Sunday, May 31, 2009
GM: First I have to talk about the expected, but still devastating news that GM is going to file for bankruptcy tomorrow morning. The nation's largest auto manufacturer, and as many news sources have pointed out, a longtime symbol of American industry, is about to collapse. This hits home a lot harder for me than when Lehman Brothers or AIG failed. This company rose and fell along with the economic well-being of the country itself. It's collapse is a final verdict on what 30 years of hands-off economic policy, outsourcing and general disregard for blue collar workers has done to the American economy. The news, however, is no political talking point for Obama either. Obama invested a lot of American money and political capital in trying to keep GM solvent. For two months now, the government has been a majority owner of GM stock. 20,000 GM workers will likely lose their jobs immediately, and the ripple effect will spread throughout the rest of the economy (for example, 30,000 car dealers might lose their jobs). We'll have more about this tomorrow.
SUNDAY TALK SHOWS: The talk shows today were dominated, expectantly, by President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the United States Supreme Court. Perhaps the biggest foot in the mouth moment came from Sunday regular Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC). Graham, commenting on Sotomayor's now infamous comments that she could make better decisions as a "wise Latina," asked whether Sotomayor "really understands what America is about." Talk about racial overtones. I think someone who grew up as a poor Latina in the South Bronx, and who, through hard work and dedication, is on the cusp of the United States Supreme Court understands what America is about far more than Lindsay Graham. Graham isn't exactly your Rush Limbaugh-style Republican either. In fact, Limbaugh used to refer to Graham as "Lindsay Grahamnesty" for his support of immigration reform. If even people like Lindsay Graham are resorting to this type of attack, it's clear that the Republican is not helping itself with Hispanic voters.
It was good to see liberals come to Sotomayor's defense. Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, defended Sotomayor's comment, saying wisely that we would hope that not all Supreme Court justices have ice in their veins. Newly Democratic Senator Arlen Specter defended her distinguished career. New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman even ventured to suggest that her controversial comments were made in just. I hope Democrats are not afraid to stick their necks out for Sotomayor. It's not only morally right to defend a nominee with impeccable credentials and valuable experience, it's a good political showcase as well. I think someone like Sotomayor, as The Big Picture said yesterday, can help us win the much larger argument of whether the court should be in the hands of a narrow elite protecting the interests of the privileged, or someone who understands and will promote true justice.
REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: Just when you think Republicans may have been done throwing things against the wall hoping something would stick, they prove us wrong again! Last night, Obama took his wife to New York City to see a Broadway production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone." The President, (according to some amazing on-the-scene reporting from Aunt Strike), got a standing ovation from the crowd. I think most Americans would feel it acceptable for the President to see a play on a Saturday night. But the drones at the RNC just couldn't resist. They sent out a press release criticizing the President for attending a play while GM is set to announce bankruptcy on Monday. Really, this is the best you've got? Would it help the country for him to sit in the White House like a hermit and show the country that the best thing to do is be remorseful? Are voters going to walk into the booth in 2010 thinking about a night Obama spent at a play? Sometimes I wonder why people at the RNC get paid. But that's just me.
That's it for tonight. See you in the morning for the Weekly Strike!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
3. The bronze goes to Newt Gingrich, who said that Sotomayor is a "racist" for comments she made saying that her background influences her decisions on the court. In a twitter post, Gingrich said that Sotomayor should withdraw from consideration, because a white man who said something like that would have to withdraw as well. I know we talked about this earlier this week, but I couldn't write an entry without including this silliness. For people like Newt Gingrich who try to find equivalency between what whites and minorities have gone through, I'm reminded of Justice John Paul Stevens quoting Anatole France’s observation's "that the majestic equality of the law forbade rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread."
2. The silver goes to G. Gordon Liddy, an aging right-wing radio hack who said of Sotomayor, "Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she's menstruating" and that she "speaks illegal alien." What a great way to expand GOP outreach to women and Latinos.
1. If you can believe it, it gets better than Mr. Liddy. The gold goes to Tom Tancredo, former Rep. from Colorado. This anti-immigrant radical called the Latino activist group La Raza, to which Sotomayor belongs, "the KKK without the hoods or nooses." First of all, Mr. Tancredo incorrectly stated that the organization translate to "the race." My Spanish teachers would be insulted by such a false cognate. It actually means something more along the lines of "the movement." Also, it's an anti-poverty and anti-discrimination non-profit who has never harmed a single life in this country. Does Tancredo not quite understand what the KKK was and what it did? When Tancredo makes an absurd analogy like this, I have to say, I wouldn't go as far as THAT.
This is being made all the easier by the almost comically self-destructive exploits of the Republican Party, which is fulfilling every Democratic strategist's wildest dreams as they revel in the further marginalization of their party as a last bastion of bitter old white men. I will delve further into the implications of this marginalization in my next post.
Friday, May 29, 2009
THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama had a busy day today, starting this morning with a press conference to announce the formation of a "cyber security czar." The President claimed that cyber security will protect our nation's telecommunications infrastructure and information systems that have grown crucial to American industry. Sounds like a good idea. The President also announced that the government would be banned from monetary private sector networks. I hope he finds this blog before that policy is implemented.
By far the coolest part of the President's day was a trip to a Five Guys burger joint near Nationals Stadium in Southeast DC. For those of you not familiar with Five Guys, it is a great burger chain with fries made from gourmet Idaho potatoes. The President dropped by with NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who is taping a feature on life in the White House. You should watch this 8 minute video of the two of them. Obama seems so natural and genuine talking to the average patrons. It's a common touch that very few politicians seem to have. He went around the room asking what people did for a living, he took pictures and signed an autograph.
The President then returned to the White House, before heading over to an afternoon meeting with FEMA. The President would be wise to learn a lesson from his predecessor and become quite familiar with emergency procedures. Hurricane season starts on Monday. The President goes to New York City tomorrow to see a Broadway show.
HEALTH CARE REFORM: The other big political news of the day came from the office of ailing Senator Ted Kennedy. The Democrat from Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has developed a major policy proposal for comprehensive health reform. Kennedy has devoted his life to this cause, and it would bring tears to his eyes to see Obama sign a comprehensive health reform proposal into law. The bill is far more comprehensive than any proposals that have emerged from the Finance Committee, the other major Senate committee with jurisdiction over health care. The proposal creates a public insurance option that would compete with private companies, it would require individuals and businesses to purchase health insurance, and it would make Medicaid available to families making up to 500 percent of the poverty line. This proposal is probably the closest we could get to universal health care.
I'm thrilled about this proposal. It puts some leftward pressure on Max Baucus, the moderate chairman of the Finance Committee. Baucus too supports a public insurance plan, but does not go as far as Kennedy does in offering government-sponsored insurance to families who don't currently have it. Even if Kennedy's bill doesn't become law, it can help frame the debate. If Kennedy can make his bill the "liberal" bill, the self-proclaimed moderates can chip away at something far more ambitious when they inevitably try and water it down. The bill is scheduled to be marked up in mid-June. To me, it would be well worth losing Congress next year if the Democrats could pass Kennedy's version of health reform.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK: Well, we took a break last week, but we won't let you down this week. Our comment of the week comes from "anonymous" who sums up my thoughts on the fact that an unrelated pro-gun measure made it into the Credit Card Bill of Rights.
Thanks to all of those who have commented in the last couple of weeks. Keep them coming! We'll see you tomorrow night!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
ABBAS: The President today met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today at the White House. Abbas is a member of the moderate Fatah party, which currently controls the West Bank. Abbas committed to fulfilling the Palestinians' obligation to the peace process as part of the road map. Obama praised Abbas for holding strong against Hamas, who wants to show a unified Palestinian front. Abbas will not commit to such an alliance until Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist.
The most important part of the meeting was Obama's insistence that Israel halt it's expansion of settlements in the West Bank. New Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has neglected calls to shut down the settlements, saying that the Palestinians first need to exhibit willingness to engage in the peace process. It is a huge step for Obama to put this sort of pressure on the Israeli government. The previous administration gave almost full deference to Israel, whatever policies it chose to pursue. The Obama administration has not abandoned America's strong commitment to the state of Israel, but is pushing them to be an active partner in peace negotiations. I hope the Israeli government heeds Obama's call to halt the building of settlements in the West Bank as a first step towards a comprehensive peace process. Unfortunately, with the current Israeli government, I don't like our chances.
SOTOMAYOR: The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has reached its 3rd day. The nominee faced both good news and bad news today. The bad news is that Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts became the first Senator to announce his opposition to Sotomayor. I can't say I'm too surprised. Roberts opposed her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. I'm pretty surprised, though, that someone would come out against her nomination so quickly, before she's even had a chance to meet with Senators on the hill. The good news is that the public is largely supportive of the nomination. 47 percent, according to Gallup, believes that Sotomayor was an excellent or good choice, while 13 percent said she was a poor choice. I think in this case, the good news here far outweighs the bad.
Well, that's it for this relatively slow news day. Four more days until Congress is back in session! In the meantime, we'll be bringing you our "comment of the week" tomorrow night, followed by
the return of our "Wouldn't Go as Far as THAT" feature on Saturday.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
SOTOMAYOR: As the Sotomayor nomination settled in, activists on both sides have geared up for a battle. Interest groups on the left have already come up with Internet and TV ads touting her experience, intellect and background. Meanwhile, conservatives continue to lob some pretty wacky charges. For instance, the increasingly insane Newt Gingrich (former House Speaker, believe it or not) called Sotomayor a "Latina woman racist" for suggesting that judges would reach a better conclusion on civil rights issues because of the "richness" of their experience. Gingrich's shtick really bothers me. For one, he is completely distorting the quote, and creates a conclusion that Sotomayor simply doesn't reach. Furthermore, it always baffles me that people like Gingrich try to find equivalency between a white man saying that he makes decisions based on race and a Latina woman saying the same thing. American history didn't evaporate because we elected a black President. The last few generations of African Americans and Hispanics, despite enormous racial progress, have still faced barriers that your average white guy could never properly understand. For example, people the age of Sotomayor's parents couldn't get federal housing loans because of their race. They thus couldn't build up the same sort of financial nest egg that allowed many of our parents to send us to the best pre-schools, move us to the best suburbs, and send us to the best colleges. The Gingriches of the world will never understand that. Despite the advances of the last 40 years, it will be a long time before people of different races (and women) will not be able to say that they've had to face unique challenges.
FUNDRAISERS: The only other major event on the political radar today is a major fundraiser President Obama will attend in Los Angeles on behalf of the DNC. This Beverly Hills fundraiser will feature the usual crowd of actors, singers and producers. I really don't get why Democrats have to hold these fundraisers. You're letting the Republican attack ads write themselves.
"President Obama spends a glitzy night out with Hollywood liberals."
Yes, we've won elections recently, and these attacks have largely fallen on deaf ears. But this comes off as pretty out of touch.
One special guest at the event tonight will be the newest Democrat, Senator Arlen Specter (PA). Specter, as of today, has a new challenger. Democratic Representative Joe Sestak announced that he will challenge Specter the Defector from the left in next year's primary. I'm very pleased with this decision. If nothing else, it will force Specter to cater his votes to the Democratic primary electorate. Could this help us pass the Employee Free Choice Act or health reform?
The President earlier today held an event in Nevada touting the progress of the stimulus package, which has now been law for 100 days. The President claims that 150,000 have been saved or created by the package. So far, only about 10 percent of the appropriated money has been spent. Thus, it's hard to get an accurate measure of the results. The administration has been slow giving out the money because they want to make sure it isn't being wasted or abused. I'm sympathetic to those concerns, but as we approach double digit unemployment, it may be better to get money out as quickly as possible, especially on infrastructure products that create jobs.
That's it for today. See you tomorrow!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
That's it for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow! Make sure you read the Weekly Strike!
THE WHITE HOUSE: Congress is out of session this week, so any and all political happenings will come from the executive branch. The big news just in this morning is that President Obama will name his choice for Supreme Court Justice at 10:15am. We will be waiting with intense curiosity. I'll make sure to update you when the choice is made. That should dominate the news cycle for a couple of days. Following the appointment, the nominee will make courtesy visits to Capital Hill for the next month or so, and presumably complete hearings in July. President Obama wants the nominee to be confirmed by August so that the nominee doesn't get pummeled during the August recess.
The President has no other public events today. He flies out to Las Vegas this evening to hold a fundraiser for his friend and ally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid is not winning many popularity contests in his home state these days. Republicans have sensed an opportunity to defeat Reid in next year's elections, but have so far been unable to find a good candidate.
Obama won't exactly be welcomed to the state with open arms. The governor of Nevada, the immensely unpopular Jim Gibbons, is refusing the President's invitation to meet him at the airport. Apparently, Gibbons was upset about comments the President made about CEO's "living it up in Vegas." I'm sure you've stroked political gold, Gibbons. Everyone loves an embattled governor who stands up a popular President of the United States.
Vice President Biden also will head west today for a meeting of the White House Middle Class Task Force, which he chairs. I'm sure Biden will want to lend a political hand while he's there. I'll be anxious to see if he does any campaigning for newly appointed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who is still pretty unknown statewide.
Tomorrow, Biden addresses the graduates of the Air Force Academy, while Obama holds a town-hall style event in Las Vegas, and a DNC fundraiser in Los Angeles. Thursday, the President meets at the White House with Palestinian President Abbas. Abbas will most likely ask the President to pressure the Israelis to give up settlements in the West Bank.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: All of this week's action will be against the backdrop of some scary stuff going on in North Korea. Over the weekend, the rogue state tested a nuclear weapon and fired a short-range missile. They tested two additional short-range missiles today. This presents a major test for U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. North Korea had agreed to abandon their nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid last year, but the plan fell through, and the program has continued to advanced. It will be interesting to see if the U.N. Security Council can pass additional sanctions against North Korea that actually might have some teeth.
CONGRESS: Congress is out of session for the week after a successful legislative period. One thing that happened while we were gone was that the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill. This ambitious environmental measure will presumably come to the full House for a vote in the next few weeks. The vote was strictly party line, with the exception of Republican Mary Bono Mack of California, who bucked her party's leadership to support the bill. Republicans say that cap and trade will decimate the economy because it will cause energy prices to go up. The best part of the mark-up, though, had little to do with the bill. Republicans threatened to delay the bill by forcing the reading clerk to read the 900 page piece of legislation. The GOP saw this as a procedural tool to stall the bill's passage while they made a more convincing case to the public. In response, Democrats hired a speed reader, who would be able to read 900 pages in about 3 hours. Republicans eventually agreed to dispense with the reading, but the speed reader was already there, and members, led by Republican ranking member Joe Barton, wanted to see what he was made of. This is highly entertaining.
That's it for this morning. We will fill you in on the Supreme Court choice as soon as it becomes available.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
“If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise,” Cheney said. “But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.” “You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy,” Cheney said. “There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance. “
THE SENATE: The Senate today finished work on its version f the war spending bill. This morning, Senators voted 94-1 to limit debate and amendments on the bill. The only "no" vote came from staunchly anti-war Democrat Russ Feingold. The key difference between the House and Senate versions was the Senate's inclusion of money for the IMF. Conservatives claimed that this money was unnecessary in a war funding bill (as if they would EVER want to spend money on the IMF). Democrats saw the funding as an important investment to help cure the global economy. Senator Jim DeMint offered an amendment stripping the IMF money out of the bill. The amendment was defeated 30-64. Interestingly, three Democrats voted for the amendment. Senator Bayh (IN) voted against it, presumably because it wasn't "fiscally responsible." Both Senators Sanders (VT) and Feingold (WI) voted against the money because they recognize that the IMF is a corrupt entity.
The vote on final passage of the bill was 86-3. The no votes were from Sanders (I-VT), Feingold (D-WI) and Coburn (R-OK). Those first two were because of principled war opposition. Coburn objected to the IMF money.
The Senate also agreed to a bunch of amendments by unanimous consent, including one from fear-loving Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) which prohibits President Obama from releasing torture photos. The House and Senate versions of the war funding bill will have to be reconciled during the recess. I don't expect conference negotiations to be too contentious. I'll guess that the bill makes it onto Obama's desk in 2 weeks time.
So there you have it, folks. Congress is in session for 5 weeks, they pass two major pieces of housing legislation, an important credit card reform bill, and an overhaul of military procurement rules. Not too shabby at all. The next few months are when the big ticket items like health care and energy will come up. We will be there with you every step of the way.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
THE HOUSE: The President will have to schedule another signing ceremony for later this week. The House today concurred in the Senate amendments on the Credit Card Bill of Rights, which will, among other things, prohibit arbitrary rate increases on customers who are less than 60 days late on paying their bills. President Obama pushed hard for passage of this legislation, and rightfully so. It makes very substantive changes in the rules under which credit card companies operate. The House had to take two separate votes on the bill. The Senate, led by Republican Tom Coburn, included an unrelated amendment allowing people to bring guns into national parks. House leaders decided that they didn't want to hold up the credit card bill because of this provision. Therefore, they took separate votes on the bill itself, and the gun amendment. If one of the amendments had failed, the entire bill would not have been agreed to.
The House then voted on a Republican motion to recommit that would provide monetary assistance to small business to compensate for any "carbon emissions" tax. This was basically a political statement against cap-and-trade hidden in a Congressional motion. But Democrats had no real reason to oppose it. The motion was agreed to by a vote of 385-41. All no votes were from Democrats.
The underlying bill was approved by an overwhelming 406-15 margin, with all opposition coming from Republicans.
The House will move on tomorrow to the FAA authorization bill.
The Senate then took a break from the war funding bill to vote on the conference report accompanying the military procurement reform bill. The report was agreed to by a unanimous vote of 95-0. The House will vote on it tomorrow, and President Obama will sign it by the end of the week. Chalk up another legislative victory.
The Senate went back to dispose of a few amendments on the war funding bill. The first amendment, from Republican leader Mitch McConnell, would limit the release of detainees into the United States pending a report on the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. . The amendment was agreed to 92-3. The "no" votes were from Democrats Burris (IL), Durbin (IL) and Leahy (VT).
The Senate also unanimously approved a Brownback (R-KS) amendment requiring the federal government to consult state governments before relocating prisoners to their states. How much more political hay can they get out of this issue? I guess we'll soon find out, though it sure wastes a lot of time on the Senate floor.
The Senate will vote on cloture tomorrow, before dealing with the remaining amendments to the bill. I expect that cloture should be invoked relatively easily. Republicans have gotten their amendments approved, so they'll probably vote for the bill en masse. I suspect that 10 or so Democrats will vote against the bill.
That's it for a busy, "end of session"-type day. We'll be back for more tomorrow and Friday!
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
1. The Senate today passed the amended Credit Card Bill of Rights by a vote of 90-5. The dissenters were Republicans Alexander (TN), Bennett (UT), Kyl (AZ) and Thune (SD) as well as Democrat Johnson (SD). (Again, no coincidence that South Dakota is home to a lot of Credit Card companies). The bill now goes back to the House, which will vote on the Senate version tomorrow, and presumably send it on to the President. This will mark a big victory for President Obama. It will be the first substantive bill he's signed dealing with financial regulation, for one. Also, it has some real teeth. The bill will prevent credit card companies from increasing interest rates if consumers are less than 60 days late in making a payment.
2. The House passed, by a vote of 367-54 (with Rep. Kaptur, D, of Ohio voting present), the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which will now go back to the Senate for one final seal of approval before being sent to the President.
See you tomorrow!
Most of the discussion of Barack Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame on Sunday has focused on the skillful and "quintessentially Obama" way he addressed the hot-button issue of abortion by calling for "fair-minded words" and a mentality and goals that seek common ground rather than polarization. If this speech were only to set us on the path to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and taking better care of pregnant mothers, it would be an impressive enough accomplishment. But I hope that we will look back on Obama's speech as something even more consequential: a key moment in an across-the-board leftward shift in the politics of religion and of religious people. I think that the political context, the venue, the messenger, and both the style and substance of the message were almost perfectly calibrated to accomplish the mirror-image goals of disarming culture-wars-based opposition to Obama's agenda while pulling in many of those same "values voters" as allies and even foot soldiers for his agenda.
The context for Obama's "speech to the religious" is that, on the whole, religious voters pull the country rightward. Religious voters are underrepresented among liberal activists, among rank-and-file Democrats, and even among liberal-leaning independents, while they are overrepresented among rank-and-file Republicans, conservative activists, and the politically apathetic. The biggest thing holding liberalism and the Democratic Party back in recent decades has been the sense that its leaders, its spokesmen, areculturally elitist, think they're smarter and more modern and cooler, are indifferent or even hostile to religion and moral values. This led to a bunch of frankly pathetic attempts by candidates like Gore and Kerry to show how "in touch" they were, which only made them look phony. If a prominent liberal/Democrat - and no one is more prominent than the most famous man on the planet - could convincingly, authentically show that he didn't just give lip service to the role of faith and morality and values in guiding his worldview and his policies, but that those things are at the very core of the liberal agenda, than he could begin to shift religious voters leftward. Polls and anecdotal evidence back up the working assumption of Obama and his top political adviser David Axelrod that the strongest force pulling independents and conservatives rightward is not economic conservatism - i.e small government, pro-tax-cuts, anti-regulation, anti-environmentalism, anti-workers' protection, but social conservatism - which goes beyond issues like abortion and gay marriage to include a basic worldview, a perception of the relative morality of the two parties. The Republican Party and conservatism have so discredited themselves among moderate and even some conservative voters - and currently none of their spokesmen demonstrate any ability to connect on religious issues - that all liberals need to do is disarm any fears these voters have that we look down on their faith and how that they are welcome in our party and our critical to the success of our agenda. In short, polling and analysis show that people are already prone to support the core elements of the Obama agenda - reform and reinvestment in health care, energy, and the environment - that we just need to convince people that liberalism is "safe" on religion and morality.
Monday, May 18, 2009
NETANYAHU: The President this morning met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Two headlines emerged out of the meeting. First, the President announced that the United States will engage with Iran sometime after their June elections. Obama assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was not afraid to take big steps if Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, including tougher sanctions (notably, he did not say a military option, but I think it's safe to assume that subject came up). The two leaders also talked, as expected, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama apparently tried to convince Netanyahu that a road map to peace requires the Israelis to give up settlements in the West Bank, and give attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Netanyahu gave no commitments, unfortunately. He just gave some vague assurances that Israel and the Palestinians can live side-by-side. He said that he hopes Palestinians are "ready to do their share." I wish Netanyahu had lost the election. He's not going to be good for the peace process.
CAFE STANDARDS: The President will announce plans tomorrow for national fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. The significance of tomorrow's announcement is that it brings emissions limits on autos, enacted in 2007, in line with the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas standards. Accordingly, car companies will have more certainty on future restrictions. The President's plan has won support from a wide variety of stakeholders, including automakers and state governments.
This announcement comes in conjunction this week with important H0use Energy and Commerce Committee hearings on an energy bill in the House sponsored by Reps. Waxman (D-CA) and Markey (D-MA). The Waxman-Markey bill would enact a modified version of "cap-and-trade" policy, where polluters would be required to obtain emissions permits from the government. The amount of permits available would decrease gradually overtime. Money saved by selling these emissions permits would be redirected to help bring down energy costs for consumers.
The bill is the result of weeks of negotiations among liberals Waxman and Markey, and more conservative "blue dog" Democrats. The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the end of the week and could come to the House floor for a vote soon after the Memorial Day recess. The math of getting the bill through the committee is difficult. Republicans will undoubtedly oppose the bill for a number of reasons. For one, a lot of them don't think global warming is a problem. In fact, 22 of the 23 Republicans on the committee will almost certainly oppose the bill. On the Democratic side, most of the 36 members of the committee have pledged support. About 10 or so remain officially undecided. Democrats can, at most, afford to lose about 6 votes in committee. My guess is that Waxman and Markey would not have brought the bill up in committee if they didn't think it would pass. Paul Krugman wrote a column today in the New York Times offering praise for the bill. That, in my mind, proves the bill's reach and potential impact on our economy and environment. We'll keep you posted on the hearings as they develop this week.
That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!!
THE WHITE HOUSE: The President, fresh off reconciliation with Notre Dame Catholics over abortion, the President wades into another seemingly irreconcilable conflict today when he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has been Prime Minister (his second go-around) for only a few months, and this is his first sit-down with the President. I'm most interested in their one-on-one meeting from 10:30-11:30 this morning. Will Obama push hard for concessions from Netanyahu to help foster a renewed peace effort with the Palestinians? Netanyahu is a center-right politician who hasn't exactly shown affinity for U.S.-led peace efforts in the past. He, unlike other Israeli politicians, has never committed to a two state solution. My fantasy would be an LBJ-style stare down in which Obama intimidates Netanyahu into accepting a new road map for peace. I can dream.
The President has a quiet rest of the day, and week for that matter. The other known major event on the President's calendar is a speech on Thursday on the subject of Guantanamo Bay, torture, the memos, the photos etc. This speech, according to Politico.com is designed to "elevate the coverage/conversation." It looks like this speech is following the pattern of several past Obama speeches. After an acute scandal breaks out, Obama, after letting the American people digest it a little bit, gives a speech explaining the key issues in context, and talks to the American people like adults. This type of speech has done wonders for him in the past. In the wake of the Jeremiah Wright scandal last year, Obama gave one of his best speech on race relations. Last month, Obama gave a speech at Georgetown on the "five pillars" of the economy. If Obama did not give speeches like this, issues like torture would get down in the weeds of "who knew what, when." The President wants the American people to understand the broader context. I will be anxious to see what he says.
THE SENATE: Congress enters the last week in session before the Memorial Day recess, and both chambers have a lot of work to do. The Senate tomorrow will vote on cloture on the Credit Card Bill of Rights. If the motion gets the required 60 votes (which it almost certainly will), Senators will vote on a series of germane (relevant) amendments (a list agreed to by the two party leaders) prior to a vote on final passage. The Senate will then move on to consider the war funding bill, which passed the House last week. It seems like the Senate always waits until the last minute to debate important funding bills, and the House, under strict time constraints, is usually forced to accept the Senate version. The main difference between the Senate bill is that it includes funding for the International Monetary Fund. Republicans have objected to this spending as unnecessary in an emergency war supplemental spending bill. If the IMF provisions are included, House Republicans may not vote for it like they did the original House version. It's possible that the IMF funding will be taken out during the amendment process, but if not, there could be some intense House-Senate negotiations by the end of the week. I expect the Senate to pass some version of the bill by a wide margin. I hope that some of the most anti-war Democrats, like Russ Feingold (WI) and Barbara Boxer (CA), are forceful in their insistence that we don't commit to a never-ending quagmire in Afghanistan.
Congressional leaders want to get this bill to the President's desk before this Friday, because otherwise the Pentagon will have to wait a couple more weeks to get funding.
THE HOUSE: The House also has a packed week on tap. After considering suspension bills today and tomorrow, the House will take up four significant bills starting on Wednesday. First, the House will take up the Senate version of the "Helping Families Save Their Homes" Act. This bill originally had the "cramdown" provision, allowing bankruptcy judges to renegotiate the terms of mortgages. That provision was taken out by the Senate. The House will send vote on a revised version on Wednesday (I'm not sure what they're adding) and will send it back to the Senate, so they upper chamber can vote on changes by the end of the week.
The House then moves on to a bill authored by conservative Democrat, and former NFL-bust, Heath Shuler (NC), entitled " Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act of 2009." The bill expands small business development programs under the Small Business Administration, and includes new programs to help entrepreneurial veterans, women, and Native Americans. The bill is co-sponsored by a number of Republicans, so I expect it to pass pretty easily.
Finally, the House will vote on two authorization bills. The first reauthorizes funding for the FAA through 2012. It makes some substantive changes to FAA policy, which I would probably understand more if I was a pilot. One of the proposed changes is increased funding for the NextGen navigation system. If you're REALLY interested, you can read this. The second authorizes funding for the Transportation Security Administration. I'm not sure what policy changes, if any, are included in this bill, because they have not released the summary.
Both chambers also might vote on conference reports on a few other bills, including military procurement. As I said last week, it's very possible that Obama gets a big pile of legislation on his desk to sign by week's end.
That's it for now. Join us tonight for the Daily Strike, and leave your comments!
Sunday, May 17, 2009
NOTRE DAME: Today, the President gave the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, the country's premier Catholic institution of higher learning. Of course, his appearance caused major controversy among students and faculty because of his pro-choice views on abortion. The vast majority expressed strong appreciation for the President's visit. He was frequently given standing ovations. There were a few interruptions from protesters, who yelled out "abortion is murder," but they quickly were drowned out by students who cheered, "We are...N.D."
The speech itself, in my view, will be remembered as one of Obama's finest. The storyline being picked up by the mainstream media centers around Obama's remarks on abortion. Obama said that people on both sides must speak in "fair-minded words" in search of common ground. He expressed support for the "conscience clause" which would protect anti-abortion doctors and medical professionals.
More impressive to me was the overarching message the President was sending to the graduates. He talked about the world the graduates encounter. In doing so, he didn't talk about the slumping stock market or the degrading environment. He talked about a world in which greed causes us to lose sight of the common good. He talked about how we live in a world where people only care about immediate self-interest and crass materialism. He said, "the strong too often dominate the weak, too many of those with wealth and power find all manner of justification in their own privilege." The message was that it was becoming harder and harder to live as one world family (I know that sounds pretty corny, but it worked). He used that theme to explain why it's important to have a dialogue on issues on which we disagree. When we come together to seek common ground, anything can happen. Even, Obama noted, the election of the first black President. It's hard to sum up the speech in an entry. I highly recommend that you watch it. (scroll down to the bottom).
SUNDAY TALK SHOWS: It was another fun day on the Sunday talk-show circuit, thanks to some entertaining words from House Minority Leader John Boehner. Boehner claimed that recent appearances by Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney are good for the Republican party, because it's good to get "a chorus of voices out there." I hope Boehner keeps thinking that.
The other Republican leader in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell, sharply criticized Obama for wanting to close Guantanamo Bay prison, and said he only wants to do it to "make us popular in Europe." That or because of the blow back that has created a whole new generation of extremists.
Finally, OMB Director Peter Orszag said that the Obama administration is open to taxing employee health care benefits to pay for comprehensive health care reform. I'm mixed on the merits of the policy, but I think it's an absolutely awful idea politically. For one, it would be a full flip flop from the Presidential campaign, when he chastised John McCain for proposing the same policy. It's going to be a LOT tougher to sell health reform if people are forced to give something up.
That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow morning for the Weekly Strike!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
HUNTSMAN: Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, has accepted President Obama's appointment to be ambassador to China. Huntsman nomination makes a lot of sense for Obama. For one, Huntsman is uniquely qualified. He is fluent in Mandarin, has an adopted Chinese daughter, and was previously an ambassador to Singapore. Politically, Obama may have just taken out one of his potential 2012 opponents. Huntsman was widely viewed among the chattering class as a rising star in the Republican party. Despite being governor of one of the most conservative states, Huntsman has stoked out moderate positions on a variety of issues, including gay rights and climate change. He was reelected last year by an overwhelming margin and maintained 80 percent approval ratings. I don't think Huntsman could win a primary though considering the state of the Republican electorate. They would have called him a "traitor" for taking moderate positions, and would have been vilified by the tea party/activist crowds. Perhaps Huntsman's decision to accept the appointment is a recognition that he doesn't have a place in today's ultra-conservative Republican party. If I were a Republican interested in winning an election some time in the next decade, I would not be happy about losing a candidate like Huntsman.
Now it's time for our third edition of "Wouldn't Go As Far As THAT," where we break down the three most ridiculous quotes of the last week.
Honorable Mention: Johnathan Turley, law professor at Georgetown, and a devout liberal, said that Obama's decision not to release the torture photos was "the greatest bait and switch in American history" and that Obama was just as bad as Bush. Seriously? THAT is the biggest bait and switch in American history? Bigger than Bush saying he didn't want to engage in nation building? Bigger than John McCain proposing to extend Bush's tax cuts after voting against him? And Obama, however much you disagree with him on this particular decision, has a long way to go before he's in the same league as Bush. Settle down, Turley.
I also have to mention this brilliance by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "We have to be about attracting as many people as possible. We want the ability to win among suburbanites and in the inner city of Los Angeles by being inclusive and forward-looking."
I can't say it better than The Big Picture on this one, "The Loon Party doing surprisingly well here in the inner-city L.A. corridor, despite their angry opposition to giving the people who live there jobs, health care, or a decent education. The "Obama is a socialist" argument is really resonating here."
3. The bronze this week goes to Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, who accused President Obama of intentionally destroying American jobs and trying to suppress the stock market to bring down the capitalist system. This sounds strangely like something Glenn Beck would say, doesn't it? I'm SURE Obama's decision to raise taxes 3 percent on the wealthy in 2 years is evidence that he's trying to tear down our capitalist system. Oh yeah, and a stimulus package that spends billions of dollars with the express purpose of creating jobs also is clear evidence. This is getting into pretty severe conspiracy theory territory.
2. The silver goes to Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker, who gave an absurdly over-the-top denouncement of current Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Newt called Pelosi "a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior," Gingrich also said in the blistering interview."
"Speaker Pelosi's the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses," he continued. "The fact is, she either didn't do her job, or she did do her job and she's now afraid to tell the truth."
Ignoring whether Pelosi actually owes a better explanation or not, can Newt Gingrich possibly say that ANYONE is dishonoring Congress? As The Big Picture said, this is a textbook case of the pot calling the kettle black. Newt Gingrich left his tumultuous tenure as Speaker as one of the most hated politicians in America. He had to resign in disgrace because it was revealed that at the very time Newt was trying to impeach President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, he was covering up his own sexual exploits.
1. The gold goes to Arkansas State Senate Minority Leader Kim Hendren, who referred to New York Senator Chuck Schumer as "that Jew." Hendren is planning on challenging incumbent Democrat Blance Lincoln next year. At a Republican fundraiser, Hendren asked the audience if they really want a Senator who takes order from "that Jew." Asked to defend himself, Hendren made things even worse, saying that "I was just trying to make the point that unlike Schumer, I'm for traditional values." So you're proof that Schumer is not for traditional values is that he's, that Jew?" He denied being an anti-semite by saying "There is a Jew I admire: Jesus. And also Joe Lieberman." Maybe that will endear you to the Republican primary electorate in Arkansas, but for the rest of us, I wouldn't go as far as THAT!
Friday, May 15, 2009
ESCAPING THE PAST: President Obama would like nothing more than to move on from the Bush years, and to get moving on his agenda. Unfortunately, we're reminded daily of that old political science theory of path dependency. In other words, a President is constrained by the actions of his predecessor. Whether it's the economy, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush left Obama a giant mess. That part we knew on January 20th. What was less obvious is how difficult it would be to deal with Bush's most controversial policies, especially in anti-terror policy. Today, President Obama announced that the administration will renew the Bush-era military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees. On the campaign trail, Obama railed against these commissions as a gross violation of civil liberties. Although the President is adding some legal safeguards, he is still causing a lot of anger to his supporters on the left. I'm frankly very disappointed in the President for this decision. I think it's the wrong one. I do though, have some sympathy for the President. He was left a garbage of a legal system at Guantanamo where evidence was gathered through torture and hearsay. It's gonna take awhile to dig ourselves out of that ditch. The same thing can be said about Afghanistan. The situation there was so bad that Obama felt we had to increase our military presence, even though the war is seemingly unwinnable. The economy was such a mess that Obama was forced to continue politically toxic bailouts to financial companies.
The reason that these inheritances have caused so many problems is twofold. For one, Obama has been too hesitant to boldly break from a lot of these policies, because he's afraid of scaring the Washington establishment. He knows that if he spends a lot of money to turn around the economy, for example, he'll be told by the editorial pages that he's threatening our long-term economic health. If he were to let terrorists have civilian trials and be housed in federal prisons, he would be accused of threatening our country's security. I get the feeling that he takes that "conventional wisdom" voice to heart more than any of us would want. The other reason is that Republicans have vested interests in not solving these issues. They want Obama to be grappling with inherited quagmires. It increases the likeliness that Obama's legislative agenda will be stalled. That's why the Republicans are making such a fuss about Guantanamo Bay and Nancy Pelosi's past knowledge of torture practices. The President could use a quiet weekend away, and let the news cycle move on to something besides detainee treatment. Such talk is such a nuisance while we're trying to deal with serious problems like health care and the economy.
That's all I have for today. Now it's time for our comment of the week. This one comes from "E," who discusses the Republicans' politically-motivated blocking of the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Thanks for the comment, E, and please leave some more! That goes for the rest of you!
Interior's Deputy Secretary nomination: First of all, Interior does many things besides dealing with oil drilling policies. For those who held up the process (simply due to making a political statement) are better not to jump out later and complain why things not getting done.
BTW, anyone knows whereabout Kerry and Mikulski?
Thursday, May 14, 2009
THE HOUSE: The House of Representatives, as is frequently the case, had a very active Thursday. Off the floor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to answer questions about her alleged knowledge of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques." Pelosi has given somewhat conflicting statements. In 2002, Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She attended a September meeting in which she said she was told that "enhanced interrogation methods" were deemed legal, but NOT told about waterboarding. Recent released CIA memos suggest that Pelosi was in fact briefed about waterboarding in that meeting. Pelosi, in her press conference today, contended that she was told that waterboarding had been deemed legal, but she was not told that it had been used (when it fact, it had indeed by used on Abu Zabayda.) Am I the only wondering why this has turned into a scandal? I would like to know why Pelosi didn't raise any objections to the Bush administration's legal justifications for torture. She clearly knew about these legal memos, and didn't do anything about it, and she should be faulted for that. But isn't it a little odd that the main blame for an era of illegal torture is falling on a member of Congress who tried to BAN torture several times? Isn't this a distraction from the people who authorized, conducted and defended enhanced interrogations? I know they're trying to expose Pelosi as some sort of hypocrite, but I don't see what their point is. Does Pelosi's apparent hypocrisy make torture any less wrong? It also doesn't make much sense politically. Anyone opposed to torture is far more likely to blame the Republicans, who not only were the ones who sanctioned torture, but who go on TV every five minutes to defend it. Anyone for torture is probably not a fan of Nancy Pelosi. I just don't see what the critics are trying to get at here.
On the floor, the House approved two important bills today. The first was a bill to authorize spending to make public schools more energy efficient. The bill passed easily, over the objection of some Republicans who gave their usual complaints about spending. The final tally was 275-155. 24 Republicans voted yes. The only Democrat voting no was Rep. Taylor (MS).
Prior to the vote on final passage, the House approved two additional amendments. The first, offered by Rep. Giffords (D-AZ), would have encouraged schools receiving money under the bill to educate their students about the benefits of sustainability. The amendment passed 334-97, with all no votes coming from Republicans (except liberal Rep. Tierney (D-MA). (Did he press the wrong button or something?). The second amendment, offered by Rep. Griffith (D-AL), would have included asthma reduction as one of the demonstrable elements of the bill. His amendment passed unanimously. The House also rejected a Republican motion to recommit, which would have prohibited money authorized in this bill from being spent unless the deficit was under $500 billion. Of course, the deficit, even by the most generous projections, won't be under that amount any time soon, so the motion basically intended to kill the bill. Luckily, it was defeated 182-247. Six Democrats (Adler (NJ), Arcuri (NY), Childers (MS), Nye (VA), Perriello (VA), and Taylor (MS)) voted for the motion, while one Republican (Reichert (WA)), voted against it.
The House was then SUPPOSED to move onto the war spending bill, but the Republicans decided to waste taxpayer time and money to force a vote that makes 3-year-olds seem mature. To make a political point, Republicans proposed changing the title of the school funding bill to include the phrase " ...will saddle our children with billions of dollars of debt." Well, isn't that clever. The House took 15 minutes of valuable time to defeat the proposed change by a vote of 149-257. Even 25 Republicans realized how stupid their colleagues were being.
Finally, the House moved on to a debate on war funding. The bill wasn't too controversial. Democrats had left out extraneous spending items and restrictions on military activities, so Republicans were, for the most part, on board. The main opposition came from liberal Democrats who, justifiably, don't want to continue pouring money into what they see as unwinnable wars. The bill passed by a vote of 368-60. 51 of the 60 no votes were from liberal Democrats. If you're interested in the the level of conviction of your Democratic member of Congress, here's the vote tally.
The controversy was actually on the rule governing debate. Republicans were upset that two of their amendments weren't considered, each having to do with Guantanamo detainees. Democrats did not want to have to subject their members to a politically difficult vote, so they prohibited amendments to the bill. For this reason, Republicans tried to defeat the previous question, and the rules governing debate. They were not successful in either endeavor. The previous question was ordered by a vote of 240-188, and the rule was approved 247-178. In each case, a handful of anti-war Democrats joined almost all Republicans in opposition. The Republicans also lost another vote on a motion to recommit, which would have redirected money in the bill to border enforcement on the Mexican border. The final vote on the motion was 191-237. 17 Democrats voted for it, and 4 Republicans voted against it.
The House will come back next week with a full schedule (as is typical of the final week of a legislative section). We'll keep you fully in the loop.
THE SENATE: The Senate had an uncharacteristically quiet Thursday. They were supposed to dispose of several amendments to the Credit Card Bill of Rights, but decided to punt on the issue until next Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, the Senate will vote on cloture on the bill. If the bill gets the requisite 60 votes, Senators will consider a few amendments, and then vote on final passage. They would then move on to their version of the war funding bill. The Senate did approve the House changes to the mortgage fraud bill by unanimous consent. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. Obama should get a few more pieces of legislation to his desk by the end of next week, including the war funding bill, the military procurement reform bill, and possibly the Credit Card Bill of Rights.
THE WHITE HOUSE: The only major event from the President today was a town hall meeting in Albuquerque to help sell the aforementioned Credit Card Bill of Rights. The President, though, took question on a variety of other topics. On the Employee Free Choice Act, a stalled bill that would make it easier for workers to join a union, the President offered tepid support, saying that "more work needs to be done" in Congress. Not exactly the type of answer I would like to hear. Because of the economic downturn, and the tenacious campaign of the business lobby, I think EFCA (otherwise known as "Card Check") will have a tough time becoming law this year. The President was asked about the prospects for a single-payer health care system. The President again demurred, and said that while such an option would "make sense," the administration is not "starting from scratch." In other words, the President can't wave his magic wand and create a single payer system, given political realities. I hope he can get us the next best thing, a strong public health insurance option. The President took time to attack his fiscal critics, saying that they didn't care about debt under the Bush Administration. On the credit card issue, the President played the populist card, calling some dealings "not honest" and knocking "fine print" in lending practices.
The President tomorrow welcomes the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies to the White House, but has nothing else on his public schedule.
That's it for us today. Please join us tomorrow night, where we'll tell you this week's featured comment. You have one more day to enter the contest!
It is to President Obama's great credit that he is pushing on these issues, and that he is calling for these major changes, calling for people to recognize that the status quo is unacceptable but still very difficult to shift. I am very pleased to see him fighting for ordinary people against the credit card industry - it is good policy and good politics. And I was excited to see Obama give one of the best speeches of his Presidency last Friday in one of the too-rare instances in which he focused squarely on jobs. Before he spoke, he handed the microphone to two women, one a worker who had been laid off but was re-hired thanks to the stimulus package, another a small businesswoman who had felt the pain of laying off her friends but had been able to re-hire thanks to the stimulus package. Obama demonstrated his powers of empathy and personal connection - powers he keeps under wraps too often - as he showed that he understood the pain, fear, and insecurity of a recession. The structure of his speech was excellent: after "feeling your pain", he said what the stimulus package has already done, then he said the immediate steps his administration will be taking, and then he closed by re-emphasizing his vision of a New Foundation for growth "built on rock", built on investing in the American people. I'd like to see him give that speech again and again, in every corner of the country, on every network. This would cut through all the distractions and the distortions and explain to a fearful and uncertain nation that we have a real plan to help people, to make the economy work for them. It would also be a warning to the status quo that this enormously popular President is on the side of ordinary people and will do what he has to do to make the economy work for those ordinary people.
But grassroots progressives need to get off our asses and help Obama. The best friend of the status quo is a silent populace. All the opponents of the New Foundation - the banks and the health care industry and the rich heirs who oppose the necessary regulations, investments, tax code changes, changes in incentives and priorities - may be in a very unpopular position politically due to the Three Big Truths. But unless public opinion is organized and channeled and amplified, unless it demands to be heard, it becomes almost irrelevant in the halls of Congress where these battles are fought. As we said a couple months ago about the battle over Obama's budget, progressives will not succeed unless politics feels qualitatively different - if it's just the same old inside-the-beltway horse-trading game, where no one is paying attention or weighing in except the powerful and well-connected, we'll get some cosmetic changes but not the wholesale shift the country demands.
And that is where grassroots progressives come in. We need to make the invisible people in America - the invisible victims of the policies and priorities of the status quo - we need to make them so visible that they can't be ignored. In the last week Obama has wisely made the causes he's promoting real, by bringing out real people to tell their story, tell how they suffered under the old ways and will benefit from the New Foundation. Progressives need to heed that lesson. Right now it's easy for Congress and the media and all the "wise men" who determine conventional wisdom to give lip service to the struggles of ordinary people, but when one turns on CNBC or read the Wall Street Journal editorial page or reads between the lines of so many "serious" analyses, it's clear that elites are detached from the Great Recession. At most they see it as a cyclical annoyance, one that just needs some tinkering here and there to send stock prices soaring once again, and who cares about tens of millions losing their jobs and health care and livelihoods. Elites may feel some sympathy, may feign some concern for political advantage, but no way will lobbyists let Congress take away their wealth and power to make the changes we need to actually help these people. Even as gifted a persuader as Obama can't use eloquence to convince these people to give up their power voluntarily.
If we want serious changes, it is a far from ideal situation right now because Obama is the one pushing hardest with the boldest proposals, with no serious force to his left. The other side knows that Obama will be forced to compromise in order to get something done because his biggest priority, even bigger than making policies progressive, is to get them enacted so he has a record of accomplishment. On issues of health care, taxes, energy and the environment, and regulation, the key players to get to 60 votes are the self-styled centrists like Arlen Specter, Evan Bayh, and Ben Nelson, Senators who always choose to be in the center of the debate. f Obama is the "most left", than their position will be significantly to the right, and they will eventually bring Obama to their side because he has more need to get something done than they do. But if there was an organized force to the left of Obama on those issues, than the Senators could position themselves in the center without undermining the essence of The New Foundation.
That was the dynamic that allowed the great achievements of the 1930s and the 1960s: Presidents could support serious reform while still appearing moderate because there was an organized force to the left. I don't know exactly how to organize this force in the current environment, and I don't think anybody does, but the best bet is to try lots of ideas and see what proves effective. The basics should involve organizing and publicizing working people, their struggles and needs, their solutions and their hopes. Only a popular groundswell, something that breaks new ground and appears qualitatively different from the normal interest group haggling will put on the necessary pressure to achieve the New Foundation. Something bigger and bolder, innovative and passionate, connecting disenfranchised people from across the country. Something like the Obama Campaign. Progressives are in an amazing position to achieve this organization because there is so much struggling out there even as there is so much hope and desire for major changes. It's just going to take a lot of brainstorming, a lot of thinking, and a whole lot of hard work. Let's get started.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
THE WHITE HOUSE: The big news today from President Obama was his decision not to release Pentagon photos showing U.S. soldiers torturing (apparently) detainees. Obama said that releasing the photos could be propaganda for America's enemies overseas, and could thus endanger our troops. The photos were ordered to be released by a Federal court, so Obama was forced to have his government lawyers file an objection. On the surface, this seems like a Bush-ian cover-up. I have to say I'm pretty conflicted. On the one hand, I think our government should be fully transparent about what went on during the past 8 years. The public should be aware of the full extent to which the Bush administration went to in the name of protecting the country. On the other hand, I find myself agreeing with Obama that this may be fodder for our enemies. It's not like they are withholding the information about what happened, they are just not showing the sensational pictures. What value would the country REALLY get from seeing those photos? I'm not sure. As Bill O'Reilly would say, "you make the call." At least President Obama finally did something for which Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were supportive.
President Obama also received the first report from Vice President Biden on the progress of the stimulus package. So far, only 6% of the $787 billion has been spent. There have been some administrative hang ups, especially in getting money to the states. If I was Obama, I would tell Biden to get the money out there more quickly. With state governments continuing to slash jobs, and unemployment still steadily rising, we have no time to waste.
The President travels tonight to Arizona State to give a commencement speech in front of an expected crowd of 70,000. We'll have full coverage of that tomorrow.
THE SENATE: The Senate had a busy day today. First, Senate Republicans succesfully filibustered the nomination of David Hayes to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The objection, led by Senators Bennett (R-UT) and Murkowski (R-AK) had nothing to do with Hayes' qualifications, but instead to protest the Interior Department's decision to closs off public lands for oil drilling in the West. It's unfortunate that Republicans are holding a qualified nominee hostage for something that he had nothing to do with. The motion to invoke cloture on his nomination failed to get the requisite 60 votes. The final tally was 57-39. Doing the math here, it would seem like with the support they got from Republican Olympia Snowe (ME), the Democrats SHOULD have been able to block the filibuster. The problem was that 3 Democrats, Senators Kennedy and Kerry (MA) and Mikulski (MD) were inexplicably absent, meaning Democrats were stuck on 57 votes. Inexplicably, arch conservative Jon Kyl actually voted FOR the nomination (maybe because he had sympathy for the ailing Kennedy?). Harry Reid voted no for procedural reasons (a Senator can not call up another cloture vote unless they voted against it the first time).
The Senate also took some votes on amendments to the Credit Card Bill of Rights . The first amendment voted on today was from Senator Clown. This was your standard anti-immigrant amendment we've come to expect from the clown. The amendment would have required certain types of identification to apply for a credit card. The vote failed 28-65. No Democrats voted with the clown.
The next amendment from Senator Sanders (Socialist-VT), sought to cap interest rates on credit cards. This would have put actual teeth into this bill by putting serious restrictions on usury rates. I guess it was too mean to the credit card industry for the 60 Senators who voted no. 33 voted in the affirmative. As you would expect, only Democrats voted for the bill.
The final amendment was offered by Senator Gregg (R-NH). The purpose of the amendment would be to increase public knowledge about the national debt (Senator Gregg's pet cause). It would have required the publication of facts about the debts on IRS forms, federal websites, and federal legislation. Because Gregg's amendment violated Senate budget rules, it required 60 votes to pass. It failed by a single vote. The final tally was 59-35. I don't have many problems with this amendment in principle, but it was clearly a political ploy by Gregg to highlight the national debt. Democrats Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO), Boxer (CA), Cardin (MD), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feingold (WI), Feinstein (CA), Gillibrand (NY), Hagan (NC), Klobuchar (MN), Kohl (WI), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Shaheen (NH), Specter (PA) and Udall (CO) couldn't resist.
The Senate will vote on a few more amendments tomorrow, before a possible final vote in the afternoon. If the bill passes as expected, I expect the House and Senate to reconcile the bills in a conference committee.
THE HOUSE: The House today began consideration of a bill to authorize money to be spent on making public schools energy efficient. The House voted on a few amendments today, and will vote on more amendments and final passage tomorrow. A few other amendments were approved by unanimous consent. Here's a quick summary of amendment votes:
1. The first vote was on an amendment offered by Rep. Titus (D-NV) would require the Department of Education to establish a advisory council to the secretary on green high-performing schools. The amendment was agreed to 270-160. 19 Republicans joined all but two Democrats in voting yes.
2. Next was an amendment by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) would have established an advisory commission to see what impact the legislation was having on student achievement. This seems pretty stupid to me, since obviously the purpose of the bill is NOT necessarily to improve student achievement, but to improve energy efficiency in places were 20% of the United States population spends its weekdays. Maybe I'm missing something, because the amendment was agreed to by a vote of 432-2. I guess Democrats are fine picking their battles. Reps. Honda (D-CA) and Walden (R-OR) voted no.
3. Finally, the House voted on an amendment by Rep. Ellsworth (D-IN). The amendment sought to ensure that nothing in the bill would restrict schools from using hardwood lumber for school reconstruction. I guess that's a big thing in Indiana, maybe? The final vote was 425-7. All no votes were from Republicans.
The House also unanimously passed its version of a bill that reforms military contracting policy. The House and Senate will be going to conference sometime in the next week to produce a final product for the President, who has pledged to sign it into law.
The House, after it's done with the green public schools bill, will move onto the war funding measure.
That's it for quite a long day. I could really use some comments.