Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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.


  1. Serve America Act: I expect it would be passed without problem, but what I don't expect is that more than 40 republicans said no - much more than I expected. They could argue whatever they want, one way the other, while they said yes to the national service bill. Shall I say sneaky?

    By the way, it's interesting to learn that Pelosi cast her vote (I believe House Speaker only votes on key bills, right?). Anyway, glad it's on the way for President Obama's signature ceremony.

    Suspension Bills: I took a quick look at the House's Roll Call Votes site as I'm curious what exactly on today's suspension bills. Judging from the vote results and the nature, it looks like today's suspension bills are not that controversial. But for that "Congressional Clerkship Program" there were 42 republicans said no. How about "Dextromethorphan Distribution Act of 2009?" What gives? hmmm.

    Judd Gregg: Making a political statement is one thing, but his amendment lacks of logical basis. Did he even mention any figures to support his amendment on the floor?


  2. Hey, thanks for the great comments. Amazingly, even more than 40 Republicans said no, it was actually more like 140! I think a lot of their opposition comes from the fact that they fear primary challenges from the right in their district, and feel like they might be vulnerable if they support any aspect of the Obama agenda.

    You are correct that the Speaker only votes on important bills (or at least bills that are personally important to her). I guess she cares a lot about public service.

    You are also astute in your analysis of the suspension bills. The reason 42 Republicans voted against the clerkship bill (and a lot of other seemingly non-controverisal suspension bills) is because the conservative "Republican Study Committee" analyzes every bill to determine whether it constitutes an "expansion of government." Their members will almost always opposed any bill of this nature. Because the clerkship bill probably authorized a very small amount of spending, it technically does "expand the size of government." That's some serious group-think for you.

    As for Gregg, I don't know what the logical basis would be for this amendment. I understand trying to bring down the debt in the long run, but you can't just pick an arbitrary number because it's "cool" or "ironic." A more serious amendment is being proposed today (I believe by Senator Johanns of Nebraska) that says that the debt cannot rise above a certain percentage of GDP. That makes slightly more sense, because at least he is taking inflation into account.

    Thanks for your great comments!

  3. And I didn't mean to say thanks for your great comments twice, haha.