Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/3/09-Overseas

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Many thanks to the Big Picture for filling in last night with a fantastic entry. I hope all of you got a chance to read it. A busy day in politics as the President arrived in Riyadh, and Congress got back to work in earnest.

RIYADH: The President today arrived in Saudi Arabia, where he had a key meeting with King Abdullah. According to the White House, the two leaders discussed Middle-East peace, the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, energy and Iran. Obama said that the United States and Saudi Arabia have a strong history of "friendship." I'm not sure I would characterize it quite that way. I hope Obama got tough on Abdullah, and that he asked for significant help in the fight against terrorism. The President is currently preparing for a major speech tomorrow in Cairo. The significance of the speech can't be understated. This is the best opportunity for Obama to express America's respect for the Muslim world, and our desire for mutual cooperation. One of the President's most important roles, given the last eight years, is to convince people in the Muslim world that the United States is not extremist, Al Qaeda is. He needs to employ the same positive polarization battles he's used so effectively to win political battles at home. If he can be genuine and admit some of our past failures, he can begin to earn the trust of the Muslim world and marginalize those who seek to do America harm. To ridiculous critics like Mitt Romney who say that the President shouldn't go on an apology tour, I say, first of all, that this is NOT such a tour. This is an honest conversation about future relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world, which necessarily requires a discussion of past mistakes on both sides. Secondly, Barack Obama is ten times the American Mitt Romney will ever HOPE to be.

HEALTH CARE: Meanwhile back in the United States, some very encouraging signs are emerging that point to the likeliness of a public plan in health care legislation to be considered this summer. The great Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein (I hope you're reading, Ezra!) talked about why a public option is seeming more likely these days. Moderate Democratic Senators like Ben Nelson (NE) and Arlen Specter (PA), who were previously against the idea, now say they are open to consider it. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana, previously was lukewarm on the concept, but now is supposedly pushing hard for it. What's changed in the last few weeks? According to Mr. Klein, two things. First, liberal Senators like Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy have organized to insist on the public option's inclusion in the health care bill. They expressed their sentiments in a formal letter to the White House. Secondly, the White House is now using some political capital by pushing hard for this proposal. Just today, the White House wrote a letter to Senators Kennedy and Baucus, saying that they "strongly" support the idea of a government-sponsored health insurance program to compete with private plans. Now that the White House is firmly behind this principle, Ezra surmises, Democratic allies will face negative consequences (no strong support in their reelection races etc.) if they don't fall in line. This is a fantastic development. Klein, who to me is quite an authority on this issue, says it's now more likely than not that the public option will be included in the final legislation.

THE HOUSE: The House today voted on two separate bills granting federal recognition to Indian tribes. Both of these bills have been voted on in previous Congresses, but have languished in the Senate. The first bill, which grants federal recognition to the "Lumbee Tribe" of North Carolina, passed by a vote of 240-179. The vote didn't quite fall along party lines. 28 Republicans voted yes, while 35 Democrats voted no. The "yes" Republicans and "no" Democrats were generally the moderates from both parties. A motion to recommit, which would have required verification that people claiming to be of the "Lumbee" tribe that they were descendants of the Cheraw failed by a vote of 197-224. The other bill, to extend Federal recognition to the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe passed on voice vote. It makes me wonder what is particularly controversial about the Lumbee tribe. Anybody know?

House Democrats also made a shrewed political move today. Over the past few months, GOP Rep. Jeff Flake has repeatedly tried to get the House to agree to a privileged resolution to investigate members of the House for involvement with the lobbyist group PMA. Every one of his resolutions failed, but Democrats were getting uncomfortable repeatedly voting against corruption investigations. After Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky (IN) was subpoenaed this weekend on possible corruption charges relating to PMA, Democrats decided to preemptively set up an investigation of their own that would be narrower in scope. This gives vulnerable Democrats some political cover. They can vote for an investigation, but one that is unlikely to lead to any real danger for members of the Democratic caucus. The vote to set up the investigation was 270-134 with 17 voting present. 28 Republicans voted with 242 Democrats in the affirmative. No Democrat voted in the negative.

In other House-related news, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the House will undertake an ambitious schedule this summer, with the goal of passing a Cap-and-Trade bill and health care legislation by the August recess. Hopefully Obama can count on his House allies to keep this promise! The House moves on to more legislation tomorrow, including a TSA authorization bill and a parental leave bill for federal employees. No word so far on the war supplemental, which is currently in House-Senate negotiations. The sticking point, apparently, is whether to include additional funding for the IMF.

THE SENATE: The Senate did not hold any roll call votes today. They are continuing debate on a measure that would allow for FDA regulation of tobacco products. The Senate will consider various amendments and final passage tomorrow and Friday.

That's it for tonight! Leave us some comments!

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