Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Daily Strike-5/14/09-Congressional Wrangling

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was one of those wacky Thursdays in Washington, so let me tell you all about it.

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!

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