Friday, July 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/17/09-The Roller Coaster Rolls On

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be the last entry until Monday morning because I am hosting the Big Picture and the Picturette here this weekend. Please leave some quality comments. We've been lacking lately.

HEALTH CARE: Another day, another full slate of news on the health care front. In the wee hours of the evening, and in the very early morning, two key committees approved the House version of comprehensive health reform. At 1am last night, the Ways and Means Committee, led by Charles Rangel (NY) approved their portion of the bill by a vote of 23-18. All Republicans, as expected, opposed the bill. The Ways and Means portion of the bill, which is a the proposed surtax on the wealthy, is not something I would suspect any Republicans to support (which indicates to me that it's pretty good policy). Three Democrats voted against the legislation: Rep. Pomeroy of North Dakota (who has always been a moderate), Rep. Tanner of Tennessee (a Blue Dog Democrat) and Rep. Kind of Wisconsin (who said that the bill needs to contain more cost cutting provisions before he would vote for it.).

At about 6am this morning, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the bill by a vote of 26-22. Once again, the bill was opposed by every Republican on the committee, many of whom complained more about voting on a 1000 page bill two days after it was introduced than any substance in the bill. Ranking Republican John Kline (MN) blasted chairman George Miller for moving the bill so fast considering yesterday's sour report from the Congressional Budget Office that showed the House measure falling short on its promise to lower costs. Democrats Altmire of Pennsylvania, Polis of Colorado and Titus of Nevada voted against the measure. Altmire and Titus are among the more Conservative new members of the Democratic caucus, but I'm particularly surprised about Polis, who has been a reliable liberal since joining the House in January.

The bill still must be approved by the Energy and Commerce committee before going to the House floor. The committee will continue debating the through the middle of next week. Seven Blue Dog Democrats on that committee claim they have enough votes, combined with Republicans, to block the bill's passage. Let's hope they use that leverage to add constructive changes, not to scuttle health reform. It seems pretty clear that the committee will have to agree to some amendments before the bill passes. Should the bill clear Energy and Commerce, it will come to the House floor for an epic battle the week of July 27th, the last week the House will be in session.

One thing I neglected to mention is that the American Medical Association came out in support of the House bill. This is very significant, considering that the AMA has single-handedly brought down previous reform efforts. Whether it's endorsement has an effect on wavering lawmakers remains to be seen.

President Obama had a health care-themed day as well. This morning he met with two self-made king making Democrats, Senators Conrad (ND) and Bayh (IN). He then gave remarks on health reform in the afternoon. He basically assured the public that Congress is indeed making progress, despite what you hear in the mainstream media, and that he is guaranteeing legislation this year. The speech seemed like a way to rebut yesterday's CBO report, though I would have liked if he endorsed, as The Big Picture recommended, some of the CBO's cost cutting recommendations.

Meanwhile, a group of Senators sent a letter to Obama whining about how they need more time to consider such an important bill. As soon as I heard that news, I was like, "I bet Joe Lieberman had something to do with this..." Sure enough, he did. Signees of the letter is mostly the usual moderate suspects of Senators Nelson (NE), Lieberman (CT), Snowe (ME), Collins (ME) and Landrieu (LA). The surprise signee was liberal Oregonian Ron Wyden, who has come up with some very strong health policy recommendations of his own. Wyden probably wants more time for the Senate to consider some of his more innovative ideas. The rest of them know nothing about health care, I can assure you. They care a lot about Senatorial courtesy and the legislative process. Republican consultant and CNN pundit Alex Castellanos sent out a memo to Republicans recently saying that if they could just slow down the legislative process, they'd have a chance of defeating this bill. This bunch certainly seems like it's on it's way to helping Castellano's goal.

We'll tell you about what health care battles lie ahead in Monday's Weekly Strike, but I should note that we are still waiting on a "bipartisan" bill to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee.

THE SENATE: Speaking of the Senate, just when you think they can't get anything done, they took some key votes late last night. Democrats had decided to attach an hate crimes amendment to a defense authorization bill to increase the hate crime measure's chances of becoming law. Republicans had set up procedural roadblocks to this amendment, because they thought it did not belong in a defense bill. Finally last night, Republicans agreed to allow a vote on the amendment to occur, as long as it was subject to a 60 vote threshold, and as long as they could offer a couple of 2nd degree amendments. The hate crimes measure, which passed the House in May, would expand the definition of hate crimes to include those involving sexual orientation, and would increase the power of the Justice Department to prosecute hate crimes cases that the states choose to ignore. This is a very important legislative priority for the LGBT community. For them, last night brought a sweet victory. The amendment passed by a vote of 63-28. All Democrats who were present voted for it, as did Republicans Snowe (ME), Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Voinovich (OH) and Lugar (IN). The vote on passage of the amendment followed a vote on a substitute offered by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) which would have narrowed the bill's scope significantly. His amendment failed 29-62 (the exact opposite of the amendment vote, except that Senator Murkowski voted for both). The Senate also accepted an amendment by conservative Republican Sam Brownback (KS) which sought to clarify that nothing in the bill would be used to deny free speech. His amendment passed 78-13.

The bill itself will be voted on sometime next week, as will an important amendment from Senators Levin (D-MI) and McCain (R-AZ) to eliminate funding for the costly and ineffective F-22 airplane fleet.

In other Senate news, three Republicans have come out in support of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor the day after her hearings included. Senators Lugar (IN), Martinez (FL) and Snowe (ME) each released statements praising Sotomayor for her record and performance during the hearings. I expect a few more Republicans to follow suit. One Republican not supporting the nominee is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who released a convoluted statement about how she would rule based on personal preferences.

THE HOUSE: The House had an unusually busy Friday. It took a quick break from the annual appropriations bills to consider a bill to improve the long-term health of free-roaming horses and burros. The most pressing issue of our time! Not surprisingly, Republicans attacked Democrats for bringing up such a bill when we're facing so many other problems. On this point, I agree. The House then went back to it's 9th appropriation bill (out of 12) funding Energy and Water Development. After voting to accept one amendment, and to reject 12 more, the House voted to pass the bill by a vote of 320-97. 90 of the 97 no votes came from Republicans. Democrats were able to easily beat back a Republican motion to recommit the bill, which would have closed down the nuclear waste facility at Yucca mountain in Nevada. That's actually something I would support, and indeed it got more votes from Democrats than it did from Republicans. It ultimately failed by a vote of 30-388.

The House moves next week to a bill instituting "statutory PAYGO" rules for the federal budget. We'll explain on Monday. They also will consider appropriation bills number 10 and 11, those funding Transportation and Housing, as well as Labor and Health and Human Services.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday!!

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