Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/15/09-Hearings Day 3/Health Care Advances/More Senate Shenanigans

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The multi-track Presidency marches forward. Let's get you caught up.

HEALTH CARE: Today was another very solid day for the prospects of comprehensive health reform, which is where we'll start today's entry. The Senate HELP bill, under the leadership of temporary chairman Christopher Dodd, passed the committee today on a 13-10 party line vote. The bill is quite strong, though falls short of the ambitious House proposal in a number of areas. The HELP bill does indeed have a public option as part of state-run health insurances exchanges, but it would be forced to compete with private companies on a "level playing field." The House bill calls for the public insurance plan to pay doctors at Medicare-level rates. The bill has an individual mandate to purchase insurance, though the penalty isn't quite as large as the House version. As with the House bill, the HELP bill includes unprecedented investments in prevention and wellness, and would forbid insurance companies from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions. One thing the bill does not address is how to pay for reform. New revenues are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, which will presumably finish coming up with a draft bill in the near future (the hold-up is that Chairman Baucus STILL thinks he can get a bipartisan bill. Not gonna happen, Max. Do what's right for your country.)

President Obama released a statement heaping praise on the HELP bill. He noted the significance of it being the first comprehensive health bill to clear a major Congressional committee. Remember, this is further than Bill Clinton ever got. Yes, we still have a long way to go. Even before the HELP Committee bill comes to the Senate floor, it will have to be reconciled with the Finance Committee bill, which will be no easy task. But today's vote, combined with the strong bill released yesterday in the House, give me hope that we're starting to gain some momentum. The final vote tally (which is actually just a list of committee members by party) is below. Please call your Senator if he or she voted the wrong way.

Yes: (all Democrats): Kennedy (MA) (by proxy), Dodd (CT), Harkin (IA), Mikulski (MD), Bingaman (NM), Murray (WA), Reed (RI), Sanders (VT), Casey, Brown (OH), Whitehouse (RI), Merkley (OR) and Hagan (NC).

No: (all Republicans): Enzi (WY), Gregg (NH), Alexander (TN), Burr (NC), Isakson (GA), McCain (AZ), Hatch (UT), Murkowski (AK), Coburn (OK) and Roberts (KS).

President Obama kept on the health care offensive today with a press event in the Rose Garden. Surrounded by key members of Congress, including Dodd and his House counterparts, as well as nurses, the President insisted that he will do everything he can over the next two weeks to get health care bills out of the House and Senate by the August recess. President Obama also issued what I thought was a poignant challenge to members of Congress, to look beyond "the next election to the next generation" as they debate sweeping new legislation. It seems like the President was serious when he said that he's willing to put his political capital on the line for this bill. It remains to be seen exactly what role he'll take as the bills advance through Congress. This afternoon, the President met with a group of moderate Republicans to discuss health reform. I hope he played a little hard ball.

SOTOMAYOR: Today was Day 3 of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. I think, once again, the biggest news of the day was that there really isn't much news. She still seems on track for a relatively easy confirmation. Sotomayor started the day by taking questions from the 8 members of the committee that didn't ask questions yesterday. The last two Republicans to ask questions, Senators Cornyn and Coburn, both asked tough, but fair questions. Sotomayor assured Cornyn that she had not talked about abortion with President Obama before he nominated her, and told Coburn that foreign law should not be the deciding factor in domestic disputes.

The two most interesting question periods today came from the two newest members of the Democratic caucus. Former Republican Arlen Specter barely resembled the man who helped secure confirmation for conservative Justices Roberts and Alito. Specter spent a large portion of his questioning attacking Roberts for misleading the committee about his respect for judicial precedent. He even attacked the Bush v. Gore decision for it's shocking disregard for any sort of legal, anything. His questions though, weren't anything to write home about. He spent a lot of his time asking about cameras in the courtroom. Al Franken not only asked some very good questions, like what the judge's views are on voting rights, but he loosened up and cracked a few jokes about Perry Mason.

After a quick private hearing, as is custom for Supreme Court nominees, Senators began their second round of questioning. Chairman Patrick Leahy began by noting the Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire case, in which a woman was unable to suit for wage discrimination because the statute of limitations had passed, as an example of why life experience might matter in the judicial arena. Ranking Republican Sessions returned to the infamous "wise Latina" comment and asked a few more questions about gun rights. Following questions from five more Senators, the committee adjourned for the day. Tomorrow, the rest of the Senators will get to ask their second rounds of questions, and then outside witnesses will testify. The most interesting testimony will probably be from the firefighters in the Ricci case, who claimed that their promotion tests were improperly thrown out due to reverse discrimination. We'll give you the full rundown tomorrow.

THE SENATE: Oh, the United States Senate. The Senate is supposed to be debating a defense authorization bill this week, but debate has turned into a parliamentary circus. Democrats have been unable to get around Republican procedural maneuvers to bring up a vote on an unrelated anti-hate crimes measure, so they have decided to try to attach it to this defense bill. The problem is, Senator John McCain, as is his right, is objecting to even considering the amendment, because he thinks it's not relevant to the bill at hand. Democrats know they have the votes to pass the hate crimes measure, and seem intent on holding up the bill until the hate crimes language is voted on. Majority Leader Reid has filed cloture on the amendment, meaning that we have to wait at least 30 hours before voting unless Republicans agree to vote earlier. This would put the vote at 1am Friday morning. So, best case scenario, we will have cut off debate on one unrelated amendment by the end of a week's work on a defense bill.

This scuffle has temporarily sidelined the key battle of this bill. President Obama is threatening to veto the defense authorization measure if it authorizes funding for new F-22 fighter jets. The Armed Services committee narrowly passed an amendment including F-22 funding in the bill. A bipartisan team of Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain have proposed an amendment to remove the funding from the final bill. Many Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, want to keep the funding because the planes are made in their states. We'll see if Senators will vote their parochial interests or if they will support a bipartisan effort to eliminate an unnecessary weapons program. That vote has now been pushed to next week.

THE HOUSE: The House began consideration of their 8th (out of 12) appropriation bill, the Energy and Water Development bill. The House considered a slew of amendments today, voting on some of them, and saving some others for tomorrow. Votes on a Republican alternative and final passage will occur tomorrow. The House tomorrow will also take up its 9th appropriation bill, covering Financial Services and General Government, tomorrow. For details on both of these bills, I will point you to the Weekly Whip Pack in the interest of time.

Finally, we have a new member of the House of Representatives. Last night, Democrat Judy Chu defeated Betty Chu in a special election in California. Talk about confusing, two Chu's on the same ballot! JUDY Chu will take her seat later this week. Chu is a former chair of the California Board of Equalization, and will be (amazingly) the first Chinese-American member of Congress. She replaces Hilda Solis, who was confirmed in February as President Obama's Secretary of Labor. This brings the whole number of representatives to 434, with the one open seat in the California district of Ellen Tauscher, now the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control. Democrats have a 256-178 advantage. Republicans will lose one if their own if and when New York Rep. John McHugh is confirmed as the Secretary of the Army.

That's it for quite a busy day. I would love to see some comments. See you tomorrow night.

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