Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/17/09-Grinding and Sputtering

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. According to a WSJ/NBC News poll out tonight, 61% of Americans thinks that the President isn't trying to do too much, and that he should continue to try and solve the country's problems. More work for us!

FINANCIAL REGULATION: The President today announced a new program of regulations on financial markets. The regulations were billed as "new rules for the road" to curb the "culture of irresponsibility" we've seen in the last several years. The President is saying that this is the biggest step in regulatory reform since the Great Depression. The plan has 5 essential components (per the Washington Post):

1. Increases the power of of the Federal Reserve, creating stronger and more consistent oversight of the largest financial firms.

2. Asks Congress to authorize the government for the first time to dismantle large firms that fall into trouble, avoiding a chaotic collapse that could disrupt the economy.

3. Extends federal oversight and imposes new rules in trading complex derivatives and securities built from mortgage loans.

4. Creates a new agency to protect consumer mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products.

5. Increases the administration's coordination with other nations to prevent businesses from migrating to less regulated venues.

These all sound good. I haven't seen the opinions of the people I would really trust to see if it goes far enough, like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich. The chairmen of the House and Senate Financial Services Committees, Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd, expressed tepid approval, saying that some of the proposals won't make it through Congress. That is starting to sound like a broken record. I'm worried that once the proposal goes to Congress, it will be torpedoed by people who get billions of dollars from the financial industry. For what it's worth, Frank and Dodd pledged to act by the end of the year. Add it to the pile.

WSJ/NBC POLL: The aforementioned poll out tonight has some revealing numbers. The President remains popular, enjoying a 56% approval rating. There are some other troubling numbers in the poll, however. Most the country, by a pretty significant majority, would rather the government deal with the deficit even if it slows economic recovery. This is bad news, because it goes against practically every policy proposal the President has presented. I think that Obama did himself a disservice by making token speeches about lowering the deficit, and making the government "live within it's means." Economic recovery requires high levels of government spending, and the President should explain that to the American people. He doesn't have to conform to this conventional mainstream media wisdom that the deficit is the worst thing in the world. The main concern about deficits, that they will lead to high inflation, seems unlikely according to recent economic data. In order to enact progressive policies, we have to change perceptions about the federal deficit.

The good news? The public likes Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's Supreme Court nominee, and disapproves of the Republican party at historic levels.

HEALTH CARE: I'm becoming increasingly discouraged about what's happening with health reform in Congress. Today, the Senate HELP committee began marking-up their version of the health care bill. The bill they released last week turns out to have been a piece of work. For one, it was incomplete. It didn't include language on the two most important parts of reform, the public insurance option or how to pay for it. Second, it was given a $1 trillion price tag by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO said that the bill would only cover 1/3rd of the nation's uninsured. If you're going to release a bill, either release the whole thing, or release something that makes it seem cheaper.

The hearing today was more like a circus than a mark-up. Senators didn't actually do anything today. They each made long opening statements outlining their perspectives on the legislation. The hearings are expected to continue for the next two weeks, as Senators consider a plethora of amendments, most of them proposed only to make a political statement. The HELP committee is supposed to be the committee that makes the bill more liberal. It's members are generally further to the left than the Senate Finance Committee. So their diligent work is that much more important.

The other Senate committee with jurisdiction, the Senate Finance Committee, is also not getting their act together either. Their proposed bill, which has yet to be released to the public, was given a cost of a whopping $1.6 trillion by the CBO. That number will scare away a lot of members of Congress. The chairman of the committee, Max Baucus, is delaying his committee's markup of the bill until they can cut about $600 billion in costs. This will probably take a few weeks.

It's bad enough that Democratic Senators regularly undermine the President's plan by insisting that it's too ambitious, or that it can't pass Congress. Now, they can't even muster up enough competence to write a complete bill and hold a responsible hearing? Every misstep adds to the perception that a) Democrats are unsure of their own proposals, and b) Democrats don't know what they're doing and should not be in the business of drafting a major bill like this. This is just pathetic. They need to get their acts together immediately. All of the stars have to align perfectly in order to get comprehensive reform passed this year. If Senate Democrats continue to drop the ball, we'll be in a lot of trouble.

THE HOUSE: I wish I could tell you that our other legislative body functions more effectively, but watching the House today, I couldn't possibly make that case. The House is considering the first of it's annual appropriations, which would fund the Departments of Commerce, Justice and Science. The bill adds about $12 billion in funding over last year's request, mostly for increased law enforcement provisions and a few new programs. Appropriations bills, unlike most other bills, are usually considered under open rules, meaning that any member can offer amendments as long as they are germane to the matter at hand. Democrats simply required Republicans to submit their amendments in writing before the bill came to the floor. Of course, Republicans, being the children that they are, filed like 175 amendments, which would have slowed the bill (and other legislative action) down. Democrats reacted to this by passing a new rule, limiting consideration to 44 pre-determined amendments. Now, Republicans are "getting back" at the Democrats by forcing record votes on all of these amendments, even ones that have unanimous support. So basically, they're upset about a slight modification in House rules, so they are going to make the House work on the bill for two days longer than it otherwise would have. Do they realize that no one cares about House rules? People want their Congress to get things done! House Republicans are such brats.

Anyways, the House has so far considered 19 of the amendments, and has voted on 3 of them. That means they'll probably take 10 or so more votes tonight, and about 30 tomorrow, wasting time on what otherwise is a pretty non-controversial bill. It's gonna be a long couple of nights. Meanwhile, people are still losing their jobs and their health care. I just can't believe how petty these people are.

THE SENATE: Not to be outdone, Senate Republicans are playing their own game of delay and obstruct. A few Senate Republicans filibustered a motion to proceed to a bill enhancing foreign travel into the United States, because it might contain anti-hate crimes amendment (as we talked about yesterday.) Senators voted 90-3 to cut off debate on this motion, but the filibustering Senators can still hold up the bill for another 30 hours under Senate rules, which is exactly what they did. The 30 hours expired this evening, and the Senate has begun general debate on the billl. Mind you, this is just a motion to PROCEED. We're not even talking about the bill itself.

Overall, this day gives me little trust that our country's political institutions (especially Congress) are capable of putting aside their parochial interests and political games to get things done. Hopefully, they'll get their act together soon.

And hopefully I'll be in a more positive mood tomorrow, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment