Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/9/09-Paying Up

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. If you're in DC, you survived some pretty serious thunderstorms. Congratulations! Let's get to the day in politics.

PAYGO: The big event at the White House today was the President's announcement that he supports reinstating so called "Paygo" budgeting rules. Paygo would require that all new spending be offset by equivalent spending cuts or tax increases. Paygo was federal law from 1990-2002, but was done away with when Republicans wanted to enact massive tax cuts for the wealthy and a large prescription drug bill. Democrats have reinstated Paygo rules in the House and Senate, but the rule has been routinely broken as members of Congress have tried to jump start the economy. The President invited a who's who of fiscally conservative Democrats to the White House today so that they have some political cover when they vote for massive health care and energy legislation. As you might be able to tell, I'm deeply skeptical of this Paygo effort. It seems like the White House recognizes the potential long-term political risks of spending a boatload of money. But as I've said in the past, that conversation MUST come later. You can't mix your messages. It's hard to convince the American people on the one hand that we have to pump money to save the economy, while simultaneously we have to implement rules that restrict spending. The better time to make a Paygo argument would be after we pass Obama's legislative agenda, people get satisfied with new government services, and they are willing to absorb some tax increases to pay for them. The one potential benefit of today's meeting is that Obama might win some brownie points from conservative Democrats so that they support his big ticket items.

HEALTH CARE: Speaking of big ticket items, Health Care Reform 2009 is officially underway. There was a whole lot of news on the health care front today. First, House Democrats released an outline of their health reform bill. The bill will be considered under three committees, Ways and Means (and chairman Charles Rangel of New York), Energy and Commerce (and chairman Henry Waxman of California) and Education and Labor (and chairman George Miller of California). The idea is to get the bill through the House by the August recess, so that a final House-Senate compromise can be worked out in the fall. The outline seems like your pretty standard Democratic plan. It includes the public option, which will be a free alternative to private insurance in a new insurance exchange that will make all plans transparent. It will invest in preventative care and delivery system reform. The public option is watered down a bit because it will be forced to adhere to the same rules as private companies. The big problem? It says absolutely nothing about how to pay for it. The President wants the bill to be deficit-neutral, which means members of Congress must find a way to cut costs enough to pay for whatever else they try to do. The House outline talks about "efficiency" and "cutting waste" and investing in preventative. All of that is good, but would not come within billions of the cost. Eventually someone will have to make the difficult decisions. Republicans and centrist Democrats scoff at any idea of how to save money, but haven't proposed any ideas of their own. The best plan I've seen so far is President Obama's idea to end charitable deductions from the wealthiest taxpayers. Of course, Senate Democrats have called the plan a "non-starter." What IS a starter?

The Senate HELP Committee revealed a bill of its own today, which in many ways is similar to the House bill. With Senator Kennedy absent due to his battle with brain cancer, Senator Christopher Dodd has taken the lead on drafting the bill. Dodd made a big deal about how the bill would have a robust public option and would have a mandate requiring people to purchase insurance. Of course, Dodd didn't bother to write either provision into his 600 page bill. He said he'll "add them this Friday." If you're going to introduce a groundbreaking piece of legislation, why don't you wait until you have a FULL product?

Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana today declared that she is against the public option. She didn't give any explanation, and I can only surmise that it's political payback to some campaign donors. Landrieu's announcement increases the likeliness that Democrats will have to use reconciliation procedures to get a public option in the bill, because they won't have the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill under regular Senate order.

I think President Obama needs to have the entire Democratic caucuses of the House and Senate over for dinner, and he needs to tell them to close ranks on health care. It is his biggest priority, and it's worth playing a little hardball. Democrats seem to be stepping on each other's feet and walking in different directions on health care. Centrists like Landrieu are undermining their own party by immediately rejecting the plan's central premise before it has even been introduced and debated. Similarly, Democratic Senators are still insisting that the bill is bipartisan. As the great Ed Schultz points out, Republicans would NEVER be that nice to us. These fissures give Republicans space to take over the debate, with nonsense about "rationing" and "government-run health care." We simply can't let this happen.

THE SENATE: The biggest non-health care news in the Senate today was that Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has scheduled the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court hearings for the week beginning July 13th. Democrats want to get Sotomayor confirmed before the August recess, so that she's subject to a recess barrage of criticism. Republicans are crowing that Leahy isn't giving the committee enough time. They claim that it will be impossible for them to read all of her past opinions before July 13th. Do they realize it's a month away and that they have giant staffs who are paid to do this work? Obviously, their real goal is to delay the nomination as long as possible. It remains to be seen if they'll find any procedural tools to delay the committee's consideration.

The Senate continued work today on the tobacco regulation bill. Senators voted on an amendment that would have gutted the main provision of the bill, which puts tobacco regulation under the authority of the FDA. The amendment was sponsored by North Carolina (tobacco haven) Senators Burr (R) and Hagan (D). Luckily, the amendment failed by a vote of 36-60. Hagan was the only Democrat to vote for it. Republicans Collins (ME), Cornyn (TX), Grassley (IA), Lugar (IN) and Snowe (ME) voted against it. Senators will continue work on the bill tomorrow and Thursday. A vote on final passage probably won't occur until Thursday or Friday. I can't believe the Senate has taken two weeks on this bill. Very typical, and very bothersome.

House and Senate leaders have yet to reach an agreement on a final war funding bill. The new hold up is a non-related amendment by Senators Graham (R-SC) and Lieberman (I-CT) that prohibits the government from releasing detainee photos. Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to drop that provision to attract the votes of liberal Democrats. Graham and Lieberman sent an angry letter saying that they would filibuster the conference report if their amendment was not included. Fine! I hope they feel good about keeping troops from getting the equipment that they need!

Nothing substantive from the House today, they'll move on a couple of bills tomorrow, and we will have full coverage.

VA-GOV: Finally, we wanted to mention today's Democratic primary for the Governor's race in Virginia. The race has been very close between three Democrats, former Clinton campaign manager Terry McAulliffe, state Senator Creigh Deeds, and former delegate Brian Moran. Deeds has been surging lately due to an endorsement from the Washington Post. Deeds, who hails from the conservative southwest part of the state, would be a formidable opponent against current Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell. We'll give you the results of the race with some analysis tomorrow.

UPDATE: It looks like Creigh Deeds is running away with it, according to early results.

Thanks for tuning in for such a long entry. Leave us some comments!

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