Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/19/09-Outrage Redux

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The story again today was the outrage and political posturing about the bonuses to AIG. Let's get to the day in politics.

THE HOUSE: This, frankly, was a pretty shameful day in the United States House of Representatives. The Democratic leadership, facing the populist firestorm surrounding AIG, decided to bring a bill to the floor that would tax bonuses to companies receiving federal money at 90%. The taxes would only apply to employees making over $250,000 per year in salary. I have several complaints about what transpired today, and let's start with the party that at least somewhat acts like adults, the Democratic Party.

In the debate over the economic stimulus bill, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe inserted an amendment that would bar bonuses to executives of companies receiving federal bailout money. The bill went into conference with the House, and the conference report mysteriously limited that measure only to companies who received bailout money after February 11th. Apparently, the Treasury Secretary, the embattled Timothy Geithner, requested that the provision be modified because he was worried about the AIG bonuses being subjected to lawsuits (because they were binding contracts). Christopher Dodd, the equally embattled chair of the Senate Banking committee, followed through on Geithner's request. Both houses of Congress voted on the final version of the stimulus bill the next day, meaning that most members probably had no idea that this provision had been removed from the bill.

Tim Geithner is on thin ice, as far as I'm concerned. Why did he make this request in the first place? Did he not understand the political consequences? Why did Dodd first lie about his involvement in this? These are important questions, and they have to be answered.

Furthermore, Democrats seem to be participating in destructive circular firing squad. House Democrats said they didn't know anything about this provision, Dodd is blaming the Treasury, and the Treasury, until today, had blamed Dodd. The only person who took any responsibility (until today) was President Obama. Somebody, besides Obama, needs to man up and take some responsibility. I suggest Dodd and Geithner.

Unfortunately, there is not a viable opposition party that can respectfully raise these questions, but also work in a bipartisan way to get a bill passed. What we saw today from the Republican party in the House of Representatives was really painful to watch. All of the sudden, the party that prides itself on deregulation, the party that has spent 30 years telling us that Government should not meddle in the business world, the party whose leader last Month said that there shouldn't be limits of executive compensation, has decided that it is a party of populist crusaders.

The Republicans completely exploited this story to score cheap political points. Every Republican on the House floor, instead of actually debating the substance of the bill, mentioned that "Democrats took the provision out of the bill!!!!" Each member gave the same exact speech. They feigned anger, not at AIG, but at the Democrats. They talked about how they're petty complaints about not having enough time to read the stimulus bill had been vindicated. They were acting like children. What's worse is that we heard mostly from a cast of characters who come to the House floor daily acting like little brats. In case you're wondering who they are:

Rep. Tom Price of Georgia
Rep. Ted Poe of Texas
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida
Rep. Virginia Foxx 0f North Carolina
Rep. Pence of Indiana

The party, according to almost every poll, is seen as doing things mostly for political reasons. And it gets worse. Today at a Senate Republican press conference, Senators Alexander and Kyl were complaining that Obama was wasting the country's time filling out his NCAA brackets and appearing on Jay Leno. Seriously? As the Big Picture said, they're just throwing things at the wall to see if anything sticks. Weren't they just the ones criticizing him for trying to do too much?

Also, Republicans know darn well that they would have voted against the stimulus bill whether this provision was in it or not. They know darn well that members rarely ever read entire bills. They know darn well that their OWN version of the stimulus didn't include any restrictions on executive pay. To me, they are extraordinarily disingenuous.

I'm not saying that the Democrats have not tried to score cheap political points in the past. Remember when we made all that hay about the Dubai ports deal a few years ago? I just don't think I've ever seen political hackery reach this level, especially when there are serious challenges facing the country.

The funniest part about all of this is that almost half of the House Republican Conference supported the bill. The Democrats brought up the bill under expedited procedures that require a 2/3rds vote. They did this so that the Republicans wouldn't have an opportunity to propose amendments. The Democrats first had to pass a special rule, since votes under suspension of the rules (the expedited procedures) are usually only allowed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Republicans once again pushed to "defeat the previous question" so that the House could debate their version of the bill. What was their version of the bill, you ask? It basically requires the Treasury Secretary to get the money back. Brilliant.

The Democrats ordered the previous question, which allowed for consideration of the bill. All Republicans voted against the previous question, as did 8 Democrats. On the bill itself, 87 Republicans joined all but 6 Democrats in voting yes. Many of those Republicans had railed against the bill as a "political cover-up" but couldn't vote against punishing AIG when push came to shove. The Democratic renegades: Bean (IL), Kissell (NC), McMahon (NY), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ) and Snyder (AR). These are mostly Blue Dog Democrats. McMahon represents Staten Island, so I'm guessing some bonus recipients probably live in his district.

The House also voted on a "sense of Congress" disapproving of AIG's action. I don't understand what the point of this bill was. The bill was non-binding, but failed to garner the 2/3rds necessary vote anyway. Republicans voted against it (all but 12 of them at least) because the first sentence said something like "President Obama has taken all of the right actions."

The House also tabled another privileged resolution offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ) that would start an investigation of pay-to-play activities around members of Congress and the lobbying group PMA. This is the third time the resolution has been killed.

Let's hope the House can be a little more serious next week.

THE SENATE: The Senate today finished work on the "Tomnibus" Public Lands bill (look at our previous entries to figure out what this is). First, the Senate killed two additional Coburn amendments. The first amendment would have required federal agencies to determine the quantity of land owned by that agency, and what it costs to the taxpayer. The amendment was tabled 58-39. The vote was strictly on party lines, with the exception of Republican Mel Martinez (who voted to table) and Democrat Claire McCaskill (who voted against the motion to table). I'm not quite sure why Democrats would have opposed this amendment, but knowing Senator Coburn's track record, there's probably a good reason to be suspicious of his intent on this one.

Next, the Senate tabled an amendment to prohibit any funding authorized in this bill to be used for earmarks (surprise, surprise). The Senate still loves its earmarks. It voted to kill the amendment 70-27. All no votes were from Republicans, except reformer all-stars Bayh (IN) and Feingold (WI).

The Senate also accepted a silly amendment that would prohibit unfair penalties for collecting "insignificant rocks" from National Parks. Did Coburn get caught or something?

The final bill was passed 77-20 (it need 60 votes). All no votes were Republicans. The bill now goes back to the House where it will be considered without amendment. President Obama should sign this legislation next week.

The Senate also voted to confirm Elena Kagen as Solicitor General by a vote of 61-31. I'm willing to guess that those no votes had to do with abortion. The only Republicans voting in the affirmative were Collins (ME), Hatch (UT), Kyl (AZ-wow, he's usually hard right), Lugar (IN) and Snowe (ME).

Next week, the Senate will take up the public service bill recently approved in the House. It will also vote on the nomination of Gary Locke for Secretary of Commerce. Locke was voted out of committee unanimously today.

SO FAR AWAY: Meanwhile, the President was probably very happy to be far away from Washington and the whole AIG mess today. He started the day by touring an electric vehicle plant in Orange County, CA. He then held an eventful townhall meeting with a star-studded guest list. Governor Scwhwarzenegger, one of the few Republican governors out there who is eager to get his hands on stimulus money, introduced the President. Los Angeles mayor (and possible gubernatorial candidate) Antonio Villagiarosa was in attendance, as was Secretary of Labor (and former Southern California Congresswoman) Hilda Solis. It looks like Arnold is on the bandwagon. Check out this gushing quote, courtesy of

“But I think he’s so smart,” he said. “He’s so clear with his thinking and he’s so well informed and has been dealing with policy in all this and is also very philosophic it’s almost like. I think he’s just like – I think it’s beautiful.”

The town hall meeting was focused on the economy, but perhaps the most interested question came from an 8-year-old kid who asked Obama what he would do to help public schools. The President talked about measures in the stimulus package to keep teachers in place and increase school construction. What a contrast from the childish antics from Capitol Hill.

Thanks very much to those who offered comments yesterday. We really appreciate it. Please let us know your views.

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