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.

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