Friday, July 10, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/10/09-Timelines

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The President is still out of town for the remainder of the weekend, but there is still a lot to talk about in Washington.

HEALTH CARE: The President held a press conference today before leaving the G8 summit in Italy. Among other subjects, Obama reiterated that he thinks passing health reform in both houses of Congress is "doable" by the August recess. That timeline is looking increasingly unlikely, as turf wars and policy disputes have brought reform to a snarl. I want to emphasize that I still think that some sort of bill will get passed this year. But the snags we see now threaten to give opponents more time to demagogue the issue before passage.

The House "tri-committee" bill, led by Reps. Rangel (NY), Miller (CA) and Waxman (CA) was scheduled to be released in full today, including a summary of how the chairmen planned to pay for the bill. The release date was pushed back because of a letter from 40 "Blue Dog" Democrats, who expressed a litany of concerns about the bill. As others have pointed out (including a great blogger, and fellow former CAP intern Igor Volsky), the letter contained inherent contradictions. The Blue Dogs claim that they're concerned at how much the bill costs, yet they are against a key cost control mechanism, the public option. They even admit that a Medicare-like public system would use below market rates to reimburse providers! They also complain that the process has been flawed, because Democratic leaders have not sought input from "both parties." This letter does not sit well with me at all. I don't think the Blue Dogs really know what they're talking about, policy-wise. They just want to be able to go home to their Conservative districts and claim that they tried to "moderate" the liberal Democrats' bill. House Progressives, like California Rep. Lynn Woolsey, have expressed due frustration in recent days that even after compromising on almost everything, Democrats are being asked by a minority in their caucus to compromise again. Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, and the chairmen will have to work out something with the Blue Dogs before they release the bill. This will most likely push a markup of the bill to at least the week of July 20th, just a week and a half before the August recess.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats can't agree on how to pay for reform. The Senate was forced to abandon Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' idea to tax employer health benefits because most Democrats were opposed to the idea, and Obama campaigned against it. The House is floating an idea to pay for the bill by taxing people who make over $300,000 a year. This would add about $500 billion in revenue, which combined with other savings, would probably be enough to cover the full cost of the bill. I wholeheartedly endorse the House approach. It's not only good policy, but it's politically marketable. You are not asking middle class families to sacrifice, even though they'll be reaping the benefits of the bill enormously. True Democratic values at work! Of course, moderate Senate Republicans, who claim that they'll support a health care bill if it fits their increasingly absurd demands, say that the idea is a non-starter. Max Baucus and other Senators care mostly about maintaining close ties with their Republican friends, so the House plan likely won't make it into the Senate version of the bill. Let's just hope House negotiators, with the support of President Obama, can win out in conference. That is, of course, if Blue Dog Democrats can stop whining.

We'll have a lot more on health care in the coming days.

THE HOUSE: The House was in session today to consider the 7th of 12 annual appropriations bills, this one funding Veterans Affairs and Military Construction. (The schedule apparently changed since I wrote last night). The major policy change in the bill is that the VA will now get one year advance payment for veterans health benefits, in order to ensure timely and predictable funding sources. The bill extends funding by about $5 billion over last year's level, and small but significant increase. Luckily, we didn't see any Republican dilatory tactics today. This bill usually has bipartisan support, because nobody wants to short change the veterans. Republicans probably figured it wasn't worth putting on a show because they weren't allowed to offer unlimited amendments. That wouldn't look good to the CSPAN viewers. The bill passed by a vote of 415-3. The no votes came from Republican earmark opponents Campbell (CA) and Flake (AZ), as well as from liberal fire-breather Pete Stark (CA), who probably doesn't want to give any money to military construction. The House only voted on one amendment, from Rep. Flake, which would have cut out one specific earmark. The amendment failed by a vote of 62-358.

The House will move on to two more appropriations bills next week. The intelligence authorization bill, which was supposed to come up this week, has been put on hold because of an ongoing dispute between House Democrats, House Republicans and the CIA over past intelligence practices.

The Senate will move to its 3rd appropriation bill next week, the one funding the Department of Defense.

President Obama has landed safely in Ghana for his first sub-Saharan trip to Africa as our country's first black President. We'll have more on that trip in the next couple of days. That's it for tonight. Before we go, it's time for our comment of the week. This one came last week from "E," who was puzzled by Sarah Palin's abrupt retirement. If you want a chance at this prestigious award, you better leave some comments yourself!

this is totally bizarre... she doesn't want to be a lame duck governor, so she just quits! I find this excuse is pretty lame also. btw, as long as she doesn't say she will not run for reelection, she's not in a lame duck position. The whole thing just raises more questions.

Every other day there're news about Palin, ranging from a running challenge to the President (what's the deal with the national policy btw?) to this bombshell... I really do not know what to say about her bizarre behavior.


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