Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/5/09-Big Day in DC

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. A very busy day in the Capital, so let's get to it.

SENATE: The Senate has postponed a vote to close off debate on the omnibus appropriations bill until early next week. Majority Leader Reid just announced that he is one vote shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate. The few Republicans who otherwise support the underlying bill apparently wanted to let some of their colleagues offer additional amendments, so they are refusing to end debate. What's enormously frustrating is that if one of the "reform-minded" Democrats would at least vote to cut off debate, we could dispose of this bill and move on to other pressing business. It looks like there will now be votes on Republican amendments Monday night, with final passage slated for sometime Tuesday.

Since the bill temporarily funding government agencies expires tomorrow, both Houses of Congress will have to pass another stopgap measure through next Tuesday. I expect both Houses to do so by unanimous consent.

So far, every amendment has been rejected, meaning that the bill can be directly sent to President Obama. Don't expect a big signing ceremony for this piece of legislation. For one, it was full of earmarks, which the Republicans had a field day with. Two, Obama is far more concerned about his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2010, which will begin it's Congressional journey later this month. But our government is funded, at about $20 billion more than it would have been if George W. Bush had accepted the Democratic spending bills last year. They can squawk all they want about earmarks, but the omnibus bill makes important investments in key areas, like health care and education.

Let's get to today's failed amendments on the bill:

-The first was offered by Senator Wicker (R-MS). This amendment would have forbid money from going going to the United Nations Population Fund if it would go to coercive abortion or forced sterilization. Another proxy vote on the abortion issue, and more proof that the Senate has a pro-choice majority. The amendment failed 55-39. All Democrats voted no except for Senators Bayh (IN), Casey (PA) (he interestingly only votes against the party-line on abortion), and Nelson (NE). Republicans voting yes: The stimulus trio! (Collins and Snowe of Maine, and Specter (PA)).

-Next was amendment offered by Senator Murkowski of Alaska, which had something to do with the repromulgation of final rules relating to polar bears. I have no real idea what this means, but it failed, so we don't have to worry about it. The only Democrats to vote yes were Murkowski's Alaska colleague Mark Begich, and Nelson (NE). No Republicans voted in the negative.

-The next amendment was right out of the old Republican playbook of attacking the United Nations. Offered by Senator Inhofe (R-OK), the amendment would prohibit the U.S. from sending any federal dollars to the United Nations if the UN were to impose any tax on America. I have never heard of any such proposal. Have you? Amazingly, the amendment only failed 51-43. Democrats Bayh (IN), Dorgan (ND) and Nelson (NE) joined every Republican in voting for the proposal.

-Next was an amendment by Senator Thune (R-SD) that would have given money to an emergency health and safety fund for American Indians. The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated 68-26, seemlingly because it took money away from other programs in the bill. Thune's South Dakota colleague, Senator Tim Johnson, was the only Democrat who joined 25 Republicans in supporting the amendment. The amendment would have required 60 votes anyway, because it violated budget rules.

-The final amendment, offered by Senator Kyl (R-AZ) would have forbid the government from contracting with any company who has business with Iran's energy sector. The amendment failed 53-41. Democrats voting for it included Senators Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI), Lieberman (CT) (a big Iran-hater), Nelson (FL) and Nelson (NE). Republicans Corker (TN) and Lugar (IN) voted no.

In other circumstances, it's possible that the Senate would have approved of some of these amendments. In this case, however, Democrats were intent on finishing the bill as quickly as possible, and the addition of these amendments would have required the bill to be returned to the House.

The Senate next week will likely consider the housing legislation just passed in the House of Representatives. Speaking of which...

HOUSE: The House of Representatives passed a bill today to allow bankruptcy judges to renegotiate the terms of mortgages, otherwise known as "the cramdown bill". The bill had been modified after some centrist Democrats made objections late last week. The centrists won a key concession, a provision that requires homeowners to first work for a voluntary loan modification through a lender before declaring bankruptcy. The compromise was made into a substitute amendment offered by Rep. Lofgren of California. The amendment passed 263-164 with all Democrats and 10 Republicans voting in the affirmative. Republican defectors: Castle (DE), Diaz-Balart (FL) and his brother (FL), Foxx (NC), Jones (NC), Lance (NJ), McHugh (NY) Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Turner (OH) and Upton (MI). Looks like it's hard to toe the party line when you're from high foreclosure states like Michigan, Florida and Ohio.

The House then moved onto a couple of other amendments. The first was offered by Tom Price, Republican of Georgia. It would have forbid any federal money from going to borrowers who lied about their income to obtain loans, as well as to lenders who misled borrowers about the terms of loans. The amendment failed on a very close 218-211 vote. 37 Democrats joined every Republican in voting for it. I won't write out the full list, you can find it on the Blue Dog Democrats' website (basically). The House also approved an amendment offered by freshman Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan. I'm not quite sure what this amendment was about, but it apparently wasn't too controversial, as it passed 423-2.

The Republicans then offered a motion to recommit which would have replaced the whole bill with a Republican alternative that did not include the "cramdown" provision. The motion failed 242-182, with 8 Democrats joined all Republicans in voting yes. The crossover Democrats: Barrow (GA), Bright (AL), Childers (MS), Donnelly (IN), Marshall (GA), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID) and Teague (NM).

The underlying bill passed 234-191. 34 Democrats voted against the bill, while seven brave Republicans voted for it. Those Republicans were Castle (DE), the Diaz Balart's (FL), Jones (NC), McHugh (NY), Ros-Lehtinen (FL), and Turner (OH). Similar to the Lofgren amendment vote. The Democrats, again, were mostly conservative "Blue Dog" members.

WHITE HOUSE HEALTH CARE SUMMIT: Today, President Obama held a health care summit at the White House with all stakeholders, including insurers, providers, consumers and members of Congress. The participants spent a couple of hours in different discussion groups, before participating in a question and answer session with the President. Usually these meetings are more for show, to make everyone feel involved in the process. The most interesting part of today's meeting was the presence of ailing Senator Ted Kennedy, who despite his health, promised to be a foot solider in the reform effort.

Obama offered few specifics, but it seemed from watching some of the breakout discussions, that a large coalition of groups would support requiring citizens to purchase coverage. The Democrats in Congress have indicated that they hope to move on a comprehensive health reform bill later this spring.

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