Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/4/09-Omnibus

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Another busy day in the United States Senate on the omnibus appropriations bill. Let's get to it.

SENATE: The Senate is still working on the bill to fund the federal government through September. Republicans have been offering a ton of amendments, and so far, none of them have succeeded. Majority Leader Reid has filed cloture on the bill, meaning that the Senate will vote Friday morning (most likely) whether to end debate and proceed to final passage (the motion will be, of course, subject to a 60 vote threshold).

There are a few issues that make the next couple of days a bit of a mystery. Apparently House Speaker Pelosi does not want the Senate to send the bill back to the House with amendments, because her members have already had to take tough votes against a huge spending package chalked full of earmarks. Therefore, Senate Democrats have incentive to defeat every Republican amendment, so that they can pass the House bill, unamended, and send it to the President. To get cloture, the Democrats would need to pick off a few Republicans (assuming Ted Kennedy can't come back and vote). There are a bunch of Republicans on the Appropriations Committee who look as if they'll vote for the bill, because they don't want to vote against money to their states that they've fought so hard for. The problem is that there are a few "reform-minded" Democrats (Feingold (WI), McCaskill (MO) and Bayh (IN)) who have indicated that they won't vote for the bill. Both Senators Nelson (of Nebraska and Florida) have indicated that they are undecided. Assuming all of those Democrats vote against cloture, that would leave Leader Reid with 52 votes, and he would thus need 8 Republicans to cross over. That's going to be a challenge.

There's also the question of urgency. If the bill is not passed by Friday, the Congress will have to pass another temporary stop-gap funding measure until they can reach a deal. With Obama's 2010 budget on the horizon, the Democrats do not want this process to extend much longer. I bet there will be some serious arm-twisting to get these "reformers" to at least vote for cloture, if not for the underlying bill.

Now to today's rejected amendments. It was mostly what we like to call a Coburn-athon, which means that the Senate easily disposed of amendments offered by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. Absent Senators today included Kennedy, Mike Johanns (R-NE) who just went through surgery and Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

-The first amendment would have required that all government funding be subject to a competitive bidding process. The amendment failed 57-38. Democrats Bayh (IN), Hagan (NC), Klobuchar (MN), McCaskill (MO), Warner (VA) and Webb (WA) joined 32 Republicans in supporting the amendment. Klobuchar, Hagan and Warner have been pretty reliable Democratic votes so far. My guess is that they knew the amendment was gonna fail anyway, so why not say you voted for competitive bidding?

-The second amendment was a bit of snide trickery from Mr. Coburn. Last year Coburn put a hold on a bill to authorize the justice department to prosecute old Civil Rights cases. Coburn had expressed concern about spending money on this project. Democrats scoffed at the suggestion, and Coburn relented and let the bill come up for a vote. This amendment would have diverted funding from other programs, and put it into the justice department for civil rights cases. I guess he thought that if Democrats cared so much about this program, why not make them give up some other funding for it? Democrats did not take the bait, and they defeated the amendment 58-37. Senator McCaskill joined 36 Republicans voting for the amendment (she's really into this reformer thing). Every other Democrat voted no, as did Repbulicans Gregg (NH), Murkowski (AK), and Snowe (ME).

-The third amendment would have struck almost all earmarks out of the bill. That's a tough thing to vote against, right? Apparently not. A lot of Senators still realize that they were elected to help their consitutuents. The amendment failed 61-34.

Democrats voting yes: Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI), Nelson (FL), Udall (CO). Where was the mavericky McCaskill on this one???

Republicans voting no: Alexander (TN), Bennett (UT), Bond (MO), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Shelby (AL), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA) and Voinovich (OH). I guess we know which Republicans still want to keep their earmarks.

-The final vote was on an amendment that would cut $10 million in earmarks to clients of the lobbyist group PMA, which is currently under federal investigation for bribery. The amendment was defeated 52-43. Democrats Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (FL) joined most Republicans in supporting the amendment. Republicans Specter (PA) and Voinovich (OH) voted no.

The Senate will vote on 6 more amendments tomorrow before the cloture vote. Stay tuned.

HOUSE: The House was still in a holding pattern today as it works out final details on a revised housing package that would allow bankruptcy judges the ability to renegotiate the terms of a mortgage. Expect a vote on that bill tomorrow.

One other House-related item: Yesterday, the voters of Illinois' 5th District voted in a primary to determine the candidates vying for White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's former seat. Democrat Mike Quigley beat out a pretty crowded field on the Democratic side. The seat is so overwhelmingly Democratic that Quigley will almost certainly be the next Congressman from Illinois after the general election on April 7th.

OTHER ITEMS: The White House has a relatively quiet day. This morning, Obama had a press conference announcing $40 billion in budget savings from cutting government waste. The President's former rival John McCain attended the event. The idea was probably to show that Obama still cares about fiscal responsibility even as he proposes a $3.6 billion budget.

Also, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to a joint session of Congress. He mentioned that ailing Senator Ted Kennedy would be receiving an honorary knighthood from her majesty, the Queen. That makes me very happy. I can't imagine this country without the policy contributions of Ted Kennedy.

That's it for today. We would love to hear some of your comments. Don't be shy!

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