Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/21/09-Small Victories

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The countdown continues for health reform, and House Republicans engage in more shenanigans. It's another day in Washington...

HEALTH CARE: I would characterize the day in health reform as a series of baby steps. The President, as promised, kept up public pressure on members of Congress today in a speech at the White House. He derided health care opponents of their strategies of "delay and defeat" and said that Congress must get past the political games on behalf of the American people. He didn't reference anyone by name, but it was a clear response to a speech yesterday from RNC chairman Michael Steele, and a memo from Republican strategist Bill Kristol, each of which called for Republicans to do whatever they can to stop reform. It seems like President Obama is adopting a new strategy of isolating ideological Republicans in an effort to shore up support among Democrats. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

The President met this afternoon with Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce committee to discuss health care. The committee is continuing its markup of the bill, which is scheduled to end tomorrow. I suspect it will go on for a few more days. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer seemed to suggest today that Democrats may not meet the President's deadline of getting a bill done by the August break. That could have been a way of pressuring Energy and Commerce Democrats to get their work done by the end of the week, so that the bill can come before the full House next week, the last week of the session. The meeting was particularly important because of the number of conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the committee. One of their leaders, Mike Ross of Arkansas, has said the Blue Dogs have enough votes to kill the bill unless they can make significant changes. That, apparently, was what they talked about at the White House. The chairman of the committee, Henry Waxman, and Ross both said that the meeting went well, though neither mentioned any breakthrough that would allow the bill to pass the committee. I'm still hoping that the Blue Dogs use their leverage to make positive changes to the bill, instead of grandstanding to demonstrate how much power they have. If for nothing else, they have the most to lose politically from a failed health care effort.

We also learned late today that Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus is close to announcing a bipartisan deal to pay for health care reform. I'm not sure what the cost savings measures are, so I can't evaluate it yet. I'm curious what we had to give up to make ranking Republican Chuck Grassley happy.

The President once again takes his case to the people tomorrow night during a prime time press conference. We of course, will have full coverage.

THE SENATE: The Senate gave President Obama a very important victory today. By a vote of 58-40, the Senate voted to strip out funding for unnecessary F-22 fighter jets. The amendment, sponsored by Democrat Carl Levin (MI) and Republican John McCain (AZ), was attached to the Defense Authorization Bill. Just last week, it seemed like the amendment was likely to fail, considering that many Senators wanted to protect manufacturers of the planes in their home states. President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates made a pretty serious behind the scenes push, and it paid off big time. The victory is more symbolic than substantive. The House has yet to pass its version of the bill, and it's very possible that it could include F22 funding, which would force some difficult conference negotiations. For that matter, the Senate still needs to pass the underlying bill, which will most likely happen at the end of the week. Still, it shows that Senators are capable of putting aside parochial interests and fighting the military industrial complex. At least once. The final vote on the bill did not conform to the party line. 43 Democrats and 15 Republicans supported the amendment, while 15 Democrats and 25 Republicans voted no. You don't see arch conservatives like Jon Kyl (AZ) and Jim DeMint (SC) siding with liberals like socialist Bernie Sanders (VT) very often. It's pretty clear which states manufacture these plans. Both California Senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer both voted against the amendment, even though they are not exactly military nuts. New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall voted against the bill, even though they're reliable liberals. The full (and interesting) vote tally is here.

The Senate also voted for a Lieberman (?-CT) amendment to increase the size of the military in each of the next three fiscal years. The amendment passed 93-1.

The next big amendment vote will come tomorrow. South Dakota Republican John Thune has proposed an unrelated amendment to loosen gun control restrictions across the country. Democrats from midwestern states always vote pro-gun because they don't want to lose their politically gold 100% rating from the NRA. A cadre of liberal Senators have vowed to filibuster the amendment, so it looks like it will be subject to a 60 vote threshold. Majority Leader Reid supports the amendment, as he seeks to please his libertarian constituents in Nevada.

In other Senate news, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, as expected will not be voted on until next Tuesday. Under Senate Judiciary Committee rules, Republicans have the right to delay the vote one week, and they have chosen to use that right. It's still pretty much assured that Sotomayor will clear the full Senate by the August recess (which begins August 7th).

THE HOUSE: House Republicans devoid of any actual power, have thought up childish ways to use arcane parliamentary rules to disrupt the people's business. Today's edition was particularly egregious. The House typically starts its day by allowing members to make 1 minute speeches on any topic that they would like. On Tuesdays, there are typically no restrictions on these speeches, though typically only a handful of members on each side will make use of the privilege. Today, Republicans took the floor for two and a half hours to give one minute speeches attacking Democrats on the stimulus package, cap-and-trade, and health care reform. Republicans were partially complaining about not being involved enough in the process, but mostly they were repeating the talking point about how Democrats haven't fulfilled their promise to create jobs. Ignoring the fact that Republicans act like children, and it's obnoxious, they are taking extreme liberty with the facts. Not only are we cleaning up a mess that they created, not only was the stimulus package too small because we had to appease moderates in THEIR party, not only are they looking to benefit politically from the country's failure...but as the great Steny Hoyer pointed out in a fantastic fiery floor speech, more jobs were lost during the final months of the Bush administration than during the first months of the Obama administration. Watch Hoyer's speech for its entertainment value (it's not yet on YouTube), but otherwise, there's no point in giving these Republicans more attention than they deserve.

These antics prevented the House from getting to it's business until later this afternoon. They are still working on suspension bills as we speak. They will vote on these bills tonight, and will take up more substantive legislation tomorrow. We will have full details in tomorrow night's entry.

That's it for us today, see you tomorrow!

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