Monday, April 27, 2009

The Weekly Strike-4/27-5/3

Good Monday morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the upcoming week in Washington. A very busy week on Capitol Hill especially, so let's get to it.

THE HOUSE: The House of Representatives has one of its busiest weeks of the year. Today and tomorrow, the House will vote on some suspension bills. Starting Tuesday, and continuing through Thursday, the House will consider three important measures.

First, the House will take up the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act." This bill passed the House last Congress, but died under Republican filibuster in the Senate. The bill most notably expands the definition of hate crimes to those motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. The measure also expands enforcement mechanisms and funding to prevent hate crimes. The bill explicitly states that nothing in this measure will be used to prohibit constitutionally-protected free speech. I expect House Republicans to have a gay-bashing field day. Their usual objections to measures like this is that they pose restrictions on the free exercise of religious institutions to discriminate as they choose. I don't really see how that has to relate to hate crimes, but oh well. This could be a good chance for the right wing to score some culture war points with their base. More importantly, the House will pass a long-overdue measure acknowledging that crime committed against LGBT Americans constitutes hate and should be prosecuted as such. I expect the bill to pass with over 300 votes. Republican moderates like Rep. Castle (DE) and Ros-Lehtinen (FL) are co-sponsoring the bill.

Next, the House considers an Obama-backed Credit Card Bill of Rights. This important bill will increase consumer protection against aggressive credit card companies. Among other things, the bill amends the Truth in Lending Act to prohibit increases in annual interest rates on a current balance unless specific conditions are met. It also requires a 45 day notice of credit card rate increases. A good summary of this comprehensive bill can be found here. This bill will almost certainly pass, but not without major objection from free-market enthusiasts. I haven't yet found the talking points against this bill yet, but I expect it to be a Rick Santelli-like diatribe against "protecting the losers" and "expanding the size and scope of government." No Republicans have signed on to sponsor the bill, and I would be surprised if more than a few of them vote for it.

Finally, the House will vote on the conference report accompanying the annual budget resolution. The final version of the bill was apparently agreed upon by House-Senate negotiators on Friday, but the final meeting to hash out the details will be held today or tomorrow. The resolution sets spending targets for each area of discretionary spending, largely reflecting President Obama's budget proposal. The resolution also contains reconciliation instructions that will allow health care reform and education legislation to pass the Senate with 51 votes, instead of the usual 60 needed to cut off debate. Especially because of the reconciliation instructions, this is one of the most important votes of the year. If the budget resolution passes, it's a good bet that we'll have a comprehensive health care bill by the end of the year. I expect the final version to pass with the same margin as the original version. No Republican will vote for it (almost certainly), and 20 or so Democrats will vote against it.

THE SENATE: Not to be outdone, the deliberative chamber also has a busy week. Tonight, the Senate votes to invoke cloture on a bill to protect consumers against mortgage fraud. The bill was debated last week, and a number of amendments were adopted. I expect cloture to be invoked with about 65 votes or so. The ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley, is a cosponsor of the bill. If cloture is invoked, a final passage vote will occur at noon tomorrow. Also tomorrow, the Senate considers the nomination of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Her appointment carries more urgency due to the outbreak of the swine flu. The agency needs leadership to oversee this public health emergency. Sebelius' nomination has been held up by Republicans mostly due to her association with a Kansas abortion doctor. Per an agreement between the two leaders, her nomination will require 60 votes. I expect her to be confirmed with 65-70 votes, and take office later this week. If she is confirmed, Obama's cabinet will finally be filled.

The Senate will most likely take up the conference report on the budget resolution Wednesday or Thursday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has a busy week, and he'll have to keep a close eye on what's happening with the swine flu outbreak. The President starts his week with a speech at the National Science Academy in Washington DC. He has an otherwise quiet day today, with a series of meetings and a White House event with the NCAA Women's Basketball Champion UCONN Huskies. Tomorrow, the President presents the "Teacher of the Year" award. How cool would it be to be that teacher right now?

Obama's busiest day is Wednesday, when he marks the 100th day of his Presidency. He will hold a town hall meeting in Missouri that morning to discuss the economy. He has thrived in the town hall setting both on the campaign trail and during his Presidency. He then will hold his 3rd prime time press conference at the White House on Wednesday night. I expect most of the questions will center around the President's first 100 days, but I expect a few on the torture memos controversy, the economy, health care etc. Let's hope the press corps can do a better job of asking relevant questions than they've done in the past.

That's pretty much it for this week. We will give you comprehensive coverage of events as they happen. Please leave us your comments! Our best one will be featured in Friday's Daily Strike.

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