inside baseball." These problems are too important for us to be worrying about hurting the Republicans' feelings. If reconciliation is the best way to get the bills done, use it. If it's not, don't use it.

Anyways, the report yesterday indicated that Democrats will not use reconciliation for cap and trade, but might use for health care. Nate Silver had a very good analysis of this. During an economic downturn, people have much less desire to protect the environment. Any threat of a temporary increase in energy prices is scary for people who are living paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, an economic downturn makes me people much more interested in comprehensive health reform. A free public option sounds a lot better when you're forking over thousands of dollars a month on health care bills and prescription drugs. According to the ABC News report, Democrats will try and come up with a comprehensive health care proposal that appeals to some Republicans. In this environment, when even big business seems interested in reform, it's not entirely out of the question. However, Democrats should reserve the option of using the reconciliation process. At the very least, the threat of the reconciliation procedure might make it more likely for Republicans to compromise.

Anyways, we'll find out exactly what Democrats decide to do when they release their budget proposal next week.

That's it for tonight. Stay tuned tomorrow when we'll talk about the Treasury's new plan to buy out toxic assets.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/20/09-Gearing Up for a Budget Fight/Botched Joke/Final AIG Remarks

Good Friday evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Washington had a very quiet day today, which was very refreshing after a week of yapping about those AIG bonuses. Let's get to it.

TONIGHT SHOW: The President went on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night, and besides his extremely off-color joke about the Special Olympics, he seemed to do quite well. He notably stood up for his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who is under a lot of pressure from members of both parties. He also showed that he can walk and chew gum at the same time. All of these ridiculous Republican attack lines about how he shouldn't be on Leno during an economic crisis don't properly understand the role of the President. Should FDR have stopped doing those fireside chats?

I have to say, his quip about the Special Olympics was really horrible. The usually measured President cracked that his bowling skills were like "the Special Olympics." I'm glad he apologized, and I'm sure the story will be overblown by his critics, but there's no excuse for saying something like that on National TV.

The one person who has absolutely no credibility to criticize him on this issue is good old Sarah Palin. But America's favorite hockey mom wasted no time expressing her outrage at Obama's remarks, noting her son's Down Syndrome. This, of course, came on the same day that Governor Palin turned down Federal stimulus money to help struggling people in her state, including increased benefits for the disabled.

SCARY DEFICIT: The Congressional Budget office today released its own estimate of the projected federal deficit under President Obama's budget proposal, and it is $1.6 trillion higher than the administration's estimates. OMB Director Peter Orszag claims that the discrepancy comes from different views on how much the economy will recover over the next few years. The administration always projects a lower estimated deficit than the OMB, but this discrepancy is pretty large. Orszag said that the new projections won't change Obama's ambitious proposals for health care reform, cap-and-trade, and education legislation for this year.

The Republicans, of course, pounced on the budget numbers to argue that the budget wasn't fiscally responsible. The irony is that it would be far more fiscally irresponsible to CONSTRAIN spending right now. Almost every economist agrees that there is a huge shortage of consumer demand. Our actual output is about $1.2 trillion below our potential output. Private companies don't have the money right now to invest. The only entity that can make up this deficit in consumer demand is the government. I know this will be a difficult argument to make for two reasons. One, it's counter intuitive to think it's fiscally responsible to spend more. Second, the mainstream media (like the editorial pages in the Washington Post and New York Times) are obsessed with deficit reduction. Only someone with communications skills like Obama can make that case to the American people, and you can bet that he will try.

PELOSI'S LETTER: Speaking of the budget, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a very encouraging letter to her members today asking them to be foot soldiers for Obama's budget. It's good to see the Democrats play as a team for once. Pelosi is asking members to hold at least one event during the upcoming April recess to highlight either:

-economic recovery and the budget blueprint
-strengthening the economy with affordable health care
-Creating clean energy jobs and reducing global warming

I'm very happy that the Speaker sent out this letter. Obama can't be the only one sticking his neck out there for the ambitious budget. Democrats need to stop complaining about this or that provision and this or that parliamentary procedure and start making the case to the American people that we need bold change.

LAST THOUGHTS ON AIG: On the way to work this morning, I was reading the editorial in the Washington Post slamming the House-passed measure to tax bonuses from companies receiving federal bailouts at 90 percent. They interviewed all these "financial analysts" from Wall Street who were saying that this populist outrage is dangerous, and that this plan will cause financial ruin. They're argument was that most workers in financial services receive the bulk of their payments in yearly bonuses, which are based on incentives and company profits. For a second there, the Post almost got me. They almost got me to believe that maybe Washington leaders were acting in haste. But then I thought about it, and I realized just how absurd this editorial was. First of all, bonuses would only be taxed on workers making more than $250,000 per year, so those people would be doing just fine. Second, and most importantly, it's been 30 years that we've let the financial services industry tell us that every regulation will ruin the economy. Even under the Clinton administration, we've had Wall Street hands come into the White House, and do everything they can to eliminate "burdensome" rules that they say will constrain "their ability to create wealth." I'm at the point where I'm never going to listen to these types of arguments again. They're undoing of federal regulations created this mess in the first place.

That's it for this evening. See you tomorrow!