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!

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