Monday, June 22, 2009

The Weekly Strike-6/22-6/28

Good Monday morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview what promises to be another busy week in politics. Many thanks to the Big Picture for his thoughtful entry last night. Here's hoping Obama can do better than that D+ he earned last week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President's week will most likely be dominated by two subjects: Iran and health care. On the former, Obama has shifted tone in the last couple of days from extreme caution to mild rebuke of the Iranian regime. It's almost impossible to know what will happen in Iran this week, which is what makes the situation so unusual. It is clearly seen as an opportunity by Republicans to portray the President as weak-willed and not willing to stand up for American ideals. You know, like how they stand up for torture. The President has to delicately show solidarity with the Iranian people, while not trying to turn the United States into a foil. This conflict may keep the President on his toes and less able to focus on domestic issues.

That's too bad, because this is a critical week for health care reform. After last week's setbacks, with two Senate committee striking out on preliminary proposals, and weak-willed centrist Democrats bending toward the whims of an irrelevant Republican minority, Obama needs to take matters into his own hands. NBC's Chuck Todd did quite a job this morning reminding us of the facts. Barack Obama won the election by 7 points last fall running partially on a platform of universal health care. His party has a huge majority in the House and almost 60 seats in the Senate. And he has personal approval hovering around 60%. Yet, Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein are now saying he doesn't have the votes to pass health reform? This would NOT happen if the situation were reversed and we had a Republican president. Adding to what would seem like an already obvious political case for health reform are new polls out showing large popular support for a public health insurance option. It's clear that normal political dynamics are not good enough to solve the health care crisis. Some Senate Democrats seem more interested in fraternizing with their Republican brethren that getting the job done for the American people. Far more importantly, lobbyists for the health care industry are hounding Democrats and instilling false ideas into their head that comprehensive health reform would be disastrous and politically unpopular. The President needs to climb on top of this rubble every day if he wants to overcome these significant hurdles (none of which, notably, have to do with the opposition party). Unfortunately, from what I can see, the President only has one health-care related event this week, a town hall at the White House on ABC News. This will be a good forum for the President to rise above Congressional wrangling. One event, though, is not good enough. He needs to treat this like a Presidential campaign. As The Big Picture wisely noted yesterday, the Bush administration didn't sit back and let Congress dictate debate on the Iraq War Resolution. They freaked the hell out of the American people every single day!

That responsibility isn't solely the President's. House Democrats introduced a very strong bill on Friday, which contains an individual mandate and the public option. Democratic members of the House need to take the lead and get out and sell the plan to the American public. Now that they have something tangible to defend, they need to get to work and make it politically viable.

The Senate HELP committee continues it's long deliberations on their health care bill this week. The Finance committee may or may not have their plan ready by week's end.

The President rounds out his week by signing a key piece of legislation today, that puts tobacco regulation under the authority of the FDA. I expect a large signing ceremony, with Congress members from both parties trying to get in on the photo-op. He is also expected to sign the war funding bill this week, which will provide money for Afghanistan and Iraq through September. The bill also includes an unrelated measure allowing people to get a rebate for turning in old gas guzzling cars. I expect little fanfare for this bill, since continued war funding is not exactly something the President wants to highlight at this stage in the game.

THE HOUSE: The House gavels in tomorrow with some work on suspension bills. For the remainder of the week, the House will consider two appropriations bills, and an authorization bill. Coming first is the 3rd of the the 12 annual appropriations bill funding the Department of Homeland Security. After last week's shenanigans, I expect the Democrats to restrict the number of amendments offered by Republicans. Republicans have suggested that they may again try to slow down the process by calling for a ridiculous amount of votes, to protest their inability to offer amendments. Next comes the Defense Authorization bill, which will authorize funding for the Department of Defense for the next two fiscal years. Usually authorization bills contain policy changes. It looks like this bill will start a new program of weekly allowances for service-members injured in combat. I doubt that the bill will prove particularly controversial. Finally, the House considers appropriations bill number 4, which will fund the Department of the Interior and related environmental agencies. More on these bills as the week progresses.

THE SENATE: The Senate, per usual, continues at a snail-like pace, despite the urgent needs of the country. This week, the upper chamber will be considering a bill to promote foreign travel into the United States. The Senate has been stuck on this relatively non-controversial bill since last week. A vote to cut off debate on the bill will occur tonight, and amendments will be voted on presumably tomorrow and Wednesday. The Senate will try to move to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill by the end of the week, but I have my doubts. There's always a way to slow down business in the Senate, unfortunately, and Republicans seem particularly good at doing that.

That's the week in politics. See you tonight for the Daily Strike!

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