Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/22/09-Slowing Down

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The President will address the nation at an 8pm press conference from the White House. He will be continuing his public advocacy for health reform. We will have coverage and analysis of the press conference tomorrow.

HEALTH CARE: The story of health reform today was inaction. Even though Blue Dog Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee won a key concession from chairman Henry Waxman, they are apparently still holding out on supporting the bill. Blue Dogs are apparently not satisfied that there will be an independent commission determining Medicare payments. They still have ten other "demands." Therefore, the committee markup has been delayed indefinitely. Speaker Pelosi claims that she has enough votes to get the House version passed on the floor, but she needs to find one Blue Dog who can help get the bill out of committee. The House has one week left after this before its month-long August recess, and would need a few days the whip support for the bill before it comes to the floor. Also, we'll inevitably hear calls from self-proclaimed government reformers who want members to "read the bill." Speaker Pelosi has suggested that the House may stay in session until a bill is passed.

Over in the Senate side, we still don't have anything from the Senate Finance committee. Chairman Baucus has said that he's getting towards a bipartisan compromise proposal, but as each day passes, we hear nothing from him, or his Republican ranking member Charles Grassley. Before the bill can come to the floor of the Senate, it will have to be merged with the HELP committee bill, and it will have to most likely withstand numerous procedural delays by minority Republicans. Also, with two weeks left in the Senate session, they still have a lot of other work to do, including a debate and vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (IL) said today that the Senate will not be able to pass a health care bill by the August recess, defying the call from President Obama.

On the one hand, I don't want Democratic members to take tough votes on underdeveloped bills and get hammered at home during the August recess. On the other hand, the more the bill is delayed, the more we play into the Republican strategy of slowing down the Congressional sausage-making before "going for the kill." We need to do SOMETHING by the August recess to prove to the American people that this isn't Clinton '94. A good bill from the Senate Finance committee probably isn't enough. I think the best chance for President Obama is to win passage in the House. He will probably have to make compromises with Blue Dog Democrats to get it done, but it's worth it to start building some momentum.

Right now, it sort of seems like Obama vs. the world, doesn't it? All we hear from the Democratic party in Congress is lots of internal bickering, deal-making and bluster. Where are the Congressional Democrats who are willing to put their careers on the line for health reform? How can we be losing a message war to a party that wants the country and the health plan to fail? Obama can't be using all this political capital on his own. Other Democrats need to step up more forcefully and advocate publicly for the bill. Stop talking about how frustrated you are with the deadline. Stop talking about how you're not getting enough direction from the White House. Stop saying that you don't like to be pushed or rushed. Your country is counting on you.

THE SENATE: The United States, in a surprising vote, has for once beaten the NRA! The Senate, as we've talked about, is in a protracted debate on a Defense Authorization Bill. Apparently, this bill is good for attaching unrelated policy riders. One of those riders was offered as an amendment by Senator John Thune (R-SD). This amendment would loosen restrictions on concealed firearms that cross state lines. Big city mayors were universally opposed to the bill, because it could allow easier transport of guns. Democrats from rural and Midwestern states can never resist these gun amendments, because they don't want to lose the coveted 100% rating from the NRA. Knowing that they couldn't defeat the amendment outright, liberal Democrats decided to filibuster the amendment and thus subject it to a 60 vote threshold. The amendment failed by two votes, 58-39. Ironically, it was two Republicans who ultimately caused the bill's demise (though if they had voted yes, Democrats probably could have pried away a couple more Senators to sustain the filibuster). Senators Lugar (IN) and Voinovich (OH) bucked their party and voted against the amendment. 20 Democrats voted for it: Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Casey (PA), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feingold (WI), Hagan (NC), Johnson (SD), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Reid (NV), Tester (MT), Udall (CO), Udall (NM), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA).

The Senate voted on two additional amendments this afternoon, ones that actually had to do with defense. The Senate was debating two North Korea-related amendments. The Republican version, authored by Sam Brownback (KS), would have returned the "state sponsor of terror" label to North Korea. The Democratic version would require an assessment before assigning that label. I don't know why we put so much meaning on these phrases, though I guess it triggers various policies into action (like sanctions). The Brownback amendment failed by a vote of 43-54, and the Kerry amendment passed 66-31. Why did 12 Senators vote for both versions? I couldn't tell you. Other amendments were adopted by unanimous consent. Presumably the Senate will vote on additional amendments tomorrow, with the goal of finally passing this bill by the end of the week.

THE HOUSE: The House Democratic leadership threw a bone to the Blue Dogs today by bringing up a bill that would institute statutory PAYGO requirements. That means that by law, all new spending or tax cuts must be offset by equal spending cuts or tax hikes. The provision is currently a rule of the House, but it is not a Federal statute. The rule can be waived for emergencies (almost anything can be designated as an emergency) and for "certain economic recovery programs." As you can see, there will be many ways to get by these requirements if need be, but I can understand why conservative Democrats wanted to show their constituents that they are fiscally responsible. I am neither for nor against this bill, because it depends entirely on what spending or tax provisions we're adding, and which ones we're subtracting. If we need to offset spending on social programs by raising taxes on the rich, I'm all for it. If we need to cut spending because we gave tax breaks to the rich, then I'm against it.

The bill passed by a strong vote of 265-166. 24 Republicans voted yes, while 13 Democrats (all liberals who don't want to be constrained in their spending) voted no. The Republicans offered two alternatives to the bill. The first, offered by Rep. Ryan (WI) would set caps on discretionary spending from Fiscal Years 2010-2014. It's not a good idea to arbitrarily cut government programs indiscriminately. Luckily, the alternative failed 169-259, with 5 Democrats voting yes and 12 Republicans voting no. Republicans also proposed a package of stricter rules, which Democrats objected to because they were based on statistics from January (the economy has gotten worse since then.) That amendment, offered as a motion to recommit, failed 196-234, with 19 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting yes.

The House moves on to two more appropriations bills (numbers 10 and 11) tomorrow before adjourning for the week.

That's it for tonight. We'll keep you up-to-date with any health care news, and we'll give you full analysis of the press conference.

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