A lot happened in the United States Senate after press time yesterday, so we will mostly cover that today. Enjoy.
Posting will be light this weekend. None other than the Big Picture himself is visiting, and we will be doing some major sight-seeing.
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT: House-Senate staffers stayed up mighty late last night, but they were able to reach an agreement on a final version of the budget resolution. Notably, the conferees have agreed to include reconciliation language in the bill, making it easier for President Obama's health care and education proposals to get through Congress. For you newbies, U=under expedited reconciliation procedures, only 51 votes are required for passage in the Senate (not the usual 60). The total budget blueprint contains about $3.5 trillion worth of spending. This is a huge victory for the Obama administration. The reconciliation language means that even if we lose 7 Senate Democrats, we will still have health care reform passed by the end of this year. Liberals around the country should rejoice! The formal House-Senate conference will come next week, with a final vote in each chamber happening either Tuesday or Wednesday. More on the final agreement when we get more details this weekend.
THE SENATE: Contrary to what I believed, the Senate did NOT vote on the remaining amendments to the mortgage fraud bill last night. Instead, they voted on various "motions to instruct conferees," non-binding "instructions" to Senators who will sit on the budget resolution conference committee. Because such motions are non-binding, they are a good opportunity for political grandstanding. We saw a great deal of the last night. In total, 7 such motions were voted on, and another 3 were approved by voice votes.
1. The first was offered by Senator Conrad (D-ND) on behalf of Senator Stabenow (D-MI). It would instruct conferees to include a deficit neutral reserve fund for clean energy programs in the final version of the bill. This is more noteworthy for what it does NOT say. In other words, it does not instruct the conferees to use reconciliation language. The motion passed 57-37, mostly along party lines, with Democrats in strong support. Crossovers: Republicans Collins (ME), Lugar (IN) and Snowe/Democrats Landrieu (LA/Oil rigs).
2. Next was an motion offered by Senator Johanns (R-NE). This one said that if conferees include the deficit neutral fund for energy programs, there must be a clause in there making it harder to raise energy taxes. It passed 66-28. All no votes were from smart Democrats who realize that preventing tax increases on energy could be a slippery slope to preventing tax increases on carbon emissions.
3. Third, we have a motion from Senator Ensign (R-NV) that instructs conferees to insist that the final legislation contain a point of order against any measure that raises taxes for couples making under $250,00o. In other words, if you WERE going to raise their taxes, you'd need 60 votes. Senators didn't want to touch this with a ten foot poll. The amendment passed by voice vote.
4. Next, we have a motion dealing with Senator Gregg's (R-NH) clever little language that the public debt level in 2019 must be lower than the total public debt accumulated between 1789 and 2009. We talked previously about the stupidity of this idea, mostly because it completely ignores that whole "inflation" thing. Luckily, his motion was defeated 40-54. The only Democrat stupid enough to join Mr. Gregg was Ben Nelson (NE). Zero Republicans voted against it.
5. Then came a motion from Senator Sessions (R-AL) that instructs conferees to include a freeze on non-defense discretionary spending. I've talked about the lunacy of this idea numerous times. Thankfully the motion was defeated 38-56. Self-appointed centrist Bayh (IN) joined Republicans in voting for it. ZERO Republicans were smart enough to realize that freezing discretionary spending when we have a huge lull in consumer demand is a horrible idea.
6. Next was a motion by Senator Cornyn (R-TX) that instructs conferees to include language that creates a point of order against tax increases for small businesses. It passed 84-9. To me, this would have to depend on their definition of "small business," which is not specified in the motion. All no votes were from Democrats, the most surprising perhaps was pro-business freshman Mark Warner (D-VA).
7. Next was a motion offered by Senator Alexander (R-TN) that instructs conferees to include language encouraging a "competitive student loan choice" for college students. This somehow passed unanimously. Doesn't it seem like it's geared towards President Obama's plan to do away with wasteful private student loan companies?
8. Senator Coburn (R-OK) instructed conferees to insist that the final legislation include a reserve fund to go through the budget "line by line" to find and eliminate wasteful, duplicative or inefficient spending. It passed by voice vote.
9. The next one totally baffles me. Offered by Senator DeMint (R-SC), it instructs conferees to include in the final legislation "include a point of order against legislation that eliminates the ability of Americans to keep their health plan and eliminates the ability of Americans to choose their doctor, as contained in section 316 of the concurrent resolution, as passed by the Senate, and insist further that an additional condition be added providing such legislation shall not decrease the number of Americans enrolled in private health insurance, while increasing the number of Americans enrolled in government-managed, rationed health care." Obviously this is a political statement disguised as a parliamentary instruction. This makes it all the more worrisome that the motion passed 79-14. All dissenting votes were from Democrats. It is DEEPLY disturbing to me that Democrats fell for this political trick and put themselves on record against decreasing the number of people enrolled in private health insurance. If Obama's plan includes a public option, it's inevitable that some people will opt for the cheaper, more effective government plan.
10. The final motion was offered by Senator Clown (R-LA) (some people pronounce it VITT-er). This motion would instruct conferees to include language that prohibits bills being considered that raise energy prices on American consumers, or raises the cost of drilling for oil and gas. It passed 63-30. The spineless, oil-loving Democrats were Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Byrd (WV), Carper (DE), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feingold (WI), Hagan (NC), Johnson (SD), Klobuchar (MN), Kohl (WI), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Reid (NV), Stabenow (MI), Udall (CO) and Webb (VA).
The Senate will be voting on cloture of the mortgage fraud bill on Monday. I expect that they can muster 60 votes to shut off debate. If so, all of the pending amendments will be disposed with. Democratic leaders probably got tired of dealing with endless Republican amendments. Vote on final passage of the bill, as amended, will come on Tuesday. Also Tuesday, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Republicans have agreed to hold a vote if it is subject to a 60 vote threshold. I expect Sebelius to be confirmed with about 65 votes or so. Republicans have raised a ruckus on her nomination because of her association with an abortion doctor in Kansas.
NY20: It looks like Democrat Scott Murphy has won that House seat in upstate New York. He now leads the race by over 400 votes, with about 1,000 ballots in question. A majority of those ballots come from registered Democrats, making a victory by Republican Jim Tedisco virtually impossible. Word is he might concede in the next few days.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK: Tonight, as promised, a comment of the week. This one comes from our good friend Small Town Roots, who also wrote a GREAT post on the torture debate. Please read it below.
Small Town Roots said...
Over under on days until the
Chavez/Obama photo is used in a Republican Ad: 8.5
18, 2009 11:34 PM
Town Roots said...
Secondly, thank you to the strike for realistically
criticizing our great president. Just because Obama represents a historic step
forward for the progressive movement can we forget to be critical and skeptical
of our leaders at times. Obama is after all a politician, whose driving motive
still comes down to re-election in many situations. Remaining optimistic about
our times while still holding Obama accountable is the advisable way