Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Daily Strike-4/30/09-Pressers and Gaffes

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on another packed day in Washington. I apologize for not offering my analysis of the press conference yesterday, but don't worry, because here I go!

PRESS CONFERENCE: I think Obama's press conference yesterday was solid. I especially liked his tone. The President was serious, resolved and confident as he addressed the numerous challenges he has to face. There were some definite weak spots. For one, I agree with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow that he seemed to imply that torture has worked in some circumstances. His point was that even if it does work, we can't do it because it's against our values. I don't think that's a smart argument to make. Nor do I believe, based on numerous interviews with former interrogators, that torture helped protect the country.

The most disappointing effort last night came from the media. The questions were largely about "sexy" issues like torture, Arlen Specter, and state secrets. There were some questions on more pressing topics, like the collapse of the auto industry, the situation in Pakistan and unemployment in the African American community. There were not, however, any questions about economic recovery, jobs, health care, education or energy. Not only are each of these the cornerstones of the President's agenda, but they are far and away the concerns of the American public. For his part, Obama could have geared his answers more towards these themes, so that people knew exactly what progress he intended to make in his next 100 days.

LOOSE LIPS BIDEN: I had to mention the absurdity of Joe Biden this morning saying that he wouldn't want his family on a plane or the subway in light of the swine flu. The administration was forced to quickly "clarify" the statement (read: retract it without saying Biden was wrong). The last thing you want to do during an epidemic is get people to start panicking unnecessarily. The Vice President had done a good job recently keeping his mouth shut, but I guess all good things come to an end.

CHRYSLER: The President announced today that he supported Chrysler's decision to enter a structured bankruptcy. The car company will still be making a deal with European automaker Fiat, which will allow Chrysler to stay in business temporarily. The Associated Press says that "according to the bankruptcy filing, a new company will be formed that will buy the assets of Chrysler - its plants, brands, land, equipment, as well as its contracts with the union, dealers and suppliers, from the bankruptcy court. " Part of the reason Chrysler went into bankruptcy, the President noted, is that creditors working in hedge funds and investment firms weren't willing to accept a deal negotiated with lenders. Apparently, these creditors were counting on getting a better deal if the government decided to step in with another bailout. Obama was right to chastise these speculators. I'm happy to see Obama strike a balance between calling out ridiculous business practices, while coming up with solutions that will (at least in the short term) keep companies afloat.

THE SENATE: The Senate today took up a broad housing bill designed to prevent foreclosures and enhance mortgage credit availability. This is a the twin of the bill passed earlier this week that ramps up enforcement against mortgage fraud. The House passed a similar bill last month with a controversial provision called "cramdown" which allows bankruptcy judges to renegotiate the terms of mortgages. This provision was offered today as an amendment from Senator Durbin. Durbin argued that cramdown was the most important vehicle for limiting the number of foreclosures, because it is the only way to renegotiate mortgages for people who have been screwed over by dishonest lenders (these weren't his exact words). He also argued that too may Senators were cronies of the banking and lending industries. Apparently, he's right. His amendment failed by a vote of 45-51, 15 votes shy of the 60 votes needed to advance the amendment. 12 Democrats voted against the amendment: Baucus (MT), Bennet (CO), Byrd (WV), Carper (DE), Dorgan (ND), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Specter (PA) and Tester (MT). You'd think that Specter might actually vote with his new party once in awhile. What a shameful display by these "moderate" Democrats, who caved to pressure from corrupt lenders.

The other Senate vote today was the confirmation of Strickland to be the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife. Somehow his nomination was controversial (they really care about THIS position that much?), so 60 votes were required to advance his nomination. Strickland was confirmed by a vote of 89-2. Your defectors were Republicans Bunning (KY) and Wicker (MS).

THE HOUSE: The House of Representatives spent all day today considering the Credit Card Bill of Rights. Among other provisions, the bill prohibits creditors from increasing interest rates on existing balances without meeting certain strict criteria. It also requires creditors to notify consumers 45 days in advance of a change in credit card rates. The bill also prohibits companies from giving credit cards to people under 18 years old unless they have been emancipated from their parents or they are using their parents' or guardian's account. (Thank GOD I've passed that age!). Despite some vocal Republican opposition, the bill passed by a large 357-70 vote. All no votes were from Republicans except for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat from South Dakota. Does it have anything to do with the fact that my credit card bills come form an office in South Dakota? Just asking.

In the course of the debate, 15 amendments were agreed to or rejected by voice vote. I'll spare you the details, but you can find descriptions of them here (if you scroll down a bit). Two amendments required recorded votes. The first was offered by Rep. Slaughter (D-NY), which would "set underwriting standards for students' credit cards, including limiting credit lines to the greater of 20 percent of a student's annual income or $500, without a co-signer and requiring creditors to obtain a proof of income, income history, and credit history from college students before approving credit applications. " In other words, it will now be harder for your little brother or sister to go on a reckless shopping spree. The amendment was agreed to 276-154. The vote was not quite along party lines. 46 Republicans voted for it, while 25 Democrats voted against it.

The second amendment voted upon came from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the sponsor of the bill. The amendment would require credit card holders to opt-into receiving over-the-limit spending protection in order for the credit card company to charge an over-the-limit fee. The amendment passed 284-149. 43 Republicans voted with yes with the Democratic majority, while 16 Democrats voted in opposition.

The House was also forced to vote on a motion to recommit, offered by Rep. Roskam (R-IL) that would have required a number of conditions to be met before the bill was triggered into law (aka, a trigger mechanism.) I'm not exactly sure what the conditions were, but it failed anyway by a vote of 164-263. 5 Democrats voted for it, while 16 Republicans voted against it.

Today, I also heard a discussion in both the House and Senate on the agenda for the remaining 3 weeks of the legislative session. Both chambers will take up a supplemental spending bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House will work next week on a version of the Senate-passed mortgage fraud bill. The Senate will consider the credit card bill next week, followed by a bill addressing military procurement reform. More details to come when they are available.

That's it for tonight. You have one more day to offer comments if you want them in tomorrow's Daily Strike! Also, look out for a new feature this weekend.

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