Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Daily Strike-5/21/09-Beyond "Obama v. Cheney"

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be the last full Daily Strike until next Tuesday, so you better savor it! Have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend!

OBAMA AND CHENEY: The Washington chatter class is abuzz today because of dueling national security speeches from President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney. To a certain extent, both speeches are pretty much exactly what you'd expect. President Obama, his voice echoing through the halls of the National Archives, tried to do what he does best: provide insight and context on a thorny political issue. Obama has been plagued in the past couple of weeks by a series of scandals relating to detainee treatment at Guantanamo Bay. First, Obama decided not to release photos of apparent detainee abuse, which upset his allies on the left. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got into trouble by suggesting that the CIA misled her on interrogation techniques during a 2002 meeting. Finally, Congressional Republicans have mounted a successful effort to block funding to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, claiming that doing so would cause terrorists to be relocated "into our communities." Just like he did with his speech on race in Philadelphia in March 2008, President Obama explained why these smaller issues underlie the large question of how we treat detainees consistent with our constitutional values and principles.

The President argued that the previous administration created a hastily conceived mess at Guantanamo Bay. As a result, America's image has been tarnished abroad, and terrorists have been given a new recruiting tool. He said that it's easy to make political hay out of this issue, but as President, he has to make some tough choices. That means, some detainees will have to be tried in U.S. federal courts. He also, in typical Obama fashion, shot down some of the most childish Republican attacks. To critics who say that putting terrorists in American prisons presents some kind of danger, Obama stated that no person has ever escaped from a maximum security prison in this country. He also, most importantly, used the setting of the National Archives to illustrate the importance of adhering to the fundamental constitutional principals that have kept our country safe.

Cheney, speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, gave his standard "Obama is making our country less safe" speech. He levied a bunch of pretty harsh attacks on the President, saying that Obama has made the country vulnerable to another terrorist attack. I'll let you judge for yourself, but these statements indicate to me that Dick Cheney is mildly psychotic:

“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 mainstream media will almost certainly debate who "won" today's debate. I don't think that's quite the right way of looking at it. You could say that Cheney won because he clearly wants to have a dialogue on these matters for a number of reasons, while Obama almost certainly does not. He has much bigger fish (the economy, energy, health care) to fry. On the other hand, I think Obama comes out of this relatively unscathed. He is going up against one of the most unpopular politicians in the country, and he made an effective, mature case for his administration's policies on the national stage. Hard to see how that can be a bad thing.

THE HOUSE: Let's move on to Congress, because I'm sure most of you, like me, are already tired of this Cheney/Obama story. The House of Representatives got a lot of work done today in advance of next week's Memorial Day recess. In fact, it looks like they'll be able to zip out of town a day early. The House was supposed to begin the day by voting on the conference report on the military procurement bill, but got sidetracked by some political posturing. Republicans offered a privileged resolution demanding an investigation into Nancy Pelosi's statement that the CIA misled her. The presiding officer at the time, Rep. Clay of Missouri, ruled that the resolution did not constitute a question of privilege. The Republicans sought to appeal the ruling of the chair, and lost on an almost pure party-line vote. Every Democrat voted to protect their beloved Speaker. Only two Republicans crossed the aisle and opposed the investigation, Reps. Jones (NC) and Paul (TX). Both of these men are among the very few anti-war Republicans in Congress, and probably are sympathetic to most criticisms of the CIA.

The House then voted on the aforementioned military procurement conference report, and approved it unanimously, 411-0. The bill heads to President Obama's desk for his certain signature. That will make four major bills that the President signs this week. Usually a unanimous vote signifies a toothless bill. In this case, the bill is certainly not toothless. It will go a long way in protecting against military cost-overruns.

Next, the House moved on to a bill reauthorizing spending for the Federal Aviation Administration through 2012. The bill makes some small changes to FAA policy. For one, fuel tax for airlines will increase. Fees for use of passenger facilities will go up by a few dollars. The FAA, under this legislation, will be forced to renegotiate a contract with the Airline Traffic Controllers union, which will result in a pay increase for ATC workers. The bill also mandates that airports implement new standards for fire protection. I'm a big fan of all of these provisions, especially since they were featured as talking points against the bill by these guys.

Before the vote on final passage, the House took roll call votes on a couple of amendments. The first, offered by Rep. Burgess (R-TX), expressed the sense of Congress that FAA whistle blowers should be protected. It passed unanimously. The next amendment, offered by Rep. McCaul (R-TX) prohibits funds in the bill from being used to name a project after a member of Congress. This is one of those pointless anti-corruption amendments. Who cares if we name things after members of Congress? The amendment was agreed to 417-2. I expect we'll be seeing the "Jim Moran" (D-VA) and "Nick Rahall" (D-WV) statues popping up soon. The House rejected a Republican motion to recommit by a vote of 154-263. 28 Republicans voted against their own motion, while 11 Democrats voted yes. The bill passed by a vote of 277-136. 37 Republicans joined all but 4 Democrats in voting yes. The dissenting Democrats were Bright (AL), Cohen (TN), Minnick (ID) and Sestak (PA). The Senate will take up their version of the measure in the coming month.

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.

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