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.

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