Monday, March 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-3/9/09-Stem Cells/Signing Statments/Omnibus Update

Hello and welcome to The Daily Strike. Even though the Dow sank to another 12-year low, the economy wasn't really on the agenda today in Washington.

WHITE HOUSE: President Obama took too important, and symbolic, actions today at the White House. The first was an executive order overturning the Bush administration's ban on embryonic stem cell research on stem lines that were discovered after August 9th, 2001. Obama announced the reversal surrounded by lawmakers of both parties, including Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (UT) and Arlen Specter (PA), and Representatives Mike Castle (DE) and Dave Reichert (WA). (maybe he can get some of these guys to vote with him once in awhile!). President Obama also used the occasion to assert his belief in using scientific evidence as a base for his policy decisions.

Praise of the President's decision poured in from various people, most notably former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who became an advocate of stem cell research after her husband's bout with Alzheimer's. There was criticism from those in the pro-life community, who say that stem cell research can start a slippery slope that could lead to human cloning and increased abortion. (Obama vowed that he would issue strict rules against human cloning). Congressional Republicans, like whiner-in-chief Minority Whip Eric Cantor criticized the President from "distracting us from the economy." Thank you, party of "drill, baby, drill" and Terri Schiavo.

Obama's decision is a wise one. He doesn't want to get too deep into the culture wars, but he does want to hold true to his campaign promises. Stem cell research is supported by the public, and is not as much of a lightning rod for the opposition as abortion or gay rights.

Obama's other big move today was to issue a directive voiding many of the so-called "signing statements" issued by President Bush. Bush would often sign bills, but include a statement nullifying various provisions within them. Obama hasn't pledged to do away with signing statements, only to make them more rare and "transparent." He claims that he will only issue signing statements when he feels that a provision is in violation of the constitution. Bush administration officials today claimed that Obama wasn't actually doing anything different by announcing this policies. Some civil liberties groups have questioned whether he goes far enough. I'll be interested to see whether Obama's signing statement policy proves to be different from his predecessor.

SENATE: The Senate today considered and rejected another slew of Republican amendments to the omnibus appropriations bill. This seemingly never-ending process may come to an end tomorrow evening. Senator Reid has filed cloture, meaning he has moved to cut off debate on the bill. The Senate will vote on the cloture motion tomorrow evening, and if it prevails, the bill will be passed and sent to the President (assuming it isn't amended any further). Democrats have pretty much stayed united (with some notable exceptions) in defeating Republican amendments, because they want to dispose of this bill as quickly as possible without having to reconcile the amendments with the previously-passed House version. Let's go over today's amendment votes:

-The first amendment was offered by the tenacious Senator McCain. It had to do with (guess what??) earmarks. The amendment would have eliminated earmarks in the bill that are printed in the "bill report," but not the bill itself. Basically, most earmarks aren't actually written into legislation, but are appropriated as written in various Congressional reports. I'm not sure exactly why this is. Anyway, the amendment was defeated 63-32. Earmark crusading Democrats Bayh (IN) and McCaskill (MO) joined 30 Republicans in voting yes. Republicans Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Roberts (KS), Shelby (AL), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA) and Wicker (MS) apparently are the earmark-loving Republicans.

-The next vote was an amendment offered by Senator Kyl of Arizona. The amendment would have mandated a state department study as to whether counter-smuggling efforts along the Egypt-Gaza border have been successful. Opponents claimed that this would send the wrong message to our allies in Egypt. The amendment was defeated 61-34. Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and Nelson (NE) voted yes (not sure if these earmark-fighters realized that this amendment had nothing to do with spending). I guess they enjoy this "maverick" stuff. Either that or they want this bill to be derailed. Republicans Bond (MO), Cochran (MS), Corker (TN), Gregg (NH), Lugar (IN), Voinovich (OH) and Wicker (MS) voted no.

-Next was another amendment offered by Senator Kyl, which would have prohibited any U.S. taxpayer funds being given to reconstruction efforts in the Gaza strip will not be given to Hamas, or entity controlled by Hamas. In other circumstances, this amendment probably would have passed. No one wants be seen as helping Hamas. But the Democrats, again, are hell bent on stopping amendments. The amendment failed 56-39. Democrats Casey (PA), Feingold (WI), Klobuchar (MN), Lieberman (CT-returning to his hawkish ways!!), Nelson (FL) and Nelson (NE) voted in the affirmative. Republicans Cochran (MS), Corker (TN), Gregg (NH), Lugar (IN) and Voinovich (OH) voted no. Looks like Senators Cochran, Corker and Voinovich are among those who want the bill to be passed as soon as possible, because they're voting against amendments that they would probably be otherwise voting for.

-The final amendment was offered by Senator Enzi of Wyoming. Last year, a study came out that showed the areas that were most effected by the spread of HIV/AIDS. Accordingly, Democrats adjusted funding formulas to divert more federal dollars into these high risk areas. As expected, small state Senators, like Mr. Enzi, were not happy with these changes. The amendment would have allocated funding more evenly based on the old formula. The amendment failed, thankfully, 53-42. Democrats Carper (DE), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE) and Nelson (FL) voted aye. I can only guess that these Senators' states were among those who are losing out under the new funding formula. No Republicans voted in the negative.

The Democrats have only four more amendments to defeat tomorrow before they can get this bill over with. We'll keep you posted on those amendments tomorrow.

HOUSE: The House today passed a series of non-controversial measures today under suspension of the rules. The most interesting of these votes was on a measure to set up a commission to implement various government activities celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. Amazingly, 19 Representatives voted no. Republicans Ron Paul (TX) and Jeff Flake (AZ) vote against almost anything that could potentially cost money, so that didn't surprise me so much. What did surprise me was the cohones of 17 Democrats who voted NOT to set up a commission to honor the 40th President. The list: Cohen (TN), Edwards (MD), Filner (CA), Fudge (OH), Hinchey (NY), Hirono (HI), Johnson (GA), EB Johnson (TX), Lee (CA), McDermott (WA), G. Miller (CA), Nadler (NY), Oberstar (MN), Olver (MA), Payne (NJ), Slaughter (NY) and Woolsey (CA). Grayson (FL) voted "present." These are basically the most liberal members of Congress. After all, how many more opportunities will they get to express their disapproval of Ronald Reagan?

For all you Reagan-lovers out there who think that is a low-blow, how about these 11 Republicans who voted against, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that providing breakfast in schools through the National School Breakfast Program has a positive impact on classroom performance:" Akin (MO), Broun (GA), Campbell (CA), Chaffetz (UT), Duncan (TN), Flake (AZ), King (IA), Lummis (WY), Paul (TX), Poe (TX) and Shaddegg (AZ). I guess these clowns are so ideologically against entitlement programs that they won't support a non-binding measure approving of federal school breakfast programs. Ladies and gentleman, your 2009 Republican Party.

After that long entry, we're finally done tonight. See you tomorrow!

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