Monday, June 15, 2009

The Weekly Strike-6/15-6/22

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. May thanks to the Big Picture for his entry yesterday, and to whoever made very thoughtful comments on last night's Daily Strike. It seems like every week is a political roller coaster these days, so there is even more impetus to keep you up to date.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Health care is once again the theme this week for the Obama White House, as it tries to go over the heads of the increasingly irritating Democratic Congress. Today, the President travels into quasi-enemy territory when he speaks to the American Medical Association. The President will reiterate his support for the public option, something that the AMA says they are against. Today's speech is a stark reminder of the challenges Obama faces. There are a lot of powerful interest groups out there, who can hire lobbyists to protect their financial interests, even at the expense of the American people. Oftentimes, these groups are also in competition with each other.

The stakes are getting high for health reform, and Democrats in Congress are starting remind me of that old adage, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat." Imagine a football team where the lead blocker is getting paid by the other team's coach, the running back is 95 pounds, and the wide receivers aren't following the quarterbacks plays because they want to run in their own direction. That's what the Democrats in Congress look like on health reform. Yesterday, the Big Picture and I suffered through a Fox News Sunday interview with Senator Christopher Dodd. Senator Dodd is supposed to be the leader of the health reform effort in the Senate, but in the course of about 10 minutes, he said he's open to compromise on the public plan, and undermined several key provisions of his own bill. Meanwhile, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is introducing his version of the health care bill this week, which is expected to include taxes on employer health benefits. Obama campaigned against this idea, and has reiterated his opposition. His far more reasonable proposal to help pay for the bill, which would be to eliminate the tax deduction for charitable contributions from rich people, has already been declared dead by self-righteous Senate Democrats. Now, the President's supposed allies in Congress are embarking on a path that could be politically perilous.

The President rightly predicted that health reform would fall through when people saw that something they have now is being taken away. That's why he's been so careful to remind Americans that if they like the insurance they have, they can keep it. Taxing benefits would throw this whole equation out the window. It looks like Baucus, who got about 200,000 votes in Montana will be dictating the contents of the bill, not the President of the United States, who got 70 million votes.

Meanwhile, it seems like a Democrat-a-day is expressing skepticism about the public plan. Senator Conrad publicly announces that he doesn't think it can pass. Senator Lieberman says he doesn't like it. This is not how you go into political battle. Imagine you're a world renowned surgeon performing open heart surgery, and the medical assistants are standing there saying, "this isn't gonna work! Don't do that!" I imagine that's how Obama must feel. It's becoming clear that playing nice with Congress is not working right now. Obama needs to kick it into political overdrive to get this done. That means holding town hall meetings at least weekly on the issue, for starters. And I would like it if he said to public-option skeptics, "looks like you won't be getting my help in your reelection!"

The President also meets this week with the Prime Ministers of Italy and South Korea. He will also no doubt be monitoring the situation in Iran, where the ruling clerics have started a probe into last week's controversial election.

Two things being pushed to next week:

-The signing of the tobacco bill (I'm not sure what the hold up is)
-ABC News will be picking a bunch of average citizens to ask the President questions on health care at the White House. This is the kind of event Obama should be holding nightly.

THE HOUSE: Now that I've gotten my Congress bashing out of the way, I can tell you what they're up to this week. The House starts today and tomorrow with some suspension bills. Wednesday through Friday the House is in legislative business. They will presumably start by voting on the conference report on the war funding bill. Speaker Pelosi hasn't quite rounded up the votes yet to send the bill to the President, but she'll probably get it done eventually by making some threats. Republicans are united in opposition because of funding added for the IMF. That means Democrats have to carry the water by themselves, which is tough when about 50 liberals in the caucus don't want to keep pumping money into never-ending wars.

The House then moves to consider the first two of 13 annual appropriations bills. The budget resolution which passed Congress in April stipulates the total amount that can be spent by each federal agency in Fiscal Year 2010. It's up to the appropriations committees and subcommittees to allocate that funding. This week, the House will vote on the Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies funding bill, and then will move to Homeland Security. I don't expect serious opposition to either bill. There is a lot of stuff in these bills, and if you vote against it, you're voting against a LOT of popular things. Traditionally, appropriations bills are considered under open rules, meaning that anyone can propose amendments to be voted on by the full House. This makes the process take a long time. We'll probably be dealing with one or two of these every week until the August recess.

THE SENATE: Besides important committee work on health care and energy legislation, the Senate is mostly quiet this week (yeah, just hang out guys, you've earned it!). They will presumably vote on the war funding bill at some point, and will also work on a bill that sets up incentives to encourage foreign travel into the United States. Read about it here. I expect the bill to pass easily. It is co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans alike.

That's it for now. I'll see you tonight for the Daily Strike.

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