Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Daily Strike-5/6/09-Showdowns

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on another busy Wednesday. President Obama held two key meetings today at the White House, and the Senate made progress on two important bills. Let's get you caught up.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President today held two "trilateral" meetings today, one figurative and one literal. The first meeting was with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Baucus (D-MT) and Grassley (IA). This committee has so far taken the lead in developing a plan for comprehensive health insurance, which I would guess was the focus of the meeting. Baucus has been walking a tightrope recently, by saying that a bill does not necessarily need to contain a public option, while not closing the door on one. Grassley has said that a public option is a deal-breaker. Grassley will have little say in the matter if Democrats choose to use the reconciliation option. The public option has taken a hit in the past couple of weeks, with Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Arlen Specter (?-PA) coming out against it. I really hate to say this, but I'm not sure if the Democrats could even muster 50 votes for a public option, with the power of the insurance lobby and the need for some self-interested Senators to appear "centrist." The best chance for a public plan might be a compromise being crafted by Senator Schumer (D-NY), which would create a public plan with provisions that would prevent it from crowding out private insurance companies. I just can't understand why anyone would oppose a public option. The only drawback, apparently, is that it will put some private companies out of business if they don't lower prices or improve quality. GOOD! The job of the United States Congress is not to protect the insurance industry, it's to protect the American people.

The Republican strategy to prevent Americans from getting health care seemed to be revealed in a memo by pollster/spinmeister Frank Luntz. Republicans are being instructed to emphasize that they are FOR reform, just not for the Democrats' plan because it puts government bureaucrats in charge of your health care. How about Frank Luntz just pays for unnecessary emergency room visits caused by a lack of health insurance?

The President's second meeting today was with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari. In remarks after the meeting, Obama said that he was glad these two leaders understood the precariousness of the situation in that part of the world. Obama pledged that the U.S. would use foreign aid to create "growth and opportunity."

I have two major concerns with this meeting. First of all, Obama said that the United States will make a lasting commitment to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Doesn't that sound a little too Vietnam-like? We need to emphasize an exit strategy instead of unconditional American support. Secondly, these two leaders are not the right people to lead these countries right now. Karzai, a former darling of the United States, has been plagued by corruption and incompetence, and Zardari has not been able to stop the Taliban from advancing into Pakistan. It may be a little early for the Washington Post to be running features on Afghanistan called "Obama's War," but the Af/Pak situation is certainly something to worry about.

We'll have a lot more from the administration tomorrow night, after the expected roll out of their full Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal. (The thing they released earlier this year, and the Congressional Budget Resolution, were just blueprints).

THE SENATE: The Senate today passed the cramdown-less "Helping Families Save Their Homes" Act , which will direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement a program to encourage loan modification. The cramdown provision was defeated last week, so the most of the controversy surrounding the bill subsided. The final vote was 91-5, with Republicans Bunning (KY), Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Gregg (NH) and Inhofe. Prior to vote on final passage, the Senate voted on three additional amendments.

1. The first amendment, offered by Senator Kerry (D-MA) seeks to "protect the interests of bona fide tenants in the case of any foreclosure on any dwelling or residential real property, and for other purposes." What's a bona fide tenant? A legal tenant as opposed to a "squatter?" Anyways, the amendment was agreed to by a vote of 57-39. All Democrats voted for the amendment, as did one Republican, Senator Snowe (ME). Once again, Specter votes with his party! He's getting the hang of it!

2. The second amendment, offered by Senator Coburn (R-OK), would have established a pilot program that would expedite the disposal of Federal "real" property. I looked into what "real" property was, and apparently it means something along the lines of "excess" or "under- performing" land. Because the amendment would violate Senate budget rules, it required 60 votes to pass. The amendment failed by a vote of 50-46. All no votes were from Democrats, except for Christoper Bond (R-MO). Every other Republicans voted yes, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Carper (DE), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA). Again, Specter on our side!

3. Finally, the Senate voted on an amendment offered by Senator Grassley (R-IA) that gives the U.S. comptrollers authority to do audits on the Federal Reserve. I don't know how this has to do with housing, per se. Either way, it was approved by a vote of 95-1, with only Senator Alexander (R-TN), voting in the negative.

The Senate has moved on to consideration on a bill reforming military procurement policies. The bill has the ardent support of Obama's Presidential opponent, John McCain. The Senate will vote on a few amendments to that bill tomorrow, prior to an evening vote on final passage. We'll have more details on that bill tomorrow.

The House had another reasonably quiet day. They did agree to the Senate-passed anti-mortgage fraud bill by a vote of 367-59, with Democrat Alan Grayson (FL) voting present. (?). All no votes were from Republicans. The bill will now go to President Obama for his signature.

That's it for us today, see you tomorrow night! Leave us some comments and let us know what we missed!

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