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 ( 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!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like a stupid question, but I think FDIC borrowing power and national service are totally different issues. Does that mean in Senator, one can insert any "unrelated amendment" in the bill, debate, and then vote on it? Any rules relate to bringing up "unrelated amendment" in the Senate?