Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/10/09-Omnibus Done At Last

Good Tuesday evening and welcome to the Daily Strike! Besides the introduction of EFCA, which we talked about in the previous post (READ IT!), it was another busy day in Washington. Let's get to it.

SENATE: The Senate at long last has approved the omnibus appropriations bill and will send it to President Obama for his signature. The bill, as I've probably mentioned ten times, combines 9 of last year's funding bills and will fund the federal government through September 30th. Democrats succeeded in defeating every Republican amendment. Therefore, House Democrats won't have to approve any changes. One particularly difficult amendment was offered by Senator Vitter of Louisiana, which we'll discuss later.

The motion to cut off debate on the bill was agreed to by a vote of 62-35. Republicans voting yes included Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Cochran (MS) (he's the ranking member of the appropriations committee), Murkowski (AK), Shelby (AL), Snowe (ME) and Specter (PA). This is pretty much the moderate contingency of the Republican caucus. The exceptions are Cochran and Shelby, who are southern Senators known to enjoy bringing home the bacon. Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO) voted no. All three of these Senators had expressed displeasure with the amount of earmarks in the bill. Two Senators, Bob Menendez (NJ) and Bill Nelson (FL) had previously been opposed to the bill because of a provision easing trade relations with Cuba. After the Treasury Department convinced them that the policy wasn't really changing all that much, they decided to support the bill.

Following the vote on cloture, the bill was agreed to by voice vote. (Side note, after a cloture vote, there is rarely ever an actual vote on final passage. This is because you've just shown that the bill has more than enough votes (at least 60) to pass, so why bother? The only exception are instances in which Senators agree to cut off debate, but still wish to vote against the underlying bill).

Let's add to the endless list of failed Republican amendments. Remember, Republican Senators knew these amendments would not be agreed to. Democratic leaders had made sure that they had enough votes to defeat each of them. The point of forcing votes on these amendments was simply to get Democratic Senators on record against popular things. This is what the minority does, Democrat or Republican. It really, though, seems like a huge waste of time during an economic crisis.

-The first amendment was offered by Republican Senator Cornyn of Texas. The amendment would have prevented public interest lawyers from collecting "excessive" contingency legal fees. This amendment gave Republicans an opportunity to vote against their least favorite people: trial lawyers. The amendment failed by a vote of 64-32. Republican Senators Bennett (UT), Crapo (ID), Graham (SC), Martinez (FL), Risch (ID), Shelby (AL) and Specter (PA) joined every Democrat in opposition. I don't think I've ever seen Risch or Crapo go against the party line, so there must be a lot of public interest lawyers in Idaho or something.

-Next was another amendment by Cowboy Cornyn to "prohibit the use of funds to implement an Executive Order relating to employee notice of rights under Federal labor laws." I'm not exactly sure what this is referring to, but I believe it must be one of Obama's recent executive orders requiring the National Labor Relations Board to notify employees of their rights. Republicans don't want to use government money for this purpose, apparently. Let's just say this doesn't bode well for the chances of a bipartisan Employee Free Choice Act. The amendment failed 59-38. Senators Specter (PA) and Voinovich (OH) joined all Democrats in voting no. I have a feeling that this could be a good indicator for the final vote on EFCA. Senator Voinovich is retiring at the end of this term, and his state has been hard hit economically. Maybe he's found his inner working-man.

-Next was another stupid vote on the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." The Senate has now voted twice in the past two weeks on the Republican's favorite wedge issue. The amendment to last week's DC voting rights bill was adopted. The amendment would prohibit funding to the Federal Communications Commission to implement the Fairness Doctrine. The doctrine, which was abolished in 1987, requires equal time for all political viewpoints on TV and radio. Democrats had a tough time holding together on this one, but they were able to defeat the amendment by a narrow 50-47 margin. Senators Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Feingold (WI), Nelson (NE), Udall (CO) and Webb (VA) joined all Republicans in voting yes.

-The next amendment, offered by Senator Sessions of Alabama, would have extended the pilot program known as "E-Verify" by 6 years. The program helps employers confirm an employee's citizenship. It is thus very popular among the anti-immigrant fringe of the Republican party. This is another one of those amendments that probably would have passed if it were a stand-alone measure. As it was, the amendment was tabled (killed) 50-47. Democrats voting against tabling the amendment were Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Klobuchar, McCaskill (MO) (she's not a fan of illegal immigration), Nelson (NE), Tester, and Webb (VA). All Republicans voted against killing the amendment (i.e. they supported the amendment).

-How many more "gotcha" amendments do we have to go through? Just two. The next was an amendment by Senator Ensign of Nevada that would fully fund the DC School Vouchers program. This program, created by Republicans as a "test-case" for school vouchers, allows for low income students to be given money to attend private schools. For policy reasons, it doesn't make much sense at all. Why invest money to send 1,000 kids to private school instead of investing money to improve public schools for the other 100,000? I do have some sympathy, however, for those who want to maintain funding for the program not that it is already in place. I would hate to see a kid have to leave his or her school just because Congress ended the program. I would rather see it go away gradually. Anyways, the amendment failed 58-39. Democrats Byrd (WV), Lieberman (CT) (remember how he supported vouchers in his 2000 campaign for Vice President?) and Warner (VA). Republicans Crapo (ID), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Specter (PA) voted no.

-Finally, the Senate voted on an amendment offered by Senator Vitter that would have stopped automatic pay increases for members of Congress. First off, it's hard to take Senator Vitter seriously. This is the guy who got busted for sleeping with the so-called "DC Madam." Secondly, proposing this amendment was a particularly cynical thing to do. If this amendment had passed, the bill would have had to go back to the House, and the entire measure would have been in jeopardy. For that reason, Senator Reid offered to consider the amendment as a separate bill. Senator Vitter rejected this offer, showing that he only wanted to vote on the amendment for political purposes. Luckily, enough Democrats (and some Republicans) understood Vitter's motive, and the amendment was tabled (killed) 52-45. Republicans Cochran (MS), Gregg (NH), Lugar (IN), Martinez (FL) and Wicker (MS) voted to table. Some Democrats couldn't take the heat for voting to raise their own pay. These included Bayh (IN), Dodd (CT) (this vote shows how much trouble he may be in at home), Feingold (WI), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Webb (VA) and Wyden (OR).

The Senate will spend the next couple of days considering nominations. We'll have more on that tomorrow night.

OBAMA: The President gave a speech today at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce outlining some of the goals for his education policies. One of these is a proposal to institute merit pay for good teachers, which is not popular with the unions. It may be that Obama is trying to gain some "centrist" credibility by going against the unions now before he risks enormous amounts of political capital for them with the Employee Free Choice Act.

A couple other notes from the White House:

-National Intelligence Coordinator nominee Chas Freeman has withdrawn his nomination because some Senators expressed concern about his previous work with Saudi Arabia and his views on Israel.

-Also, Speaker Pelosi indicated that the House would be open to considering a 2nd stimulus package. This would obviously be very difficult politically. But with consumer demand still sagging, it might be necessary to keep the economy afloat.

HOUSE: Finally, the House voted today on a bunch of non-controversial bills under suspension of the rules. They'll take up a water pollution bill tomorrow, and we'll talk more about it then.

See you tomorrow night!

OBAMA: The President today

No comments:

Post a Comment