THE WHITE HOUSE: The President arrived back from overseas yesterday, and is turning his focus to domestic issues. While battles are fully underway on Capital Hill on health reform and energy, the President focused today on implementation of the stimulus package. In a morning announcement, Obama announced that he will ramp up stimulus spending this summer to help save or create 600,000 jobs. The new funding will go from programs ranging from national park refurbishing, summer youth jobs, veterans' medical centers, teachers and police. So far, the administration has claimed to have saved or created 150,000 through the stimulus. Since that's about how many jobs we're losing every 10 days, it makes sense to turn on the gas a little bit. In fact, I think the administration should have ramped up the spending much earlier. My hunch is that they were hesitant to rush money out the door, because then the public would get the impression that they were just throwing money around at will. I think it's pretty safe to say that people care more about having jobs than some vague concept of "government inefficiency." On a similar note, the mainstream media is sure to warn us that ramping up stimulus spending is politcally dangerous, because one new poll from Gallup shows that the public disapproves on Obama's handling of the federal deficit. Again, if people didn't have jobs before, and get jobs because of the stimulus, I don't think they'll really care too much about the federal deficit. As a general rule, the media seems to obsess about the deficit far more than the American public. It seems that the administration is particularly sensitive to the deficit issue, though. Tomorrow, Obama will unveil a "Paygo" bill, which will require all spending bills to be offset by equivalent spending cuts or tax increases.
As for the rest of the President's schedule this week, not much has been released. He may need to decompress a little bit after his trip. We do know that Obama will meet Friday with the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, an opponent of longtime dictator Robert Mugabe. This will be a chance for Obama to pledge his support for free and fair elections. Speaking of elections, are we seeing a possible effect of Obama's Middle East outreach? Lebanon reelected a pro-U.S. government today, beating back a challenge from militant Hezbollah.
THE SENATE: The Senate today voted to invoke cloture on an important bill placing tobacco regulation under the authority of the FDA, with a mandate to reduce teen smoking. The bill had been held up for a week due to various procedural objections (one of which, from Senator John McCain, talked about last week). The motion to cut off debate passed by a vote of 61-30, with 8 Senators not voting. 7 Republicans, Senators Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Cornyn (TX), Grassley (IA), Murkowski (AK) and Snowe (ME), supported the bill. I'm particularly shocked by Cornyn's support; he is usually a party-line kind of guy. The only Democrat to vote against closure was North Carolina freshman Kay Hagan. A perfect lesson in political science in this vote. Hagan is normally a reliable Democratic vote, but does not want to vote against her state's omnipresent tobacco interests. In fact, Senator Hagan and her North Carolina colleague Richard Burr (R) are proposing an amendment to drastically scale back the bill. A vote on that amendment will occur tomorrow afternoon. I expect a vote on final passage to be later in the week. There is a lot of pressure on House Democrats to accept the Senate version of the bill, so that the measure can be presented to President Obama as soon as possible. This isn't exactly one of the President's top priorities, but it's an important bill nonetheless.
The Senate will work on the conference report on the war funding bill when they're done with the tobacco bill. There are still a few hang-ups on the war-funding bill, namely that it probably wouldn't pass the House at this point. The original bill passed the House with almost unanimous Republican support. Republicans don't want to support the conference report because they object to money in the Senate bill for the International Monetary Fund, saying that it is "excessive spending." 50 Democrats voted against the original bill, because of their principled opposition to war. If you do the math, 50 Democrats and the entire Republican caucus equals a majority vote AGAINST the bill. If they are so insistent on keeping IMF funds in the bill, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will have to work something out that can appeal to enough liberal Democrats to ensure House passage. I'm sure President Obama would like to get this bill over and done with.
Perhaps the most critical action in the Senate this week will happen at the committee level. The chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Ted Kennedy, is officially introducing his version of health reform legislation tomorrow. The bill is scheduled to be marked-up next week. It will be have to be reconciled with whatever comes out of the Senate Finance committee and chairman Max Baucus.
Speaking of the Senate Finance committee, as a quick aside, one pretty absurd moment this weekend came from it's ranking member, Senator Chuck Grassley who sent these non-sensical "Tweets" to object to Obama filming an address on health reform while he was in Europe:
"Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us 'time to deliver' on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND."
A short time later, Grassley sent, "Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said 'time to delivr on healthcare' When you are a 'hammer' u think evrything is NAIL I'm no NAIL."Did Miss Teen South Carolina steal your Twitter again, Grassley?
THE HOUSE: The House will consider a few substantive bills this week after dealing with suspension bills today and tomorrow. First, the House will presumably vote on the aforementioned war funding bill. Next comes a bill to authorize funding for foreign operations for fiscal year's 2010 and 2011. The bill has some substantive changes in it, including the creation of a Public Diplomacy Reserve Corps. The House then will vote on on a bill entitled , "The Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2009." Get it? It spells out PEACE! The bill will authorize the President to direct diplomatic aid to Pakistan to strengthen civilian rule and long-term security.
We will keep you posted on all of these developments throughout the week. Leave us some comments!