Monday, March 9, 2009

The Weekly Strike-3/9-3/15

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview a busy week in politics. Obviously, the backdrop this week will be the rapidly deteriorating economy. With the public deeply concerned about declining output, rising unemployment and a stock market spiraling out of control, policy makers, especially the administration, is under intense pressure to figure out a solution to this mess. Unfortunately, nothing in Congress' schedule really addreses these issues head-on. Let's take a look at what's going on.

SENATE: The Senate will try to (finally) complete work on the omnibus spending bill in the next couple of days. The stopgap funding measure passed last Friday expires on Wednesday, so the Senate must act by then. Before the Senate votes to cut off debate (which is the effective vote for passage), it will have to deal with an additional 13 Republican amendments. None of these amendments seem to me to be particularly germane. Republican supporters of the bill last week refused to cut off debate unless the amendments were considered, so they will slowly slog through these. Votes on amendments will begin today at 5:30 with a vote on the Ensign (R-NV) amendment, which restores funding to the controversial program that gives poor DC students vouchers to attend private schools. Other amendments include measures dealing with Iran, Gaza, and the Republicans favorite irrelevant topic, the Fairness Doctrine. Democrats will do their very best to defeat each of these amendments, so that they don't have to send the bill back to the House. The leadership is eager to finish this bill as quickly as possible. The bill is not popular (because of its supposed large number of earmarks), and represents nine of last year's spending bills, so I think members want Obama to sign this and never speak of it again. The vote on cloture (to cut off debate) is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow (I have my doubts). This vote, of course, is subject to the 60-vote threshold.

I'm not sure where the Senate moves after it finishes this bill, but it might be to consideration of the House-passed mortgage cram down bill.

HOUSE: The House this week starts, as usual, with votes on non-controversial measures under suspension of the rules. On Tuesday or Wednesday, the House will take up a bill authorizing funding to prevent water pollution. The bill has a couple of Republican co-sponsors, so I expect it to pass relatively easily. Most Republicans will undoubtedly vote no, because they're against funding pretty much anything at this point, but who cares? Have fun in the minority!

The House also might take up the DC Voting rights bill, if it can work out issues relating to a Senate rider dealing with the DC's gun control laws. Republicans and some conservative Democrats want to add an amendment to the bill giving DC voting representation in the U.S. House that would repeal District gun ban. Democratic leaders know that if the amendment were offered, it would pass easily, because so many members want to retain those coveted A ratings from the NRA. Therefore, Democratic leaders would have to craft a rule governing debate that does not allow for amendments. Of course, then the NRA would "score" the vote on the rule, meaning the rule itself would probably not pass. If the gun provision is inserted into the bill, it's possible that enough liberal Democrats would join Republicans in voting against the bill. One possible solution is to let the amendment pass, and see if they can strip the gun provision out in a conference negotiations. A vote on a conference report is not subject to amendments. (The NRA, though, would certainly score the conference report vote itself, meaning the bill may not pass). Let's see how Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer get out of this jam.

WHITE HOUSE: The White House has another busy week on tap. Today, the President will sign an executive order lifting Bush administration restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. In 2001, Bush signed an order limiting research to stem cells that had already been discovered. Scientists say that the restrictions have inhibited their ability to discover cures to various diseases. The President will also use the occasion to make a general statement on the administration's belief in "science."

The Republican line is that the President is trying to distract the country from his socialistic economic plans by dealing with a popular (but, they feel, irrelevant) issue. Indeed, this is low hanging fruit for the President. Stem cell research is quite popular, and he probably does want to divert the country's attention away from the sagging economy. Then again, stem cell research not only has the potential to save millions of lives, it also could create new jobs in an emerging industry.

The President tomorrow gives a speech in DC to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I expect him to use the opportunity to explain how his economic program effects the Latino population, but also to push back against his critics in front of a crucial constituency.

On Thursday, Obama holds an implementation meeting with Vice President Biden on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This blogger can attest to its progress: The Strike received $20 more in his paycheck last week!

Let me know if you have any questions about the upcoming week in politics. See you tonight for the Daily Strike.

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