I don't want to get too morbid here. I'm still confident that we can get health care reform done this year, but what I've seen in the past week deeply worries me. There seems to be, as President Obama explained, a Washington inertia that is slowing this process down, leaving enough time for proponents of the status quo to "go for the kill." There are clearly people more interested in money and power than delivering for the American people. It makes me lose confident not only in this particular effort, but in the ability of our political system to produce needed change. If we can't get this done, how are we ever going to tackle the rest of our country's problems.
UPDATE: After I wrote the first part of this entry, Waxman and the Blue Dogs came out of a closed door meeting to say that negotiations are back on, and that they retract much of what they said earlier in the day. This doesn't mean that they've agreed on any substantive changes, but we're better off than we were when this entry began. I guess things can change every hour...
CONGRESS: Even as all of this health care wrangling has been going on, Congress has been working on continuing legislative business. When we left off yesterday, the House was finishing up its 10th of 12 appropriations bills, this one funding the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The bill passed last night by a vote of 256-158. 16 Republicans voted yes and 10 Democrats voted. Read yesterday's entry for more on the substance of the bill.
Today, the House passed its 11th appropriations bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill. This bill is usually the most contentious, because it contains a lot of social programs Democrats cherish and Republicans have tried to abolish. This year's bill increases funding slightly above last year's level, though many programs got extra funding in the stimulus bill. Significant increases were approved for mental health care, substance abuse programs, and early childhood education. The bill passed by a final vote of 264-153. 20 Republicans voted yes, and 5 Democrats voted no. Prior to final passage, 5 Republican amendments were rejected. The House will finish up its appropriations bills next week when it votes on the one for the Department of Defense.
THE SENATE: The Senate finally finished the Defense Authorization bill last night, which sets policy and spending levels for the Pentagon. It also contains an unrelated provision changing hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation. The vote on final passage was 87-7. 5 conservative Republicans, Barrasso (WY), Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Enzi (WY) and Vitter (LA), opposed the bill because of spending and the hate crimes provision. Democrat Russ Feingold (WI) and Independent Socialist Bernie Sanders (VT) voted against the bill because of moral objections to the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate will move next week to its 3rd appropriations bill (they're way behind the House) funding the Department of Energy and Water Development.
OBAMA: News out of the White House today focused on two subjects. One, a sideshow stemming from an off-the-cuff remark Obama made at his press conference on Wednesday, and the other a substantive policy announcement. Guess which one got more media coverage?
President Obama made a special guest appearance at the White House Daily Briefing to discuss his comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. Obama walked back his comments a bit, saying that he believed the police officers to be professionals, and that he simply meant that both sides could have handled the situation better. He once again acknowledged the racial tensions present in the case, but wondered why there has been such a hubbub in the media. I hope this announcement puts the issue to rest before Republicans use this as a race-baiting political issue.
On matters on substance, the President announced a new program to give out competitive grants to high-performing schools under what he calls the "Race to the Top" program. States will get some of the $4.5 billion allocated in the stimulus based on whether they do away with barriers to charter schools and institute merit pay policies that reward good teachers.
That's it for tonight. Leave us some comments and see you Monday!