Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/30/09-Finally Franken

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Before you read this, scroll down and read The Big Picture's entry below. He makes a very important point. Now, to the day in politics.

FRANKEN: No more excuses, Democrats. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a 5-0 ruling, declared Al Franken the winner of the contested Minnesota Senate election. The ruling said that the trial court was correct in certifying the Democrat's 312 vote post-recount victory. An hour or so after the ruling, former Republican Senator Norm Coleman conceded, clearing the path for Franken to be sworn in when the Senate returns next week. This will give the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate, to accompany its overwhelming House majority and progressive President. In theory, Democrats now control all levers of power in Washington. But, we should mention several caveats. First, any one Senator can nullify the filibuster-proof majority on a given issue. Remember, we still have to deal with people like ex-Republican Arlen Specter, McCain buddy Joe Lieberman and Nebraska's proud centrist Ben Nelson. Even if we do get everybody on board, we still need every Senator to be present and voting in order to get to the magic 60 without Republican support. This will be difficult because of health issues surrounding Senators Kennedy (MA) and Byrd (WV) (who came out of the hospital today after 6 weeks.). Despite these caveats, Franken's seating means that the Democrats have no more excuses for inaction. As Ezra Klein pointed out today, we may never have an opportunity like this again, and the Big Picture reminds us that getting strong progressive legislation will be the best way to make these majorities enduring.

A couple more points on Franken:

One thing I haven't thought about much is that Franken might end up being a debate asset for Senate Democrats. Even though Franken is sometimes written off because he was a comedian, he has a knack for making other people feel two feet small. Perhaps he can help put down Republican and centrist Democratic opposition to President Obama's proposals, and shift policy debates to the left.

Also, let's remember how far we've come. Three years ago today, Republicans held 55 Senate seats, 232 House seats, and the White House. Since then, they've lost 15 seats in the Senate, 54 in the House, and of course, the Presidency.

IRAQ: Remember that war in Iraq? It seems like we haven't heard anything about it for awhile. It's hard to believe consdering that it dominated the news from 2003 to 2007. Today, the United States military handed over control of Iraqi cities to the Iraqi military, per last year's Status of Forces Agreement. The turnover was accompanied by some violence, including a bombing that killed 4 American GIs. But considering where Iraq was two years ago, it's a pretty big deal. American troops will remain stationed outside the cities as advisors, and they will still be patrolling more rural areas. A dark chapter in American history is slowly coming to an end. The turnaround in Iraq can be attributed to a number of sources: a change in civilian and military leadership, the Sunni awakening, and the infamous troop surge. I was a major opponent of the troop surge, thinking that it was doubling down on a failed policy. While it may have been a tactical victory that allows us to start a painfully slow withdrawal, we have to remember that it still caused the death of over a thousand American troops.

Hopefully violence doesn't increase now that American troops have moved out of the cities. It is now the responsibility of the Iraqi government to ensure stability.

That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

The Big Picture: Right Now, Staying principled is also good politics

Among committed but also politically astute progressives, the big debate is about whether Obama and the Democrats should focus on more seizing this unique moment to enact the desired liberal policy agenda, with the political considerations of maintaining their popular support a decided secondary priority, or whether to act cautiously, making sure to retain the political center. The mantra of each side is "Don't blow it!" For the "bold policy" advocates, that means don't blow this once-in-a-generation chance to do the things we've been saying are desperately necessary for decades. For the "political considerations first", "Don't blow it" means that due to Republican failures and Obama's charisma we have a chance to build an enduring Democratic majority which it would be counterproductive to risk. Each side can point to historical examples to support their case. And each side can use Obama's rhetoric to buttress their argument. But I think it's a false choice.

We don't need to choose between working to keep the majority and taking advantage of it. I think that, especially considering the situation in the country, you either enact the big sweeping things we need which will prove successful and ensure continuing Democratic majorities, or you sell out AND in the process much much more likely your policies will be unsuccessful and the Democrats will lose their advantage. In other historical moments, taking advantage to enact the liberal agenda was often incompatible with maintaining electoral dominance - the 1960s the obvious example. But now we're not trying to extend rights to unpopular minorities, we're not taking anything away from the middle class to give to the poor. At least right now, the most important things should also prove the most politically popular things - strengthening the job market, dealing with foreclosures, improving health care, improving education and energy making us more economically competitive, enacting commonsense regulations to protect consumers, making the tax code more fair and reasonable. Even climate change legislation, if done the right way, shouldn't be taking things away from the vast majority of Americans. If we're successful, in a while the liberal agenda may again be more at odds with what's in political interest, but not now. Either step up AND win, or sell out AND lose.

This is the dynamic that makes me most confident Obama will end up pressing for what liberals want on health care reform. You have to think that Obama's top priority is to enact a health care reform that succeeds rather than fails, and it seems pretty clear that only the more liberal approaches will succeed - the more conservative, pro-industry it gets, that means it's less likely to contain costs, less likely to cover more people, less likely to help people deal with the costs, and less likely to make people happier with their health care coverage. So we don't have to depend on some inner liberal compass to guide Obama in the right direction, but really his own political viability, which will be greatly strengthened by successful health care reform, and severely weakened if the "legislatively pragmatic" plan winds up, in the next couple years, making people less happy with their health care, seen as a huge waste of money, unfair rationing, etc. In other words, we need Obama to be smart about his long-term self-interest, and he has definitely shown a tremendous knack for that.

This really is the great advantage to being liberal right now. That dynamic where liberalism is more successful hasn't always been the case, but in the current political alignment, where it's basically pragmatic national-interest progressivism vs. an ideological, what "sounds good", and what's in the short-term narrow interest of positional advantage, it's absolutely the case that we'll be successful and they won't be. Our approach works a lot better and makes people more satisfied, so even if it may be politically difficult to sell a lot of the time, ultimately politicians and parties and ideologies are judged on success, and that's why Bush conservatism could never remain politically popular, but liberal politicians can do the right thing and enhance their own long-term self-interest, especially when it comes to the economy, jobs, health care. We saw some of that with the stimulus package, but we need more of that thinking. I think that's really the right approach to convincing Democrats to do the right thing - not self-righteousness, but saying, "you need this to work for your own political survival, so you need to design a plan that works".

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/29/09-Reversed and Remanded

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This might be one of the few days of the year that we start our entry with an item on the Supreme Court.

RICCI V. DEFESTANO: The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of mostly white New Haven firefighters, who claimed that they were victims of reverse discrimination. The city of New Haven had begun to administer tests for merit-based promotions to lieutenant and captain of the fire department. After no black candidates got promotions, the city scrapped the test, because it worried that it would be liable to lawsuit for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination that has a "disparate impact." The court, by a 5-4 majority, decided that the white firefighters had indeed been discriminated against, and that exam given to firefighters didn't meet the test specified in previous cases dealing with Title VII. The opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, was joined by the four other conservative Justices: Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas. Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent in which Justices Stevens, Breyer and the retiring David Souter joined.

The case is significant in and of itself, but has added significance because of the role played by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Judge Sotomayor joined a 2nd Circuit Court ruling that upheld New Haven's decision to abandon the test. Republicans jumped all over today's case, saying it proves that Sotomayor is out of the judicial mainstream. I think that's a pretty weak case to make, considering that it was a 5-4 decision made by an ideologically rigid right-wing majority. Still, Republicans are intent on applying the "throw anything and see if it sticks" strategy with Sotomayor. Her nomination hearings are set to begin on July 13th.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama had a series of meetings at the White House today, in what was a good example of how diverse his agenda has become. Obama held a joint press event with Energy Secretary Steven Chu this afternoon, where he touted the administrations' new initiative to promote light bulb efficiency. The plan is designed to save taxpayers $4 billion on energy costs.

Later in the afternoon, the President met with Columbian President Alvaro Uribe. The two discussed a variety of topics, including the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, which has yet to be ratified by Congress, and the situation in Honduras. The President expressed hope that he can get the Free Trade agreement through Congress, although I doubt that Democratic leaders in Congress would try to force rust belt members to accept a free trade agreement after what they put them through on the Waxman-Markey climate bill. On Honduras, the President said that the military coup was "not legal" and could set a terrible precedent for Latin America.

This afternoon, the President held a reception at the White House, as we mentioned, celebrating LGBT Pride month. The President, who has faced criticism from the community for his failure to move on a variety of issues, promised to overturn the ban on gays in the military, and to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. The President said he understood the community's frustration, but promised them that he will make progress. The President has been promising to repeal DADT since he began his run for President, and has not taken any action thus far. He has also not used his influence to push anti-hate crimes legislation or anti-workers discrimination bills through Congress. I wonder whether today's event will help ease some of the tension that the LGBT community has felt. In Obama's defense (and we always have to remember this), he is trying to save the economy, overhaul health care, end global warming, stop North Korea from detonating a nuclear weapon, win an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and deal with precarious situation in Iran. As much as it will frustrate a lot of us, he can't do EVERYTHING.

That's it for today. Leave us some comments. We'll see you tomorrow.

The Weekly Strike-6/29-7/5

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Thanks to the Big Picture for summing up the week nicely last night. Make sure you get a chance to read his entry if you haven't already. Also, thanks to those of you who have left comments. Let's just say that some of these comments have helped me discover new things about myself!

THE WHITE HOUSE: It's a holiday week, meaning Congress is on vacation. Therefore, news will primariliy be coming from the White House. Obama meets this morning with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. You can be sure the two will discuss the volatile situations in North Korea, Iran and Honduras. In Honduras this week, the military ousted the country's President, and the Congress installed a new leader by a "show of hands." Sounds pretty tumultuous to me.

This afternoon, the President holds a reception at the White House in honor of LGBT month. About 300 guests are expected to attend. The LGBT community has been critical of Obama so far for not overturning the ban on gays in the military, and for authoring a court opinion that pushed for continued enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act. It's good that the community has held the President to account on these issues. Even if they lose out on gays in the military, the administration will be more likely to push for passage of the Hate Crimes bill and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, two major priorities for LGBT activists.

Tonight, the President attends a reception for Democratic National Finance Committee members. He probably won't want to publicize this ritzy fundraiser too much.

The big event this week will be another town hall meeting on health reform., this time in Annandale, Virginia. The forum will include questions from social networking websites. This is a great time to hold a town hall meeting, because Congressional opponents will be out of town and unable to formulate a rapid response. Again, this is another opportunity for the President to earn the public's trust on health care. As The Big Picture wisely noted, he may not be as passionate and empathetic as we'd like in these forums, but he's showing that he knows what he's talking about, that he's trustworthy, and that he has command of the issues.

The President will spend the July 4th weekend in Camp David.

CONGRESS: Even though Congress is out for the week, members will be busier than ever. After a tough vote on the climate bill Friday, members on both sides of the issue will have to defend their positions at home. Republican leaders have sent members a "tip sheet" of talking points against the bill. I'm not sure there is evidence that public opinion is swayed by such talking points, but recess chatter may help shift the debate one way or another.

That's it for this week. Join us tonight for the Daily Strike!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Big Picture: Evaluating the Week

Before we get into evaluating the progress of the Obama agenda this week, I need to lay into our blog's favorite politician, Mark Sanford, one more time. His actions are morally reprehensible, render him unfit to hold public office, and his lies, excuses, and euphemisms have provided us with some deep belly laughs. But what's being forgotten is that, in just the past 6 months, this guy, the governor of a state with the third-highest unemployment rate, where millions of people are suffering in the recession caused by his radical conservative ideology, has fought to deny ANY unemployment benefits to the unlucky millions who lost their jobs thanks to him and his ideology, and he has tried to not accept stimulus money that would have saved the jobs of half a million teachers, intentionally denying the children of his state a chance in life throwing people out of work in the midst of a deep recession, destroying families, even though it wouldn't cost the state a dime, all to further his ambition to be the Republican candidate for President. And, his constant explanation was his overriding moral concern about proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars, always holding himself up as the exemplar of fiscal rectitude and Christian piety. BUT HE JUST SPENT THOUSANDS OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS TO FLY TO AND FROM ARGENTINA TO HAVE THIS AFFAIR! Apparently the state doesn't have enough money to pay its teachers, but it's got plenty to finance Mr. Sanford's sexual escapades! And he is anything but an isolated case: the 2009 Republican Party stands for throwing 95% of the population into misery to finance the debauchery of the elite.

Now that that's off my chest, on to evaluating the week. The Obama agenda had a significantly better week this week than the one before. The biggest accomplishment was the tooth-and-nail passage of the most significant legislation addressing climate change and promoting our transition to green energy in American history. Obama also took to the airwaves to press the case for health care, and as the Strike said, the most consistent fact about Obama's campaigns and administration is that he's always better off when he personally makes his case on television to the American people. Whatever issues I had with some of the content of Obama's statements, his town hall meeting was a success simply because he was on screen for over an hour, benefiting from the broad and deep reservoir of trust in him, creating the impression that he knows what he's talking about, that he's got the right values and priorities, and that he's motivated by what will work, not ideology or special interests. When he makes more of a transition into pressing specific policy outcomes, people will give him the benefit of the doubt, which they would not give to an unpopular President, or to Congress. This should be his decisive advantage in the upcoming struggles with the entrenched interests, and he did a very solid job this week building that advantage. The continued "struggles", to put it kindly, of the Republican Party are an added bonus, discrediting the opposition. Still, I would like to see some third-party liberal groups engage in some borderline unfair attacks by tying these ludicrous and immoral figures to the Republican Party, conservatism, and big business in general. The average voter may find the ads a little over-the-top, but the goal is that whenever he thinks about conservatism or the opposition to Obama's agenda, he can't help but think of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Rush Limbaugh, etc. etc. As in "Do you trust the party whose top candidates use taxpayer dollars to commit adultery to lecture us that it's the Democrats' plans that are irresponsible?" 

Still, this week was decent but not worth celebrating. The climate change bill, as groundbreaking as it is, is still woefully inadequate, it bent over backwards to accomodate the very entrenched interests that cause the problems, seriously undermining the key element that would make it both politically popular and environmentally effective: actually selling the carbon permits and using the money to reimburse people for higher energy bills. Instead 85% of the permits were just given out to fossil fuels corporations, undermining the whole point of encouraging more environmentally sound policies through the market mechanism, and also taking away most of the money to give tax cuts, which now opens the door to Republican criticism that this is a tax increase. And, even the 15% of permits to be sold is apparently highly unlikely to make it in any Senate bill that passes. AND, it's less than a 50-50 shot that ANY bill will pass the Senate. Unlike health care, the population is actually in tune with this extremely watered-down effort, because combating climate change is very low on people's priority list compared to affordable energy now. There is a great deal of work to be done to create the political consensus that this HAS  to be done. It will be one of the most important challenges of Obama's presidency, and to date he has not done nearly enough to educate or persuade the American people. 

And on health care, while Obama laid some good groundwork this week, the same dilemmas of cost, coverage, and public option are bedeviling Senate Democrats. Obama has to do  A LOT  more work to convince not Republicans, not independents, but Democrats of this essential fact, which has been said as best as it can by Ezra Klein. 

As we speak, the Senate is toiling to cut the health care reform bill from $1.6 trillion to $1 trillion over 10 years. Health economist Uwe Reinhardtputs those numbers into context:

A price tag of $1.6 trillion seems immense if one contemplates the figure in the abstract. It is, however, only about 4 percent of the total cumulative health spending of $40 trillion, the amount government actuaries now project for the decade from 2010 to 2020. That is also less than the 6 to 7 percent that total national health spending has increased each year in the past decade.

And $1.6 trillion is only about 1 percent of the amount of G.D.P. that America can reasonably be expected to produce in the next decade (about $150 trillion to $170 trillion).

That 1 percent would not be lost to G.D.P., of course, because health spending is part of G.D.P. Rather, it would be a diversion of G.D.P. — away from other uses, and toward providing the otherwise uninsured with the peace of mind that comes with health insurance and access to timely health care. It would represent merely a change in the composition of G.D.P.

That last is an important point. The president has declared that health reform will be paid-for. The relevant committee chairmen have agreed. This isn't a question between borrowing $1 trillion or $1.6 trillion. It's a question of spending priorities. The president, for instance, has proposed limiting the itemized deduction rate to 28 percent for taxpayers making more than $250,000 (the rate for most of us is between 10 and 15 percent). This would raise more than $300 billion over 10 years.

But the Senate has been unimpressed by the proposal. A world, however, in which we cut coverage to bring costs under $1 trillion but leave the itemized deduction, is a world in which we have explicitly decided that we would prefer to spend that $300 billion helping wealthy Americans lower their tax bills rather than helping low-income Americans afford health insurance.

Think about that for a second. These are Democrats who are making that choice. Obama didn't do much to change that huge problem this week. Overall, this was a solid, steady week for the Obama agenda, with steps in the right direction, and a stop to the backwards drift of the week before. But it was not everything we need. A B.

The Daily Strike-6/28/09-Wouldn't Go As Far As THAT Part VIII

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I apologize for no entry yesterday. I was hanging out with Lady Strike's parents. It's time for our latest installment of Wouldn't Go As Far As THAT, where we review the three most ridiculous things said during the week in politics.

3. The bronze to Georgia Rep. Paul Broun. This venerable Republican was speaking on the House floor against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. There are indeed reasonable criticisms of the bill that could have been offered. Unfortunately, Broun chose not to make such a criticism. He instead questioned the existence of global warming. Here's a transcript of Broun's tirade:

"Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus. … And who’s going to be hurt most [by ACES] the poor, the people on limited income…the people who can least afford to have their energy taxes raised by MIT says $3100 per family. … This bill must be defeated. We need to be good stewards of our environment, but this is not it, it’s a hoax! …"

I don't know what the worst part of this quote is. There's the fact that many of his Republican colleagues applauded. There's the part where he says that there's no scientific consensus, when according to the International Panel on Climate Change, there most certainly is. I have to say though, the dubious award for worst part of this quote goes to the part about the MIT study. Republicans had used the study as a talking point in the past, and were told, by the author of the study, that they were completely misrepresenting it. Sometimes I'm amazed at how many lies you can put in one paragraph.

2. The silver goes to the one and only Minnesota Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who has been saying some pretty nutty things about the Census. This rant pretty much captures it:

"Now ACORN has been named one of the national partners, which will be a recipient again of federal money," Bachmann said. "And they will be in charge of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public. This is very concerning because the motherload of all data information will be from the census. And, of course, we think of the census as just counting how many people live in your home. Unfortunately, the census data has become very intricate, very personal (with) a lot of the questions that are asked.

"And I know for my family the only question that we will be answering is how many people are in our home. We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that."

Alright, where to start? The constitution says absolutely nothing about the census accepts that it should be administered in a manner to be proscribed by law. Not filling out parts of the census, according to federal law, is illegal. Second of all, ACORN has absolutely no real connection with the census whatsoever. The tiny shred of truth in Bachmann's statement is that the census does indeed partner with various groups to help with outreach in different communities. ACORN happens to be one of 30,000. ACORN doesn't even do outreach itself, it just spreads the word about temporary census jobs. There are no payments involved in any of these steps. I don't know why Bachmann is picking on ACORN, other than the fact that she's insane. Political fact checking websites have had their workload double since Bachmann took office.

1. The winner this week, of course, goes to South Carolina Mark Sanford. Mr. Sanford, of course, was forced to admit that his bizarre disappearance this week was a jaunt to Argentina to visit his mistress. One of the best parts of this whole affair (so to speak) were the original explanations for Sanford's absences. When the media first noticed Sanford's absence, his staff said that he was "taking care of some projects that have fallen by the wayside." His staff then said he was "hiking the Appalachian trail." Those, as The Big Picture first pointed out, will make for some fantastic euphemisms. "Guys, I can't hang out with you tonight. Lucy's coming over, and we're gonna take care of some projects that have gone by the wayside. If I get lucky, we might hike the old Appalachian trail."

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/26/09-Historic Vote

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The rest of the world was focused on Michael Jackson, but the politically savvy had their eyes on the House of Representatives. Let's get you caught up.

HOUSE: The House of Representatives passed a historic bill today that, if enacted, would change the way America consumes energy and would play a small, but significant role in curbing carbon emissions. The bill sets up a so-called Cap and Trade program, which seeks to reduce total carbon emissions in the U.S. by 80% in 2050. The bill also contains historic investments in alternative energy, and would require 20% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. This was a massive legislative battle, complete with intense lobbying from the Democratic leadership and President Obama, obstructionist shenanigans from Republicans, and heated debate on both sides. In the end, the bill passed by an extremely narrow 219-212 margin. Democrats had to contend with objections in their own ranks, mostly from rural conservative members who worried that the bill would increase energy costs. A few liberal Democrats broke ranks because they thought the bill didn't go far enough. In all, 44 out of 256 Democrats broke with their party and opposed the bill. Luckily, 8 Republicans defected and voted yes, assuring passage. Here's the list of defectors from both parties. You should call your Representative if you don't like how they voted:

Democrats Voting No: Altmire (PA), Arcuri (NY), Barrow (GA), Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Bright (AL), Carney (PA), Childers (MS), Costa (CA), Costello (IL), Dahlkemper (PA), Davis (AL), Davis (TN), DeFazio (OR), Donnelly (IN), Edwards (TX), Ellsworth (IN), Foster (IL), Griffith (AL), Herseth-Sandlin (SD), Holden (PA), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kissell (NC), Kucinich (OH), Marshall (GA), Massa (NY), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Mollohan (WV), Nye (VA), Ortiz (TX), Pomeroy (ND), Rahall (WV), Rodriguez (TX), Ross (AR), Salazar (CO), Stark (CA), Tanner (TN), Taylor (MS), Visclosky (IN) and Wilson (OH).

Republicans Voting Yes: Bono Mack (CA), Castle (DE), Kirk (IL), Lance (NJ), LoBiondo (NJ), McHugh (NY), Reichert (WA) and Smith (NJ). These Republican heroes not only stood up to the Earth is Flat crowd in their caucus, but they will allow President Obama to portray this progressive bill as "bipartisan." Better still, since far-left Representatives like Kucinich voted no, he can claim that the bill is "centrist." That might be a good way to sell the bill to the United States Senate, which should take up a version later this summer or during the fall.

A couple other notes on voting: Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), was confirmed by the Senate yesterday for a post at the State Department. She decided to hold off retiring from the House so that she could vote for the bill today. She spent the day, as she frequently does, presiding over debate as the Speaker Pro Tempore, and got shout outs from Republicans and Democrats alike. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), son of Ted Kennedy, came back from rehab to take a vote on this bill. I guess that shows just how important the vote was.

The vote itself was the culmination of a crazy day on the House floor, mostly due to Republican shenanigans. For one, every Republican who spoke on the floor portrayed the bill as a jobs killing measure pedaled by liberal activists that will raise energy taxes on consumers and businesses. The CBO estimated that the cost per family was about a postage stamp a day, which doesn't account for potential benefits of a new alternative energy sector. Then, for a good half hour or so, Republicans started complaining that they didn't have enough time to read the bill, because Democrats had added in 300 pages late last night. The uber-partisan chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Tom Price of Georgia, got up like a little brat and asked for a moment of silence for "all the people who will lose jobs as a result of this bill." Several Republicans also denied the science behind global warming.

The real jerk of the day (I reserve that term for rarified circumstances) was Republican Leader John Boehner. As you know, debate time is limited in the House. Customarily, party leaders are allowed to exceed time limits, but they usually do so only by a couple of minutes. Boehner decided to abuse that privilege tonight, because he is a little child. He went to the floor for about two hours, ostensibly to protest that he didn't have enough time to read the bill. He proceeded to read excerpts of the bill, page by page, 1 to 309. Democrats asked Tauscher, the presiding officer, if they could do anything to stop him, and she said no. Democrats had to sit there and listen to Boehner ramble on in the first House filibuster I can remember. Luckily, the perma-tanned partisan hack couldn't keep up his monotoned voice forever, and members finally got to actually vote.

Before the final vote, members voted on a Republican alternative, offered by Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, that would strike the whole bill for a Republican measure that would emphasize offshore drilling and nuclear energy. The alternative failed by a vote of 172-256. 11 Republicans didn't support their own alternative, while 7 Democrats jumped ship and voted with the GOP.

When all is said and done, today is a great day for the President and the Democratic party. Sure, getting this through the Senate will be tough. And the bill had been significantly watered down to placate concerns of moderate Democrats. But today's vote will really help the stars align. Not only does it give Democrats momentum, but the terms of the debate are favorable. Obama can say that this is a bipartisan bill, and he can characterize opposition to the bill by using the anti-science rhetoric of House Republicans.

The House earlier in the day, in a far less dramatic vote, approved the 4th of the 12 annual appropriations bill, the bill funding the Department of the Interior, Environment and related agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 254-173. 17 Republicans voted yes, while 14 Democrats voted no.

Both the House and Senate are off next week for the July 4th holiday. When they come back, they will have their hands full. The Senate will start with the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, and will then move on to a couple more appropriations measures. The House will continue appropriations as well, with the goal of completing all of them by the August recess.

Before we go, we should mention that President Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today to discuss a variety of matters, including Iran and North Korea. Not much news out of that event.

That's it for tonight. Please leave us your thoughts on this important bill. We'll see you tomorrow night!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/25/09-Yesterday and Today

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This post would be a lot more somber if this was a Hollywood blog. Alas, it is not.

THE WHITE HOUSE: A lot happened last night both at the White House and on Capital Hill, so we thought we'd fill you in. The President held a town hall meeting on health care at the White House last night. The forum was sponsored (poorly, I might add) but ABC News. Questions came from the audience, a diverse group of health stakeholders, as well as ABC moderators Charles Gibson and Dianne Sawyer. President Obama, on the whole, gave a strong performance. He expressed a strong command of the issues and came off as confident and and knowledgeable. These qualities are undervalued, I think, because you need the American people to trust that you know what you're doing when embarking on comprehensive reform. The President took questions on cost, payment/incentive reform and the public insurance option. The points he chose to put extra emphasis on were that people could keep the care they have if they like it, and that he wants to realign payment incentives towards quality. These are all important points, but I would have loved to see him use the bully pulpit to push forcefully for the public plan. The President also did not make the moral case that every American has a right to health insurance. I understand that he would be hesitant to get too emotional during a town hall meeting, but he needs to make the urgency for health reform more real to average Americans. Give us more stories about people you've met across the country who are working hard, but have been bankrupted by medical bills.

The President was busy with a series of events at the White House today. He gave a brief speech this morning in support of the House Cap-and-Trade bill that's coming up for a vote tomorrow (more on that below.) Obama said that the bill is a job creator, and it will ignite a new revolution in green energy. Hopefully, he made some calls to reticent Democrats on the Hill.

Obama then held a forum at the White House to discuss immigration reform. I'm not sure he's genuine about getting a comprehensive bill done this year, especially with health care and energy on his plate. But he still wants to show his friends in the Hispanic community that he cares about them (Sotomayor not withstanding). Immigration, like climate change, is not a bill that's easy to sell during an economic recession, because it will require some hardship and sacrifice (potentially) for American workers. Health care, on the other hand, is easier to sell in a recession if you can convince people that they'll be paying less.

This afternoon, the President held a luau at the White House for members of Congress and their families. I'll leave that story to Politico.

THE HOUSE: When we left off yesterday, the House was finishing consideration of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill after a long day of Republican obstruction votes. The bill funds programs in the Department of Homeland Security through September 3oth, 2009, and it is the 3rd of the 12 annual appropriations bill to be considered by the House of Representatives Republicans seemed to abandon their delay strategies, and the bill came up for a final vote last night. The bill passed 389-37, with all no votes coming from Republicans, who, of course, object to the high levels of spending in the bill (they hate America, in other words.). Several amendments were adopted, including a Republican motion to recommit that transfers money to border enforcement. The motion passed 234-193, with 61 Democrats joining all but 3 Republicans in voting for it. A lot of the other Republican amendments, as usual, sought to strike out specific earmarks from the bill. Every single one of those amendments failed.

The House began consideration last night of a bill authorizing programs and expenditures for the Department of Defense. The bill, among other provisions, increases pay for service members and provides for an allowance to soldiers rehabilitating from injuries. The bill passed easily by a vote of 389-22. All but 2 of the no votes came from anti-war Democrats. Several amendments were considered, including one by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) that would require the Department of Defense to submit a progress report on the War in Afghanistan by the end of the year. The amendment was solidly defeated by a vote of 138-278. I guess there is a sentiment out there among most Democrats that the President deserves the right to make Afghanistan policy work. There's also possibly a sentiment among some Republicans that it's politically beneficial to have Obama stuck in an Afghan quagmire.

The House began consideration tonight of appropriation bill number 4, funding the Department of Interior, Environment and related agencies. Votes on amendments and final passage to that bill will come later tonight or tomorrow morning. After that, it's onto the most crucial vote since the stimulus, a vote on the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill. This one will come down to the wire. I expect that many rural Democrats, especially ones from coal producing states, will be opposed to the bill. I also expect near unanimous Republican opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer are smart people though, and I don't think they'd bring the bill to the floor if they didn't have the votes to pass it. We will have comprehensive coverage of this key vote tomorrow evening. The bill, as we've mentioned, sets caps on carbon emissions, with the goal of cutting U.S. emission by 80 percent in 2050. It also would make the U.S. get 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Passage of the bill would be a huge victory to President Obama and Congressional Democrats. The contents will likely have to be altered a bit to pass the Senate, but House passage would get the ball rolling and give the bill a bit of momentum.

THE SENATE: The Senate today confirmed Harold Koh to be Legal Advisor at the Department of State by a vote of 62-35. Koh's nomination had been held up by Republicans concerned with his unabashed liberal legal views. Republican Senators Collins (ME), Lugar (IN), Martinez (FL), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH) joined all Democrats in voting yes. Senators then finally moved on to consider their first appropriations bill, funding the legislative branch of government. The first vote on that today was to kill an amendment offered by Senator Clown, which would reduce funding in the bill to 2009 levels (ever heard of inflation, clown boy?). Senators killed the amendment by a vote of 65-31. Republicans Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Collins (ME), Lugar (IN), Murkowski (AK), Roberts (KS), Shelby (AL), Snowe (ME), Voinovich (OH) and Wicker (MS) voted to kill the amendment, while Democratic "reformers" Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO) voted no. More votes, including a vote on final passage, is likely to come tomorrow. Tomorrow should be the last day in both houses of Congress before the July 4th recess next week.

That's it for a busy day. We'll be back tomorrow with full coverage of the Cap-and-Trade vote in the House.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/24/09-Strange Travels

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The President had a quiet day today, in preparation for his health care town hall meeting tonight at the White House. We will have full reaction to this event tomorrow. Now on to an interesting day in politics.

SANFORD: Well, the 2009 Larry Craig Memorial Award for most bizarre sex scandal by a family-values oriented politician officially goes to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. I do everything I can to keep this blog about serious issues, but this is just too good. Sanford, an arch-conservative ideologue, had gone missing for five days this week. No one knew where he was, not his staff, not his wife. Yesterday, we were told that he was "hiking in the Appalachians." Today, he admitted that he was actually in Argentina. We got the full details at a press conference this afternoon. Apparently, he had been having a long-term affair with an Argentinian woman that he met on an economic development trip there a few years ago. This seemed like a pretty passionate affair. Sanford had most likely been prepping for a 2012 Presidential run, on a platform of fiscal conservatism. It looks like those prospects have pretty much gone by the wayside.

I do need to mention that it's not surprising to see the media fawn over this story, while not paying any attention when Sanford refused federal stimulus money for his economically-depressed state. These scandals can be fun, and I certainly am having a lot of fun with it, but we have to always be grounded in what's really important.

THE HOUSE: The story in the House today was more childish Republican obstructionism. Republicans are upset that Democrats aren't allowing them to propose limited amendments to appropriations bills. Democrats had to restrict amendments because Republicans had threatened to offer hundreds of them. Republicans seem to think that shutting down business in the House will send a message to the American people that they are faithful stewards of...an arcane House appropriations process. A little known House rule allows anyone to demand a vote on a "Motion to Adjourn" whenever they want. Of course, the motions fail every time. Not even most Republicans actually want to adjourn. They're just doing this to be obnoxious, quite frankly. Republicans called for these votes 6 times so far today. They also demanded a couple of other votes by "reconsidered" even though the vote margins were large. This is your standard minority-obstructionism playbook. The House was supposed to get to the Homeland Security Department funding bill this morning, but didn't get to it until mid-afternoon. The House just finished debating the 14 allowed amendments to the bill, and will vote on them later this evening. Final passage could happen around 10pm this evening if Republicans don't delay things any further. It would be one thing if these dilatory tactics actually did something, but the House is STILL finishing it's business, it's just taking twice the amount of time. The House tonight also begins consideration of a bill to authorize funding and programs for the Department of Defense. Final votes on this bill should come tomorrow. The House will also vote on number 4 of the annual appropriations bills, the Department of Interior and Related Agencies bill, tomorrow. Friday is the the big day, when the House is scheduled to vote on the historic climate-change legislation co-sponsored by Reps. Waxman (D-CA) and Markey (D-MA).

THE SENATE: The Senate is about as effective right now as the Washington Nationals' pitching (heyo!). Pretty much no legislative action, once again, took place in the Senate today. The upper chamber did take a couple of important actions this morning. First, it began impeachment proceedings against Federal Judge Samuel B. Kent. Kent, as we've mentioned, has been convicted of sexual abuse but is refusing to relinquish his federal paycheck. The Senate this morning ceremonially accepted the case from the House managers, and appointed a committee to review the charges. Kent will almost certainly be convicted when the Senate votes on the charges next month.

The Senate also voted to cut off debate on the nomination of Harold Koh to be a Legal Advisor at the Department of State. Koh's nomination had been stalled by Republicans who were worried about Koh's past statements against rampant executive power and Bush administration prosecution of the War on Terror. Koh, as we mentioned yesterday, has become a favorite of the left-wing blogosphere because of his outspoken liberal views. The cloture motion was agreed to 65-31. All Democrats voted to cut off debate, as did Republicans Collins (ME), Gregg (NH), Hatch (UT), Lugar (IN), Martinez (FL), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH). If Republicans insist on using all of the allowed debate time, a vote to officially confirm Koh will take place tomorrow night, meaning the Senate, as usual, still won't be getting to any legislative business. They are supposed to take up the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill later this week.

That's it for tonight, join us tomorrow as we report on the President's health care event. Leave some comments!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/23/09-Presser and Positive Prognosis

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The President effectively used the bully pulpit today, and we saw a few other positive developments in Washington today. Let's get to it.

PRESS CONFERENCE: The President gave a major press conference today at the White House. Obama had a tough week last week, seeing his health care initiative languish on Capital Hill and facing (undue) criticism for his measured response to the situation in Iran. The President clearly wanted to regain control of the debate. That's the advantage of being President. When you want to control the terms of the conversation, everyone listens.

The President gave a brief statement, and then took questions on topics ranging from Iran, health reform and his own smoking habits. He used his strongest language yet when talking about the situation in Iran, saying that he is "appalled and outraged" at the violence. He mentioned the shock and horror of seeing the video of a woman named Neda, who was shot on the streets of Tehran. I hope the President wasn't too influenced by his Republican critics, who complained that he wasn't forceful enough in criticizing the Iranian government. Obama's statement today came close to crossing the line by giving the Iranian government evidence that the U.S. is "meddling in" Iranian affairs. I think the President steered just clear of that line, because he didn't give the sort of blustery, counter-productive talk we were used to hearing from George W. Bush and other Republicans.

The best part of the press conference, in my view, was the President's staunch defense of the public option while talking about health reform. The President played an effective explainer-in-chief by highlighting the absurdity in conservative/insurance company objections to the public plan:

"If they tell us they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

That's what I'm talking about! The President, unfortunately, didn't rule out signing a bill that doesn't include the public option. He says that he doesn't want to draw lines in the sand at this stage. That may not be such a bad idea strategically. Congress may be more likely to tailor the bill to Obama's desires if he doesn't meddle in their business. That's how eccentric and self-centered Congress is, especially the Senate.

And yes, the media is having a field day because the President says he "falls off the wagon" every so often and has a cigarette.

The President continues his public relations push tomorrow night with a prime time town hall meeting on health reform at the White House. The pattern is continuing: Every time Obama holds a big media event, it's a good day for the White House. Every time he's working behind the scenes and letting Congress do the talking, the White House loses.

CONGRESS: The big news in Congress today is that the House Cap-and-Trade bill, written by Reps. Waxman (D-CA) and Markey (D-MA) will be on the floor by the end of the week. Waxman has worked out a deal with Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) to include more farm subsidies in the bill. Peterson and his committee Democratic colleagues were threatening to oppose the bill unless these subsides were included. Peterson said tonight that he will indeed support the bill. Environmentalists are concerned that Waxman and Markey have offered too many concessions to conservative Democrats. The bill is still a major step in the right direction. Among many provisions, it will reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades, it will require 20% of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, and will invest billions in alternative sources of energy. Getting this bill through the House, if leadership can pull it off, would be a major step towards curbing climate change and increasing energy independence. Getting something like this through the Senate will be difficult, but not impossible. Even some utility and energy companies have signed on to this bill. It's not anything particularly radical. Democrats would have to hold together (assuming Al Franken is seated) to get the 60 votes required to cut off debate. Even if a couple of moderate Democrats defect, Maine's two Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have a history of supporting energy/climate change legislation.

Regardless of the bill's prospects in the Senate, it's always good to have the House act first. This can build important momentum for the proposal. The House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said he's confident of the bill's chances. I would guess that they wouldn't bring the bill to the floor if they didn't have the votes. It will be close though, because many conservative Democrats from energy producing states will vote in opposition. I expect Republicans to be near-unanimous in opposition to the bill, which they falsely claim is a "national energy tax." In reality, the bill will cost the average taxpayer about $145 by 2020 (the Democratic talking point is that this is one postage stamp per day), and will actually save lower-class Americans $45 a month. We'll bring you full coverage of this extremely important vote as it happens on Friday. For what it's worth, the League of Conservation Voters is pulling out all of the stops. They are threatening to withhold future endorsements to any member who votes against the bill.

The House today voted on a few suspension bills, and will continue legislative work tomorrow. The big action in the House today was at the committee level, where three panels held hearings on health reform legislation. The Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor committees released their joint progressive health reform bill last Friday. Hopefully they will bring that bill to the floor soon after the July 4th recess.

THE SENATE: Once again, nothing doing in the Senate today. There were rumors that they were going to try and advance a bill funding the Legislative Branch (aka themselves) today, but that never happened. The Senate is so dysfunctional right now. Republicans are using every procedural tool available to them to bring all legislation to a screeching halt. Besides the tobacco bill Obama signed yesterday, the Senate has basically done absolutely nothing since it came back from it's Memorial Day recess three weeks ago.

The Senate will consider the impeachment of federal judge Samuel Kent tomorrow morning. I expect the Senate to convict the judge of all four counts of impeachment (which the House passed last Friday) and remove him from office. Kent has been convicted of sexual abuse, but is still collecting a federal paycheck while in prison. The Senate then will vote to cut off debate on the nomination of Harold Koh to be the Legal Advisor at the Department of State. Koh is a favorite of the liberal blogoshphere.

That's it for today. Please read the below dialogue between The Big Picture and myself on health reform and leave some comments! See you tomorrow!

The Big Picture and The Strike: Health Care Prognosis

The following was a reaction dialogue to this paragraph, which appeared in Ezra Klein's blog on washingtonpost.com:

That, I'd bet, is how health reform will close out as well. We will spend a trillion or a bit more covering the un- and underinsured. We will regulate a fairer and more decent insurance market into existence. We will expand Medicaid and build out subsidies to at least 300 percent of poverty and create health insurance exchanges. We will fund all this through sharply progressive taxes. We may even have a public plan. In 2006, it would have been a great deal. But as the legislation winds its way through the Senate, there will be unpleasant compromises, and unconscionable omissions, and the constant knowledge that though this is progress, it is not sufficient, and the people who stand in the way of a better bill are frequently incoherent or disingenuous. And that will be terribly frustrating for supports of the effort. The result will probably be a historic win when compared to the status quo, but I doubt it's going to feel like that for supporters of the initiative."

The Big Picture: The stimulus is to health care what the invasion of Afghanistan was to the invasion of Iraq: like invading Afghanistan, there basically had to be some sort of counter-cylical spending-and-tax-cuts stimulus response to the Great Recession. I would really have been surprised if actually nothing had been done. I think Obama made it better than it could otherwise have been, though not nearly good enough, but there would have been something. But on health care, he almost didn't even attempt it this year. That was the advice of Biden among others. And who knows if he would have the political capital to try it later. So it's highly possible that, like the invasion of Iraq, if it wasn't for the boldness of the President overcoming the doubts of some cautious advisers and pushing an issue right to the fore, it wouldn't even be happening. That's what makes any accomplishment on health care all the more impressive.

The Strike:
Yeah very good point Ezra made though about how we’ll inevitably end up disappointed. In some ways it’s frustrating. In 2002, the Giants had a season that brought me amazing memories, and they won the pennant, but I have overall sour feelings on that season. That definitely happened with the Collins-Nelson crap on the stimulus, and will most likely happen with the health care plan and energy bill. It’s hard to separate being happy about something finally getting done (something we could only dream of in 2006), and being disappointed that we couldn’t get something better given the current conditions. That’s why, as you’ve said, we need to set out parameters now of what a successful bill will look like, so we can objectively determine whether to be happy or not.

The Big Picture:

But there really are some big differences between the stimulus and health care. Given the context, it really wasn't that much of an accomplishment to pass the stimulus - it only got to the point where it was sort of in question because of a bunch of absolutely loony behavior that I think people will look back on as "what the hell was that about?". As we've said, it didn't exact any real costs. While it built the safety net, which is great, and did other good things and overall was progressive, it was very very easy to say this is an urgent response, and anybody serious was in favor, as it really benefited business as much as anybody. The goddamn Chamber of Commerce was in favor it! Some parts tried to create structural change, but for the most part it was a response to prop up the existing system, a counter-cyclical measure. And it's especially hard to get excited about it because for the most part it's making things slightly less bad for a short time - waay better than nothing, but tough to call it a great accomplishment of liberalism.

Health care in contrast has been the Holy Grail for American liberalism for 70 years. Even getting what Ezra predicts we'll be disappointed would make it the most successful liberal reform in 40 years, and the biggest victory for liberalism against the power of big business and conservative ideology in that long. Also, in contrast to the stimulus, I really think it's on the Herm Edwards "We can build on this!" track. While I think the passage of the first stimulus - with the way that debate went - will make it very difficult to pass another one, I think health care reform will be a building block, all about getting over that hump.

The Strike: If someone said in 2006 that we’ll have a public option that’s forced to follow the rules as private companies, I would have probably been like “good it looks like the Republican majority is being forced to make some compromises!” In other words, this isn’t the end that we were looking for. Every time we’ve imagined a Democratic President enacting health care reform, we dream of “universal health care.” The public plan may make things a lot better, but will it make the movie Sicko obsolete? I think that’s a good measuring stick to see if the plan is good enough. From what we’re looking at now, it almost certainly will not make it to that level.

The Big Picture: Well you're kinda taking the opposite position from me. I'm saying that health care reform, even Ezra's predicted watered-down version, will be a much more far-reaching and impressive accomplishment than the stimulus, and will be the biggest liberal triumph in decades. It doesn't make Sicko obsolete, but it takes real steps to get there, and the problems identified by Sicko are huge. The stimulus barely addressed the structural flaws in American society. Even a not-great health care reform will in a major way.

The Strike: Well I think Ezra’s point was that the feeling we take away from health care reform will almost certainly be disappointment, much like the stimulus. I think it will be MORE disappointing, because it’s something we’ve been trying to do for a generation. On the other hand, you’re right that no matter what’s in the final bill, it will be a the biggest liberal triumph in a generation and will contribute to a major structural change in our society. So I guess I’d say that I think liberals will be more disappointed if this kind of bill passes than they were after the stimulus, but the bill itself will actually be far more important, if that makes sense.

The Big Picture: Yes I agree. As gung-ho as I am now, as long as the plan isn't just a ridiculous sell-out punt (and that means more than just public plan or not, also other cost containment, changes to incentives, how it's paid for) I will be happy and it will be a proud moment to be a liberal, even as we won't be satisfied. It's taken a lot of organizing and a lot of good thinking to get the point we have now with this broad consensus for health care reform - in fact I really disagree with how you would have felt about the public option in 2006. Health care reform was way way off the table at that point. Any sort of reform. Government involvement was too far left for Hillary and Obama to touch at that point, until Edwards pushed it after some great think-tank work to craft the brilliant public plan idea that could satisfy moderates and liberals. No chance in hell that a Republican Congress would have EVER even addressed a public plan. The best we could hope for would be maintaining the status quo and not giving huge subsidies to Pharma and the Insurance companies. A ton of positive change since then. And you have to remember how little liberals have accomplished for the last four decades on the major issues when they're really confronting conservative economics and big business and the self-interest of the upper middle class. Far more has been in the opposite direction, liberals barely hanging on, often losing, but conservatism and business always on the offensive.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/22/09-Health and Safety

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. A pretty crazy afternoon in Strike-land. A Metro collision near our station has killed 4 people and injured over 70. I walked about an hour from Fort Totten to my apartment, and saw the scene first hand. It was, of course, disturbing, but I was encouraged to see such a strong response from emergency services. As I'm following local news coverage, you will understand today's entry being on the shorter side.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Health, but not necessarily health reform, was the big story today at the White House. This morning, President Obama held a joint appearance with Barry Rand, President of the AARP to hail an agreement among the prescription drugs company to cut costs by $80 billion. The President was joined at the event by the two embattled leaders of health reform in the Senate, Christopher Dodd and Max Baucus. The deal is important mostly for symbolic reasons. It's good to see the pharmaceutical companies making at least mild concessions in a supposedly good faith effort to bring down costs. It also helps change the storyline from the health care reform set backs of last week. The President used the event as an opportunity to push for health reform, even returning to his old "yes we can" slogan that became a staple of his Presidential campaign. Hopefully after the event, he did a little strong arming with Baucus and Dodd, who have proven to be difficult partners in the comprehensive health reform effort.

This afternoon, the President signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law in a ceremony at the White House. Surrounded by lawmakers, the President lauded the measure as "an important step that will save lives and dollars." The measure will put tobacco, for the first time, under the supervision of the FDA. It also includes provisions to protect against teen smoking, like banning flavored cigarettes. This is a significant legislative accomplishment for President Obama. It has been stalled for years due to opposition from the tobacco industry and their Congressional allies. It also helps Obama build a storyline about legislation he's signed into law. The Credit Card Bill of Rights, the mortgage fraud bill, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the military procurement reform bill were all about protecting consumers and taxpayers from the excesses of corporate power. Not a bad political storyline to grab ahold of, especially during this economic crisis.

The President seems to be ready (thankfully!!) to use his bully pulpit more forcefully in the health reform effort. He will be holding a press conference in the rose garden tomorrow, and you can expect many of the questions to be health-related. He will also be holding that town hall at the White House Wednesday on health reform, which will be televised on ABC. It is so important for Obama to be the face of this reform effort if it is to gain political traction. I don't think Max Baucus or Chris Dodd's "Senatorial courtesy" is really gonna sway vast swaths of the population.

THE SENATE: The Senate took one vote today on the Dorgan amendment to the Travel Promotion Act, a bill to promote foreign travel into the United States. It is my understanding that the Dorgan amendment was the newest version of the full bill. The vote to cut off debate, which required 60 votes, failed by a vote of 53-34. 7 Democrats didn't vote, and Majority Leader Reid voted against cloture for procedural reasons. No other Democrats voted no, while Republicans Ensign (NV-cheater) and Martinez (FL) voted yes. It's possible that Senator Reid will try the vote again when more of his members are present. Republicans opposed advancing the bill because they felt they were being shut out of the amendment process. So the Senate wasted a full week debating a bill that won't even proceed to a final vote. This was supposed to be non-controversial! It's easy to blame the Republicans for obstruction, and they should be blamed. But Harry Reid has to find a way to beat back these absurd delays. The Senate right now is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, and by design an inhibitor to progress. It's so outrageous. Reid went on a tirade against Republican obstructionism today, and that is all well and good, but if he weren't so weak willed himself, we would have already solved these problems.

The Senate moves on tomorrow (hopefully) to the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which passed the House last week.

The House returns to session tomorrow.

Make sure you catch up on our entries from today, including the Weekly Strike, and The Big Picture Corner.

The Big Picture's Corner: Responses to the Weekly Strike

  • ON THE DIRE BUDGET CUTS ACROSS THE NATION: A huge "How do Senators Nelson and Collins sleep at night" front-page article in the Times on the impossible situation facing states. It says that the only thing keeping them from utter disaster is the stimulus package, although of course if that had been bigger it could have covered more of the states' shortfall, which instead is totally diminishing the efficacy of each stimulus dollar that's spent. Yet another example of "opposition to excessive spending" actually being very fiscally irresponsible. It's kinda the equivalent of this situation, which actually does come up a lot in life: you have most of what you need to cook dinner except that you need, let's say, the pasta. But you are opposed to spending that extra $1.79 on the pasta when you come home from work in the afternoon because you "spent too much on snacks at work already". But a few hours later, you realize that you can't make dinner for a total cost of like $3.30, and instead you have to go get something, for a cost of $8.75. Penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • ON OBAMA NEEDING TO LEAD ON HEALTH CARE I was hoping that that Axelrod-led meeting was going to lead to a big coordinated effort on health care, but no sign of that so far. Extremely frustrating. Let's GO! Get united, realize you all need it to succeed. This is where only the party leader can bring everyone together. Show some spine.Very interesting how all the qualms we had about Obama in 2007 that had been overcome with his incredible performance in the past 18 months are starting to resurface. Of course the other candidates would have somehow screwed up and not even reached this dominant position, and would be a lot less skilled at winning it, and of course have a lot less backbone than they posture. Nevertheless, still that real concern about being too concerned with popularity, with too-often avoiding the tough principled stand, putting too much emphasis on maintaining his above-politics brand and not enough on confronting the obstacles. Obviously I am not regretting anything nor am I saying his approach won't prove successful. But while in the campaign he was successful at convincing enough people that they shouldn't be worried about these things, now he has to prove that that's true. Obama has GOT to run hard against the Senate and the Establishment - his ability to embody dissatisfaction with them is the major reason he valuted from a nobody to President in 4 years. Not because he was nice, not because he opposed reconciliation, and certainly not because of fears about the deficit. It is so easy to frame this debate correctly, to your huge advantage, using the exact same contrasts you drew to beat Hillary and McCain - you're on the side of ordinary people and necessary change vs. the obstructionist forces of hte status quo. It is inexcusable to blow that opportunity. Especially if you're too concerned with Iran - first of all there's very little you can do, and second most Americans care a ton more about their health care than about Iranian democracy, to be frank. You absolutely should NOT listen to the Looks who want more talk about Iran and less about health care reform. WRONG. Always have to remember that the Looks have most likely the OPPOSITE priorities from average Americans, sometimes for good, more often, as is the case now, for ill.

The Weekly Strike-6/22-6/28

Good Monday morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview what promises to be another busy week in politics. Many thanks to the Big Picture for his thoughtful entry last night. Here's hoping Obama can do better than that D+ he earned last week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President's week will most likely be dominated by two subjects: Iran and health care. On the former, Obama has shifted tone in the last couple of days from extreme caution to mild rebuke of the Iranian regime. It's almost impossible to know what will happen in Iran this week, which is what makes the situation so unusual. It is clearly seen as an opportunity by Republicans to portray the President as weak-willed and not willing to stand up for American ideals. You know, like how they stand up for torture. The President has to delicately show solidarity with the Iranian people, while not trying to turn the United States into a foil. This conflict may keep the President on his toes and less able to focus on domestic issues.

That's too bad, because this is a critical week for health care reform. After last week's setbacks, with two Senate committee striking out on preliminary proposals, and weak-willed centrist Democrats bending toward the whims of an irrelevant Republican minority, Obama needs to take matters into his own hands. NBC's Chuck Todd did quite a job this morning reminding us of the facts. Barack Obama won the election by 7 points last fall running partially on a platform of universal health care. His party has a huge majority in the House and almost 60 seats in the Senate. And he has personal approval hovering around 60%. Yet, Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein are now saying he doesn't have the votes to pass health reform? This would NOT happen if the situation were reversed and we had a Republican president. Adding to what would seem like an already obvious political case for health reform are new polls out showing large popular support for a public health insurance option. It's clear that normal political dynamics are not good enough to solve the health care crisis. Some Senate Democrats seem more interested in fraternizing with their Republican brethren that getting the job done for the American people. Far more importantly, lobbyists for the health care industry are hounding Democrats and instilling false ideas into their head that comprehensive health reform would be disastrous and politically unpopular. The President needs to climb on top of this rubble every day if he wants to overcome these significant hurdles (none of which, notably, have to do with the opposition party). Unfortunately, from what I can see, the President only has one health-care related event this week, a town hall at the White House on ABC News. This will be a good forum for the President to rise above Congressional wrangling. One event, though, is not good enough. He needs to treat this like a Presidential campaign. As The Big Picture wisely noted yesterday, the Bush administration didn't sit back and let Congress dictate debate on the Iraq War Resolution. They freaked the hell out of the American people every single day!

That responsibility isn't solely the President's. House Democrats introduced a very strong bill on Friday, which contains an individual mandate and the public option. Democratic members of the House need to take the lead and get out and sell the plan to the American public. Now that they have something tangible to defend, they need to get to work and make it politically viable.

The Senate HELP committee continues it's long deliberations on their health care bill this week. The Finance committee may or may not have their plan ready by week's end.

The President rounds out his week by signing a key piece of legislation today, that puts tobacco regulation under the authority of the FDA. I expect a large signing ceremony, with Congress members from both parties trying to get in on the photo-op. He is also expected to sign the war funding bill this week, which will provide money for Afghanistan and Iraq through September. The bill also includes an unrelated measure allowing people to get a rebate for turning in old gas guzzling cars. I expect little fanfare for this bill, since continued war funding is not exactly something the President wants to highlight at this stage in the game.

THE HOUSE: The House gavels in tomorrow with some work on suspension bills. For the remainder of the week, the House will consider two appropriations bills, and an authorization bill. Coming first is the 3rd of the the 12 annual appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security. After last week's shenanigans, I expect the Democrats to restrict the number of amendments offered by Republicans. Republicans have suggested that they may again try to slow down the process by calling for a ridiculous amount of votes, to protest their inability to offer amendments. Next comes the Defense Authorization bill, which will authorize funding for the Department of Defense for the next two fiscal years. Usually authorization bills contain policy changes. It looks like this bill will start a new program of weekly allowances for service-members injured in combat. I doubt that the bill will prove particularly controversial. Finally, the House considers appropriations bill number 4, which will fund the Department of the Interior and related environmental agencies. More on these bills as the week progresses.

THE SENATE: The Senate, per usual, continues at a snail-like pace, despite the urgent needs of the country. This week, the upper chamber will be considering a bill to promote foreign travel into the United States. The Senate has been stuck on this relatively non-controversial bill since last week. A vote to cut off debate on the bill will occur tonight, and amendments will be voted on presumably tomorrow and Wednesday. The Senate will try to move to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill by the end of the week, but I have my doubts. There's always a way to slow down business in the Senate, unfortunately, and Republicans seem particularly good at doing that.

That's the week in politics. See you tonight for the Daily Strike!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Big Picture: Grading the Week

If you've been reading the Daily Strikes, you know that the Strike and I have been none too thrilled with the trajectory of this past week for Obama's reform agenda, and at its conclusion we're confident in saying that it was one of the worst of his Presidency. There are some potential silver linings which prop the grade up from an "F", but overall, in a situation where the immense challenges mean that even an inconsequential week is an unacceptable missed opportunity, it is pretty devastating to have a week where the roadblocks actually grew against reform. We're giving a D+.

It has been enormously frustrating watching the regression on health care reform this week. Health care reform is difficult enough on its own - involving complexities, gambles, sacrifices, reorganizations, and the setbacks those inevitably create - but it becomes almost impossible when you throw in the two dominant storylines of the week. 1) It is extraordinarily misleading, hypocritical and disingenuous that the debate about health care has been framed as "can we afford it, given our deficit problems?" If you hear that argument, here's the response: 1) Obama's promised that the health care plan will be deficit-neutral so it is completely untrue that it will add to our deficit, 2) every analysis shows that the biggest cause of our deficit problems is our unsustainable health care system, so the worst thing we can do for our fiscal health is to NOT do anything about it, 3) for 30 years our deficit has been balooning due to tax cuts for the rich, out of control military budgets and unnecessary wars, as well as corporate subsidies (a large percentage to the health care industry). That is why we have a deficit. The media didn't frame the policies of Reagan and Gingrich and Bush under the damning "can we afford this?" label. But now that we are conducting on urgently needed programs to actually help hundreds of millions of people and fix our nation's biggest problems, all for FAR less money in the short term and that will in fact create far MORE revenue down the road as these investments pay off, all of a sudden there's a hue and cry about how we can't afford this. The elites got theirs for decades, but god forbid we spend 1/10 the amount on everyone else and on the future. Let's have an honest debate about what kind of health care system we want in America - if people think America's system works fine as it is, or just needs some market-oriented fine-tuning, then make that argument and. In fact, that already happened in the last election, and that argument lost. That of course is why this false argument is being peddled - big business and centrist Democrats can't argue on the merits against a public plan supported by the public 72-20, so they are peddling this completely false argument that is percolating throughout the population and sapping support among independents.

The second frustrating element, as we've discussed every day, is the pathetic effort by the supposed advocates of health care reform in Congres, and to a lesser extent, in the media and yes in the White House. This isn't going to happen on its own - without a full-throated "Bush selling the invasion of Iraq" all-media-platforms-24/7 crusade, health care reform will fail. Step. It. Up.

The potential silver lining is that the failures and displays of Congressional Democrat incompetence have put Obama in a stronger position to jump in with both feet. If up until a couple weeks ago Congressional Democrats would have resisted Obama meddling and stealing their thunder (a ridiculously selfish spiteful attitude but that's Congress), now they have to admit that they're going to fail and go down in flames unless Obama takes charge immediately. Also, Obama has displayed that he is at his best as a devastating counterpuncher, waiting until he's attacked before he steps up the passionate advocacy, letting his opponents show their cards and then pouncing on them. All the counter-arguments and excuses from the obstructionists are being displayed, so Obama and grassroots liberals know what they're up against. Obama needs to strongly point out the hypocrisy and disengenuousness of this "we can't afford it" argument, and he also should recognize that the public plan is still wildly popular, the arguments against are laughably weak (the current "it's unfair to the private insurance companies" seems to bet that Americans are overflowing with sympathy for their poor oppressed HMO), so he has a clear field to press forcefully. But, this is all speculation. If he can effectively turn the setbacks of this week into positives over the coming month, we'll play the role of our bleeding-heart 6th grade teacher Ms. Temple (hope you're reading!) and retroactively raise his grade.

The situation in Iran is in so much flux right now that it's impossible to say whether it will ultimately advance the goal of global cooperation to confront shared challenges. The efforts on regulation are also tough to grade - on the one hand it's good that the Obama administration proposed at least some financial regulation, while while way too weak is still far better than anything we could ever have dreamed of getting under the past 4 administrations. Then again, it IS way too weak, and Congressional Democrats are apparently extremely skeptical, a reaction that I'm sure is completely unrelated to the hundreds of financial industry lobbyists swarming them, showering them with campaign cash, promising jobs for their wives and sons, in stark contrast to the ZERO lobbyists on behalf of ordinary Americans. Finally, it's getting frustrating listening to Obama make these strong speeches about the need to close the book on the era of recklessness, sounding staunchly populist, but then turn around and do so little to actually live up to that rhetoric. We just have to hope the same disconnect - some might say hypocrisy - doesn't emerge during the fight for health care reform.

Have a good week, and let's hope it's better than the last one for the cause of urgently needed reform!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/20/09-Wouldn't Go As Far as THAT Part VII

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today, we give you this week's edition of Wouldn't Go as Far as THAT (WGAFAT). Once again, it's very difficult to narrow the nominees down to three, but here we go.

3. The bronze this week goes to good old Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who somehow came within 7 percentage points of becoming President of the United States. The following quote unfortunately isn't "ridiculous" or "out of the ordinary" because it's peddled so much by conservatives that it has seeped into our collective conscience. That's why I think it merits a spot on this list. This is what McCain said in response to a question about a public health insurance option:

"The idea that somehow the government can administer health care in a more efficient fashion than the private sector I think flies in the face of examples of other countries that have done so."

That's, mmmm, completely incorrect, Johnny. Just because every Republican tries to insist that the government is inefficient doesn't make it so. According to ThinkProgress, when compared to five countries with "socialized medicine" the United States finishes last or next-to-last in every metric of health care performance. Say you're so stubborn that you don't want to take lessons from other "socialist" countries. The "socialized, government-run" health care we currently have in this country, the Veterans Administration, which has higher quality care for lower per-patient costs than almost any private insurance.Everything about government that is inefficient exists because Republicans have screwed it up (think Katrina).

2. The silver goes to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner and his Republican colleagues introduced their own version of a health care bill. Actually, it was more like a two page pamphlet that didn't contain any actual information. I digress. Boehner was asked a good question about what the Republican plan would do to help community health centers. Boehner answered that "hearing about community organizations reminds me of ACORN!" His jab against the activist group/Republican pariah got a health laugh from his fellow House Republicans. The actual question, of course, went unanswered. Real funny, Boehner. Ignore for a second the fact that attacking ACORN is stupid and disingenuous, because they're a small group that actually does GREAT work helping to empower the poor. I would argue that their work is about 100 times more important than anything House Republicans have ever done, and their alleged sins of voter registration fraud is about 1/100th as bad as what House Republicans do every single day. What the hell kind of logic is that, Boehner?

"What do you plan to do to help our military?"

"You know, hearing about the military reminds me of the Nazi army."

1. The gold this week was a pretty easy choice. It goes to Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who sent this gem of a Twitter on Tuesday:

"Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House."

Yeup, pretty much exactly the same thing. Hoekstra is referring to the month-long Republican protest on an empty House floor because the Democrats adjourned without ending the ban on offshore drilling. Yeah, just like Iran. Just like Iran, House Republicans weren't allowed to have an input in their democracy. The House adjourned without even having a vote! And twenty or so rich white Republicans on the air conditioned House floor, Twittering on Blackberries provided to them by the Federal Government is exactly the same is a million average Iranians desperately trying to communicate about peaceful protests in spite of state-sponsored censorship of social networking sites. Drilling for oil offshore, which would yield increased oil supplies in about ten years, is just as important as the right to vote and peacefully protest. It's exactly the same thing. Hoekstra thinks he can compare House Republicans, the most laughable bunch of idiots I've ever seen, with the Iranian people. Wouldn't go as far as THAT!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/19/09-Fatherly Guidance

Good Friday evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's been a tough week for Barack Obama, so he's probably not happy that he has to pretend to be funny in front of a bunch of radio correspondents tonight.

HEALTH CARE: After a week of setbacks and false starts, we finally got a bit of good news on the health reform front. House Democrats released their version of comprehensive reform, and it looks pretty good on the surface. The plan includes the all-important public option, it expands Medicaid coverage for lower middle class families, and requires employers to either provide insurance or pay fees. The bill is the creation of three old Democratic bulls, Ways and Means committee chairman Charles Rangel, Energy and Commerce chairman Henry Waxman and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller. It is certainly more liberal that the draft bill emerging from the Senate Finance Committee, and is probably more liberal than the nebulous proposal coming from the Senate HELP committee.

The one problem (AGAIN!) is that the outline tells us nothing about how we're going to pay for reform. In some ways, this is frustrating, because no bill that doesn't account for cost can be taken too seriously at this point. On the other hand, it probably makes sense to sell the positive aspects of the bill first, and introduce the painful sacrifices later. At least the Democrats today did more than bicker and engage in turf battles. Hopefully House committees begin marking up the bill soon. In the meantime, it's critically important that House Democrats rally behind the plan and promote it in their home districts. A political proposal is only as good as the actors willing to promote it.

THE HOUSE: The House today considered the 2nd of the 13 annual appropriations bill. This time, they didn't have to deal with 8 hours and 52 votes of unprecedented Republican delay tactics. I guess the Republican strategy of forcing votes on everything was so successful that they don't need to use it anymore! (Or they just realized how utterly pointless it was, and how it would have cut into their valuable district time). This bill is one is my favorites, because it's the one where they get to vote on funding themselves. Yes, it's called the "Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill." The best/worst part about this bill is that many members use it for political posturing. It's so politically easy to attack Congress for spending too much of the taxpayer's hard earned money on their own business. On the other hand, serious legislators understand that Congress needs money to operate. The bill passed by a vote of 232-178. 18 Republicans voted yes, and 27 Democrats voted no.

A long time ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed not to allow amendments to this bill, because members would just use it as an opportunity to score political points by proposing to cut silly-sounding items. Unfortunately, Republicans always have the right to recommit the bill before final passage. Their motion to recommit today would have cut about $100,000 from the bill that would have been used to continue funding a House bicycle program. They think they're so cleaver. Democrats wanted to pick their battles on this one, so they largely let the motion slide. It passed 374-34, with all no votes coming from Democrats.

The House then moved onto an impeachment case (you rarely see those anymore!) against a Texas district judge who was convicted of obstruction of justice in a case involving the sexual abuse of two female employees. Judge Samuel Kent is in prison, but is still receiving a federal paycheck. In a rare moment of bipartisan consensus, the House unanimously approved four articles of impeachment against Judge Kent. His case now goes to the United States Senate. If 2/3rds of the Senators vote to convict him, he will officially be removed from office. It seems like that's a foregone conclusion at this point. Ironically, the last federal judge to be impeached was Alcee Hastings of Florida, who now serves as a Democratic representative of Congress.

The House also interrupted business to vote on a resolution expressing solidarity with the political protesters in Iran. The bill, introduced by Republican Mike Pence (IN), originally contained harsh language calling out the Iranian regime. The White House requested that the resolution be toned down, and Pence obliged. The only member to vote no on this was Ron Paul of Texas. Dr. No lives up to his name.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The big event today at the White House was a town hall style meeting at the White House to discuss the importance of fatherhood. Several celebrities and sports stars were in attendance. Obama, like he did last year in his great father's day speech, used his own experience growing up virtually father-less to underscore the importance of being a responsible Dad.

The President tonight, as we indicated, is telling jokes at the annual Television and Radio Correspondents Dinner. I'll say it again: Less of this stuff, more selling health care.

The Big Picture got it exactly right today. The effort Obama must take on this issue must resemble the effort Bush undertook to sell the Iraq war. Members of the administration were out there everyday scaring the living daylights out of the American people, and convincing them that urgent action was necessary. Just because the ends were wrong doesn't mean we can't employ the means.

COMMENT OF THE WEEK: It's been a couple weeks since we included this feature in our blog, but it's back! This week's featured comment comes from anonymous, who was talking about Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer's ridiculous tirade against the tobacco bill.

Anonymous said...

Steve Buyer is the recipient of the largest amount of tobacco money of any Congressman in the history of Indiana. He is especially favored by Smokeless Tobacco PACs. He is nothing but a spokesperson for his corporate donors. He's the same guy who said we should use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and who lied to Congress that he had been called to active duty in Iraq and then took a 3 week leave of absence at his home.

That's it for tonight, join us tomorrow for another edition of Wouldn't Go As Far as THAT!