THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama had his first full cabinet meeting this morning at the White House. The only missing member, as we noted earlier, was HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius who is expected to be confirmed some time in the next week. Obama touted the $100 million in spending cuts he's instructed agencies to take in the coming weeks. Republicans mocked the President (and rightly so) for touting cuts that amount to a minuscule percentage of the federal budget. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the President by saying he "sending a message." Gibbs scoffed at the notion that $100 million wasn't a lot of money by telling CBS' Chip Reid that "only in Washington is that not a lot of money." That is just totally dishonest. In fact, I heard George W. Bush use the same line. It ISN'T a lot of money, and we shouldn't mislead the American people into thinking that it is. Furthermore, we should be focusing on reviving the economy and creating jobs rather than capitulating to the "reasonable centrists" in Congress with tiny agency budget cuts.
The President ventured this afternoon to the CIA headquarters this afternoon to address the rank and file. He thanked them for their service in helping to protect the American people. He also said that he understood that they sometimes act with one hand tied behind their backs. The United States operates under the rule of law, unlike our enemies, and thus we don't do certain things that may make intelligence gathering easier. Over the long term, Obama said, we will defeat our enemies because we're on the better side of history. The President is still is facing harsh criticism for releasing CIA torture memos last week. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said that Obama "overstepped his bounds." The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond (R-MO), said Obama's decision undermines the CIA intelligence-gathering process. In this case, I'm fully on the President's side. As I said yesterday, most of this information was already known, and the American people have the right to know about it.
This wasn't the only criticism leveled at the President today. Two of the least popular and most maligned politicians in the country, Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney, said that Obama is emboldening our enemies by shaking Hugo Chavez's hand. If I had a nickel for every time these two hacks have said similarly ludicrous things, I would be...um....very wealthy.
CONGRESS: Hooray! Congress is officially back in session. At least one branch, that is. The Senate returned this afternoon to vote on three assistant attorney general nominees, and to cut off debate on ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill. All three justice department nominees were confirmed:
-Tony West by a vote of 82-4. Dissenting Republicans were Bunning (KY), Chambliss (GA), Isakson (GA) and Shelby (AL). What did he do to the state of Georgia?
-Lanny Breuer by a vote of 88-0.
-Christine Varney by a vote of 87-1. Bunning (KY) was the lone dissenter.
Hill's nomination was just advanced moments ago by a vote of 73-17. All opposition was from Republicans, who stalled his nomination because of his past work as ambassador to North Korea.
The House is back in session tomorrow. Two important developments happened today off the floor. First, budget committee staffers in both chambers say that conferees could be named this week to reconcile that House and Senate versions of the budget resolutions. Once the conferees are appointed, the conference will take place. The major sticking point will be on whether to include fast-track "reconciliation" procedure to make it easier to pass health care reform. Reconciliation, for those of you new to the blog, is a special procedure that calls for committees to adjust mandatory spending to pre-set levels. A reconciliation bill is not subject to a filibuster, meaning it would only require 51 votes to pass the Senate. The House had reconciliation in its version of the non-binding budget resolution, but the Senate did not. If I had to guess, they will include reconciliation language in the final version.
On that same subject, the chairmen of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Ted Kennedy, and Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, outlined a timeline to pass health care reform legislation. The two committees hope to mark up a comprehensive bill by mid-June. This most important part of this announcement is the willingness of Baucus and Kennedy to work together to create one bill. This was not the case during Clinton's health care reform effort in 1993.
That's it for tonight. Before we go, I bring you our second edition of the Big Picture's Corner. He was reacting to Obama's call for minuscule spending cuts. Very good insight here. See you tomorrow!
What's particularly poor is that cutting $100 million means cutting jobs. That's a huge thing that just isn't understood enough, which is that all of this spending isn't just flushed down the toilet, it actually pays people. Now, perhaps the money could be better spent, more equitably distributed, on better priorities, but it's completely insane just to oppose "spending" in a time when the economy is so under-capacity.That could be part of a series of "Things the Mainstream Media Refuses to Understand":1. What spending actually MEANS2. That Tax Cuts are by far the most fiscally irresponsible thing you can do, the biggest cause of deficits3. That deficit spending is neither bad nor good - it completely depends on WHAT the money is being spent on, and especially when the economy is drastically under capacity, it's most likely good unless it's tax cuts.4. The only way to close the budget deficit short and long term is to eliminate unnecessary tax breaks and useless subsidies, and use that money to invest in the American people, in good jobs, and sustainable job producers.5. (and most important) The majority of Americans care far far more about their job, their pay, their benefits, their bills, and their long-term prospects than they do about tax cuts, "spending" or other stupid obsessions.