Monday, March 30, 2009

The Weekly Strike-3/30-4/5

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Many thanks to the Big Picture for pinch-hitting while I was gone. Also, thanks to those who left comments, especially the one that defended my traveling activities! Please write some comments this week! We will feature the best one on Friday's Daily Strike. A very big week in politics coming up, so let's get to it. There will be two stories dominating the news this week, the budget battle in Congress and President Obama's trip abroad for the G20 summit. We'll make sure you are well-informed on both.

THE HOUSE: The House, having been in a holding pattern for a few weeks, has a packed schedule. Starting today, the House will consider a long slew of suspension bills. Interestingly, the Senate amendments to the public service bill will be coming up under suspension of the rules, meaning it will need a 2/3rds majority to pass. This bill, as we've talked about, would expand funding for public service programs. The House passed its version with about 300 votes. If that majority holds for the vote on the Senate amendments to the bill, President Obama should be receiving a copy for his signature by Friday. Usually, the House does not take up bills of this much substance under these expedited procedures, but since the House already agreed to the underlying bill, and with it's schedule packed for the remainder of the week, it looks like the leadership wanted to get this done as quickly as possible. I'm curious to see whether some Republicans vote against the bill because they object to using these expedited procedures. If enough of them bolt, the House would have to pass a special rule and consider the bill later in the week.

After dealing with 23 suspension bills, the House will move to consideration of a measure setting out funding for various Congressional Committees. I don't expect this to be too controversial, although some Republicans may take exception with increased funding for Congressional committee activity during a recession. Next, the House will take up another bill dealing with executive compensation. This bill would amend last year's bailout legislation to forbid companies receiving TARP money from giving out "unreasonable and excessive" executive compensation packages. What's interesting about this bill is that it doesn't define what is "unreasonable and excessive," but rather leaves that determination to the Treasury Secretary. That's quite a responsibility for Mr. Geithner, and seems like a pretty significant ceding of power to the executive branch.

Finally, of course, the House will deal with the budget resolution which sets non-binding spending targets for Fiscal Year 2010. I read through the bill last night and a couple of things stood out to me. First, a lot of the President's priorities have been set aside under "reserve funds" meaning that spending will be determined by legislation down the line. For example, the resolution gives only vague suggestions on what a health reform would look like, but sets a side a ton of money to deal with it. The other interesting thing I noticed were the reconciliation instructions embedded in the budget. (Reconciliation instructions, if you're new to the blog, instruct committees to bring spending to pre-set levels. Reconciliation bills are not subject to a filibuster in the Senate, meaning the bill would only need 50 votes to pass). The section heading under reconciliation reads "health care reform" but the instructions only call for the committees of jurisdiction to "reduce spending so that the deficit decreases by $1 billion over 10 years." Now, in the context of the full federal budget, $1 billion is basically nothing, so it's clear that these instructions have little to do with decreasing the deficit. Instead, this seems to be a tool to get around possible procedural hurdles. Because of the so-called "Byrd Rule," all reconciliation legislation has to create changes in either revenues or outlays. Basically, the House Energy and Commerce committee, which deals with most health care legislation, could come up with a comprehensive health care plan, which spends a lot now, but saves $1 billion in the long run, and they will have fulfilled the reconciliation instructions. Of course, the resolution could have instructed the committee to spend more money, and thus increase the deficit, but in this case, the Democrats can enact health reform and even look like they're saving money in the process!

The Republicans will have a chance to amend the bill, most likely by offering a substitute budget. Let's hope it contains actual numbers when it comes to the floor.

The Senate version of the bill does not include reconciliation instructions, so Democratic leaders in both chambers will have to wrangle over whether to include the controversial fast-track procedure in a conference committee. After the House is does with the budget bill, it will go on a one week Easter recess.

SENATE: The Senate begins consideration of it's own budget resolution this evening. I expect the Republicans to propose a series of amendments, which should drag out the process until late Thursday or Friday. Because the Democrats have a commanding 58-41 majority, I don't think many of their amendments have a chance of passing. The resolution itself is not subject to the filibuster, so unless 8 Democrats abandon their own party's budget blueprint, the resolution will be agreed to. I expect a few defections from moderate deficit-hawks, but not enough to derail the bill.

I'm pretty sure that since the budget resolutions are ambitious in pursuing a broad progressive agenda, they will receive zero Republican votes in either the House or Senate. We'll make sure you are up-to-date on all the budget details as the week continues.

THE PRESIDENT: Before leaving for a very important international trip (the first overseas journey of his Presidency), President Obama will hold a press conference this morning to discuss the auto industry bailouts. The President will get tough with both GM and Chrysler. He has already pushed out GM CEO Rick Wagoner, who announced his resignation yesterday. These two companies have requested an additional $17 billion in bailout money, on top of the money President Bush gave them last November. As part of last year's bailout, the companies were required to submit restructuring plans by the end of this month. Obama is going to reject these plans, because both car makers have failed to prove their viability. GM will be given some money for 60 days, and it will be instructed to come up with a better plan to stay solvent. If that fails, they'll probably be on their own and will have to declare bankruptcy. In Chrysler's case, the government is giving them 30 days to complete an expected merger with European company FIAT. If the merger goes down, the government will pay $6 billion to help with the transition. If not, Chrysler too will be allowed to fail.

President Obama seems to be setting much tougher conditions for bailout money to automakers than he is to financial firms. Part of it is that the financial companies have more resources to effectively lobby Congress and the administration. The other part of it is that the failure of financial institutions would be more harmful to the national economy. It still bothers me that the Federal government holds these companies in such contempt. The workers at these companies have already been forced to give up some of their benefits, and in my view, it's imperative that we don't let the backbone of our manufacturing sector fall by the wayside.

The President will also sign the "Tomnibus" public lands bill into law today at a small White House ceremony. He will travel to London for the G20 conference tomorrow morning, and make stops in Strasbourg, France (for the NATO summit); Prague; Ankara, Turkey and Istanbul (he will be fulfilling a promise to give a major address in a Muslim nation). I'm very curious to see how the President is received overseas. We very well may be reminded this week of one of the major consequences of Obama's election: the return of goodwill and respect from the international community. We'll give you comprehensive coverage and analysis from each of his stops on this week-long journey. The G20 summit, which brings together leaders from the top 20 industrial countries, will mostly discuss the global economy, but is also expected to deal with other issues like climate change.

Be sure to tune in tonight for the Daily Strike. Leave comments!

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