HEALTH CARE: Apparently it's official. House Democrats have informed their Republican counterparts that there will be no vote on a health care bill before Friday, the beginning of the month-long August recess. Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce have not yet agreed to move the bill out of that committee. At this point it would be impossible for the committee to report the bill, and members to vote on the floor in the next few days, let alone the next week. The new goal is to have the bill voted on by the Energy and Commerce committee by Friday. I'm not even sure that deadline can be met. Chairman Henry Waxman has submitted an offer to the Blue Dogs, which he says fulfill all 10 of their "objectives" to improve the bill. The Blue Dogs are mulling over the proposal, and will wait to accept or deny it until they get a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
Meanwhile in the Senate, still nothing from the elusive "Gang of 6" bipartisan Senators. Word came out late yesterday that they were close to an agreement on a watered-down bill that does not have an employer mandate or a public option. Instead, it would have an employer-operated co-op to compete with private insurance plans. They plan on financing the bill, I believe, partially by ending the tax exemption on the most expensive health insurance plans.
Meanwhile, President Obama continued his public advocacy for reform today during a tele-townhall at the AARP. The event was pretty subdued. For one, the questions were mostly softballs. Someone actually asked if "I will still be denied coverage if I have a pre-existing condition." Not that it's not a good question, but Obama thrives when he's challenged a bit and is forced to take on his critics. The President twice affirmed his commitment to the public option, and also reminded seniors that we heard the same arguments in 1965 when Medicare passed as we're hearing today.
These delays are bad news, obviously. But possibly Obama can use these setbacks as an opportunity. He will have Washington to himself in August, and he can use that chance to make a more convincing case directly to the American people. For this to be successful, he needs to activate his army of grassroots volunteers and he needs his lieutenants in Congress fighting on the ground.
I worry though, that something more troubling might be going on. Maybe it was the Washington Post article today that quoted some guy in South Carolina who said, "keep the government away from my Medicare!" Maybe it was Dana Milbank's piece in the Post that talked about how Barack Obama has become too "normal" of a President. He has lost the intrigue and power of his "hope and change" message. Maybe it was Gallup showing the President's approval rating reach a new low (54%). The Big Picture captured what's going on in a disturbing, yet apt hypothesis in today's Big Picture Corner:
a) people are starting to forget about Bush, specifically that the economic crisis and recession happened on his watch, due to his philosophy - and that was never made clear enough in the first place
The silver lining is maybe this will convince Obama to take a bolder, fresher approach, more in line with how he "broke the mold" in his previous successful campaigns than how he more has more fit the mold so far in D.C. on a lot of big things. Hopefully he'll do some soul-searching, talk to Axelrod and Michelle, and get back to the anti-status quo, anti-establishment passionate movement leader who was able to defeat Hillary. Something I forgot to mention as a cause for the current troubles is how they've handled his core of supporters, and people hungry for Hope, Change, Idealism - need to do more to get those people inspired, more national service programs, more of a sense of a historic movement.
THE SENATE: There was one piece of good news today. The Senate Judciary Committee approved Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination by a vote of 13-6. All Democrats on the committee (Leahy-VT, Kohl-WI, Feinstein-CA, Feingold-WI, Schumer-NY, Durbin-IL, Cardin-MD, Whitehouse-RI, Klobuchar-MN, Kaufman-DE, Specter-PA and Franken-MN) voted yes. The only Republican to vote yes, as expected, was South Carolina's Lindsay Graham. The other Republicans (Sessions-AL, Hatch-UT, Grassley-IA, Kyl-AZ, Cornyn-TX and Coburn-OK) voted no. The nomination will come to the full Senate next week. I'm sticking to my prediction that she'll pass with 65-70 votes and take her seat when the court returns in September.
The Senate also began consideration of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill this evening. The first vote was on an amendment by Senator McCain (R-AZ) to ban unauthorized spending (earmarks) in the bill. I expect he'll offer this amendment to every appropriations measure. The amendment failed by a vote of 25-72. Three anti-earmark Democrats (Bayh-IN, Feingold-WI and McCaskill-MO) joined 22 Republicans in voting yes. I expect more amendments to be voted upon tomorrow. The Senate has a lot of other business to take care of before it leaves town on August 7th, so I hope they can finish this bill by Thursday. Later this week, I expect the House to send the Senate a bill full of " temporary extenders," which will be extensions of funding for various federal programs that are set to expire in the next month, including the highway fund.
THE HOUSE: Another day, another House session full of GOP floor games. Today, the Republicans abused their ability to give unlimited one minute speeches on Tuesdays by sending almost every single one of their members to the floor to make speeches for over four hours. Democrats were prepared for this stunt, and had sent out an army of their own members to keep the debate balanced. But after about 2 hours, no Democrats were left on the floor, so Republicans trashed health care and the stimulus unabated for two hours. Democrats need to anticipate these better in advance, so that they can have an army of members disputing the Republicans' more ludicrous claims.
As for actual business, the House spent the day on suspension bills. They are still in session as we speak. Among the bills voted on today was one reauthorizing funding for sea otters and sea turtles (cue the Republican mockery), one extending small business tax provisions, and one increasing funding for veterans home health.
The House moves on to the Defense Appropriations bill tomorrow, which will be the last of the 12 annual appropriations bills that the House will consider.
That's it for tonight. Hopefully we can bring you some better news tomorrow.