Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Daily Strike-4/2/09-Budget/G20

Ladies and gentleman, we have a budget resolution! Sort of. The House passed its version moments ago, while the Senate slogs though a "vote-a-rama" (that's what they call it) of amendments. Because the Senate might be working past my bedtime tonight, I'll write about their insane day tomorrow morning. I will say that they will have taken something like 30 recorded votes before the day is over. Lady Strike is getting her wisdom teeth removed, so I should have some time to blog between smoothie runs.

Oh yeah, and the President agreed with world leaders on a global stimulus plan. We'll get to that later.

THE HOUSE: The House just passed the annual budget resolution by a vote of 233-196. As expected, no Republicans voted for the resolution, while 2o Democrats voted against it. The list of offenders is as follows: Barrow (GA), Boren (OK), Bright (AL), Childers (MS), Donnelly (IN), Foster (IL), Griffith (AL), Kosmas (FL), Kratovil (MD), Kucinich (OH), Markey (CO), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Nye (VA), Perriello (VA), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM). This is pretty much your standard Blue Dog list, with a good chunk of newer members who may not be ready to take a political leap on an ambitious budget. The exception would be Dennis Kucinich, who as I said, won't vote for any bill that would fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this is a day for liberals to celebrate. This budget largely reflected the progressive one proposed in February by President Obama. It makes historic investments in health care, education and energy, increases discretionary spending to fund other key priorities, and allows for the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy to expire. It also authorizes use of the fast-track reconciliation procedure to help pass health reform this year. It's a big deal. Go out and have a toast!

The vote on the underlying budget came after votes on four separate alternatives. None of these substitutes had any chance of passing, but they are good vehicles for various groups to express their legislative priorities. Let's go through them one by one.

1. The first was the budget laid forth by the Progressive Democratic Caucus. In previous years, their budget was regarded as somewhat of a radical joke, but this year, it only contained minor differences with Obama's proposal. Under the progressive budget, the Bush tax cuts would expire this year instead of next, there would be a new surtax on all stock trades ($.25), defense spending would be drastically cut, and domestic discretionary spending would be about $400 billion higher to accommodate an anti-poverty initiative and a new veterans health care entitlement. One day we'll enact a budget like this, but today, we can only dream. The proposal lost 348-84. As you can imagine, all yes votes were Democrats.

2. Next, was a proposal from the ultra-conservative Republican Study Committee. The committee boasted that it was the only alternative to truly balance the budget in ten years. How would it do this? Well, it would freeze all non-defense discretionary spending, for starters. It would actually cut last year's spending levels by one percent. Do they think we're just throwing this money in a black hole? This alternative was too extreme for even Republican leader John Boehner. It failed 322-111. Thankfully, no Democrats walked the plank on this one. I was sort of hoping the progressive budget would beat this one in "yes" votes, but oh well.

3. Third was the substitute proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus. They propose their own budget annually, and it, like the Progressive budget, is usually so far off base that it bares little resemblance to the actual budget proposal. This year, it explicitly stated that it was "expanding upon the recommendations of President Obama." The most radical part of this proposal would be a .565% surtax on incomes over $500,000. I wish this idea wasn't so radical, because it would be a great way to bring down the deficit while not inflicting pain on vulnerable people. Again, we can only dream. The amendment lost by a vote of 318-113. But it beat the RSC substitute!

4. Finally, the House considered the Republican alternative, which we wrote about the other day. As we mentioned, it would cut taxes on the wealthy, freeze discretionary spending, and partially privatize Medicare. The Big Picture rightly calls the alternative "treasonous, nihilistic and clownish." Apparently, the House agreed. The amendment was rejected 293-137, with 38 Republicans voting against their own party.

So there you have it. As soon as the Senate agrees to their version (presumably sometime between now and Lady Strike's appointment at 7:45 tomorrow morning), the differences will be reconciled in conference during Congress' upcoming two week recess. The biggest sticking point will be the House's reconciliation language for health care reform. Everyone who cares about health care reform should call their Senators and tell them to include reconciliation language in the conference report. If this budget is enacted, it will constitute a radical change in economic policy. Today was a great start.

THE SENATE: The one thing I'll mention about the Senate tonight is that the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius for HHS secretary will NOT be voted on tonight because of an objection from a Republican Senator.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The President continues his European trip today by accomplishing a truly significant pact with other members of the G20. The pact calls for an infusion of over $1 trillion in capital to be paid out by the International Monetary Fund. I happen to think this might be too small in the context of a global economy, but I only minored in economics. The pact also enacts new global financial regulations against risky schemes like hedge funds, and creates an international financial regulatory board.

The compromise agreement fulfills the desires of Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the one hand, who wanted a global fiscal stimulus, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who wanted tough new financial regulations. Brown called the agreement the beginning of a "New World Order."

It does seem that Obama has injected a new spirit of international compromise during his first overseas trip. He came up with a general framework for an agreement with Russian President Demitri Medvedev, this pact with the G20, and a joint statement with South Korea opposing new weapons testing by North Korea. As the Big Picture points out, this is a major lesson of why elections have compromises. John McCain would have called for global cuts in spending and less financial regulations.

Anyways, that's it for tonight, but please stay tuned when I go over the Senate's day tomorrow morning. I just finished watching a disgraceful amendment adopted, which cuts estate taxes for millionaires. I may need a good night's sleep to get over the fact that a Democratically-controlled Senate would do something like this.

1 comment:

  1. Given the way Republicans acted and said so far, I definitely think the reconciliation procedure is the approach to move on. otherwise, nothing will get done. Valuable time has been wasted during last eight years - either issues getting ignored (health care) or issues went to the wrong direction (education and ENERGY). Now we're catching up plus we are catching up during the tough time... but at least it's moving to the right direction.

    Hummm... I actually doubt if McCain knows what G20 is about...