Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/23/09-Punting

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The story again today: health care, health care and health care.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The President is doing his best to sell his health care proposal publicly to various degrees of success. Last night, the President gave a press conference at the White House, and seemed off at times. His opening statement was strong, but his answers to questions were often long and wonky, getting into the muddy details of what reform might look like, instead of driving home the message that the status quo is unacceptable. In fact, the main news story that came out of last night's event was the President coming to the defense of his friend, Harvard professor Henry Lewis Gates Jr. Obama said that the police in Cambridge acted "stupidly," a comment that gave Republicans ammunition to use some race-based politicking. The President didn't express the passion or urgency of reform well enough to help the American people understand what's in the plan for them. This is not to say that the event was a failure. The President, as always, came off as smart, committed and informed, which is good for a public who wants leaders who know what they're talking about. I just don't think the President did as much as he could to move the debate.

President Obama, was, however, at the top of his game today at a town hall meeting in Cleveland. The President attacked his usual targets passionately, like his Republican critics and insurance companies, but also made a more forceful appeal for reform. He just seemed to have more energy. I specifically liked his response to a question from a high school student. The student asked what young people could do to help the reform effort, and Obama told him that they should not only call their member of Congress, but that they should make the pitch as personal as possible, to counter the noise and falsehood coming from talk radio. The President also discussed the hurdles in Congress (which we'll get to below) by saying that it's ok not to have a bill pass the Senate by the August recess, as long as Senators "keep working" and finish the bill by the end of the year.

PROSPECTS IN CONGRESS: Actually getting work done seems pretty difficult in the Senate these days, and I'm not referring to the fact that they've been working on the same bill for almost two weeks. Today, Majority Leader Reid announced that the Senate will not vote on a health care bill by the August recess. The exact date that the bill passes doesn't matter all that much policy-wise (the bill wouldn't come fully into effect for several years), but the loss of momentum really emboldens those who want to see the bill fail. The leader of Conservatives for Patients Rights, the insufferable Rick Scott, said that the Senate's postponement spells the end of the public option. I don't think that's accurate, but the more the issue gets demagogued in the media, the more difficult it will be to pass something strong. The reason for the postponement is the inability of the Senate Finance committee, and its chairman Max Baucus (MT) to finish their version of the bill. Baucus and his "bipartisan" work group has been saying that they're close to a deal for awhile, but we still don't have anything. The new goal, according to Reid, is to simply get a bill passed in the Finance committee before the recess. I don't know what Baucus and his counterpart Republican Chuck Grassley have been doing, but it's inexcusable that they haven't come down from their ivory towers and given us something we can work with.

Over in the House, prospects for passage before the August recess seem to me to be about 50/50 at this point. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi again today insisted that she had the votes to pass the bill on the floor, even though members of the Blue Dog coalition insist that they have the votes to bring down the bill. The Energy and Commerce committee was forced to cancel its hearings again today, as its chairman Henry Waxman met with the Blue Dogs to try and work out a deal. In fact, Waxman and the Blue Dogs spent over three hours in Speaker Pelosi's office with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. I haven't yet heard if anything substantive has come out of that meeting, but they apparently have left the room without a deal. Earlier in the day, Democrats reportedly had a heated exchange in a closed caucus meeting about health reform. The leadership told the members, apparently, that if health care fails, their political futures will be in jeopardy. I couldn't agree more.

This is such a difficult fight. We're dealing with such a complicated issue, an issue that is easy to demagogue, and we're depending on recalcitrant, self-serving, often-nihilistic lawmakers. And that's just in our own party. We need to try and stay optimistic. We should all call the offices of these Blue Dogs everyday and remind them that their country is counting on them.

THE SENATE: The Senate today continued its seemingly never ending consideration of the Defense Authorization Bill. The body voted on one amendment today offered by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (IN), which would have provided additional development of F-35 fighter aircraft. I don't know much about this plane, but it seems like it's just as unnecessary in our current wars as the F-22. The amendment was defeated 59-38, on another amendment that didn't conform to party lines. 14 out of 40 Republicans supported the amendment, along with 24 out of 60 Democrats. The Senate accepted by voice vote an alternative from Senator Lieberman (CT) that would allow production of the planes only after studies of its effectiveness. The Senate will presumably vote to cut off debate on this bill either late tonight or tomorrow, and will finally vote on final passage tomorrow or possibly Saturday. The Senate has two weeks left in its session, and since it won't be taking up the health bill, I expect it to take up some appropriations measures, the Sotomayor nomination, and other items.

THE HOUSE: The House spent the day on appropriation bill number 10, the one funding the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The bill makes historic investment in infrastructure projects, though the dollar amount falls significantly short of the President's request. The best part of the bill, as far as I can see, is a $1.8 billion new investment in light rail and commuter rail. I also like historic investments in public housing. The House voted on some 16 amendments to the bill, all offered by Republicans, and all failing. A lot of the amendments, as usual, sought to strike specific earmarks from the bill. Right now, Republicans are forcing the clerk to read the full motion to recommit, in an apparent protest over something or other. They are becoming experts at being brats. Because of this, I won't know the the final vote results of the bill until later tonight. I will post them tomorrow.

See you then!

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