Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/18/09-Congress and Health Reform in Shambles

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Things got ugly today in the United States Congress, and the prospects of meeting health reform and energy time lines are looking uglier still. We should all be worried, and we need to kick things into gear. Let's get to the day in politics.

THE (MAD) HOUSE: The President had no public events today, so our attention unfortunately centered on the increasingly dysfunctional United States Congress. A few minutes ago, the House took the last of 52 votes today over a span of 8 hours. The bill under consideration is the first of the annual appropriations bills, funding the Departments of Commerce, Justice and various science-related agencies. For those of you who didn't catch yesterday's entry, House Republicans are 2nd Graders. Under normal "order," members can offer any amendment to appropriations bills. Democrats this year insisted that all bills be pre-printed to be considered on the House floor. The Republican weren't happy about this, so they made their smart-a$$ gesture of offering almost 200 amendments. Democrats, realizing that allowing that many amendments would slow down important legislative business, were forced to limit amendments to about 40 or so. Republicans were so outraged at this injustice, that they made the House take vote after vote today in "protest." How oppressed they are! They first made the House take a recorded vote on every single amendment (which almost never happens). This accounted for the first few hours of votes. Then, Republicans forced re-votes on amendments, because they have the right to do this for some god foresaken reason. Then, they forced re-votes on the re-votes. As a result of their infantile antics, House committees were unable to hold key meetings. I didn't follow the House closely enough when the Democrats were in the minority, but I don't think they did anything like this. It's just more proof that Republicans will do whatever they can, including arcane parliamentary tactics, to see the Democrats' agenda fail.

Amidst the lunacy, there were actually a few important votes. The bill itself FINALLY passed this evening by a vote of 259-157. 24 Republicans voted with all but 8 Democrats for the bill. The bill increases funding for various law enforcement programs, and appropriates $2 billion for research on climate change science. The bill spends about 12% more than last year's version. I expect that number to come down when the Senate takes up the bill later this summer.

Most of the amendments were silly Republican motions to strike funny-sounding (but actually worthwhile) earmarks from the bill. Democrats were successful in defeating these efforts. They were also successful on the most important vote of the day. Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis (not that one) of California proposed an amendment forbidding any funding to be used to close Guantanamo Bay. If this had made it into the final version of the bill, Obama would not be able to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison on January 22nd. Centrist Democrats were fearful of ads saying that they "voted to move terrorists into our communities." 39 of them joined Republicans in voting for the amendment. That wasn't quite enough to ensure passage. The amendment failed by a single vote, 212-213. (They actually voted on it twice, and the first vote was 212-216.). Ironically, the margin of defeat was provided by the two Republican defectors, Ron Paul (TX) and Johnson (IL). It seems like the Democratic whips were on the ball.

So to sum up, we the taxpayers paid for the House voted 51 times, and about two of them were important votes.

THE SENATE: The Senate had a close call of their own today. The war funding bill conference report, which narrowly passed the House on Tuesday, came to the Senate floor this afternoon. Republican Senator Judd Gregg raised a point of order because the bill included an item that was not in the original House or Senate bill. That item was "cash for clunkers," a program where consumers can get a rebate for turning in old gas-guzzling cars. In order to waive this point of order and save the bill, Democrats needed to muster 60 votes. Senators Byrd (WV) and Kennedy (MA) are both out sick, meaning Democrats have 57 voting members. One of their members, Senator Nelson of Nebraska, wanted to prove his fiscal-conservative bona fides by voting against his own party. Therefore, Majority Leader Reid had to pluck 4 Republican votes. It was a squeaker, but he pulled it off. Senators Bond (MO), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME) and Voinovich (OH) joined Democrats in making sure the bill could advance. The bill itself was then approved 90-5. Republicans Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC) and Enzi (WY) voted no because of spending. Democrat Feingold (WI) and Socialist Sanders (VT) voted against the war funding as a moral objection to the war.

I'm disapproving of Obama's efforts to up the ante in Afghanistan, and I think he should be withdrawing more swiftly from Iraq. Having said that, I'm glad this bill is over with. It's one of those rare bills that NEEDS to pass, even though a member of any ideology could come up with several good reasons to vote against it. Because President Obama is including war funding in the regular budget process now, we won't have to deal with any more of these supplemental war funding bills.

HEALTH CARE: The most important policy fight of Obama's presidency is floundering in muck and mire. The Senate HELP committee, led by it's temporary chairman Christopher Dodd (CT), spent it's second day considering the still unfinished health care reform bill. The first day was full of partisan griping and political gamesmanship. Today, Senators were supposed to be debating the non-controversial portions of the bill, like ways to increase health care quality. These discussions quickly devolved into partisan discussions on how to pay for the bill, and why the full bill hasn't been released.

Meanwhile, President Obama's first nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pretty much epitomized the deficiency of the Democratic party right now as it relates to health reform. Daschle had teamed up with former Republican Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Howard Baker to come up with a "bipartisan proposal for health reform." The bill did not include the public option. Daschle explained that Democrats need to abandon their push for the public option because it will "jeopardize all of the progress we've made."

What progress?? The idea of health care reform is to get everybody health insurance. We've already ruled out a single-payer system, and now we're supposed to cave in to the Republican party by abandoning the public option? Something that, according to yesterday's NBC poll, has the support of 76% of the country? Democrats control the White House, the House of Representatives and 59 votes in the Senate. If we can't get this done now, we'll never be able to do it. People like Daschle are too concerned about being on good terms with Republicans and not concerned enough about our nation's failing health care system. As the great Ezra Klein asked today, how many people have to lose health insurance because we want to make (Republican Senator) Chuck Grassley happy?

I will hammer home this point everyday, if I have to. Democrats need to understand the stakes of this fight, and not cower in the fetal position. Why aren't there Democratic Senators going on cable TV 24 hours a day explaining why we need the public option? Why aren't they, at the very least, standing by their principles?

Furthermore, it's not good enough for Barack Obama to have only one health care event this week. I know he has a lot on his plate, but his country needs him. We need his bully pulpit to make the case to the American people that we need strong, comprehensive reform. He should be holding a rally for health care reform every day until the bill is passed.

Hopefully soon we'll be able to report an end to this run of discouraging developments. In the meantime, enjoy your Friday! Leave some comments.

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