Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/30/09-Back and Forth

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We are inching toward the Congressional recess, and want to make sure you are up to date on the world in politics. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: Not too much news on the health care front today. In the House, the Energy and Commerce restarted its markup of reform legislation today, after yesterday's deal between Chairman Henry Waxman (CA) and the Blue Dog Democrats. The committee appears to be on track to finish consideration of the bill by tomorrow afternoon, when the House is scheduled to adjourn for the month of August. After yesterday's deal, liberal Democrats began voicing their extreme displeasure with the compromise. At an event today, the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that the changes to the bill are "unacceptable" and that the will be withholding their 50 or so votes. I tend to think that this is a pretty idle threat. I'm not happy with the changes either, but they are not bad enough to throw the whole effort into jeopardy. Speaker Pelosi made clear that the agreement is only designed to break a logjam in the Energy and Commerce Committee. The version will be combined with the Ways and Means and Education and Labor committee bills before it comes to the House floor.

I guess we are seeing the pitfalls of having such a large and diverse majority. It's hard to get members to agree on something, especially when they're facing enormous pressure from special interest groups.

Over in the Senate, things seemed to take a step backwards. Republicans negotiators who are part of the 6 person "gang" now say that they are not close to reaching a deal. Mike Enzi (R-WY) has said that he wants the whole process to slow down. Both he and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) want assurances from President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi that they won't make changes to what a group of six Senators who represent like .1% of the country, and none of whom have won elections since 2006. I think it is just about time for the Chairman Baucus of the Finance Committee to come to his senses, realize that these Republicans have no interest in getting anything done, and ditch them permanently. If Baucus doesn't heed this advice, the Democratic leadership should start going over his head. As a result of this delay, it looks unlikely that the Senate Finance Committee will be able to report a bill by next Friday, the beginning of their recess.

President Obama had no health care related events today. He met with the Prime Minister of the Philippines this afternoon, and will meet with Professor Skip Gates and the police officer who arrested him tonight for beers at the White House. Obama's closest advisor, David Axelrod, will be talking to House and Senate Democrats tomorrow about messaging they should use as they go back to their districts for the August recess.

THE HOUSE: We saw lots of action in Congress today. Let's start in the House, where members considered the annual Defense Appropriations Bill, always a boondoggle for earmark opponents. The bill has a large $660 billion price tag, because for the first time, it factors in costs for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed easily, by a vote of 400-30, with 23 of the no votes coming from anti-war Democrats. The biggest administration victory in this bill came on an amendment offered by the chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, John Murtha (D-PA). The amendment struck funding in the bill for the wasteful F-22 fighter jet program. A similar amendment passed the Senate last week. The administration has pushed to cut the program, citing it as an example of unnecessary defense procurement. The vote on the amendment was 269-165. 243 Democrats voted yes, as did 26 Republicans. All of the Republican spending hawks, like Reps. Paul (TX) and Flake (AZ) stayed true to form and voted for the amendment. Every other one of the 12 amendments that were voted on failed. Most of them were offered by Rep. Flake to cut earmarks from the bill.

The Republicans offered a motion to recommit that would have cut funding for the Presidential helicopter (cuts that Presidnet Obama supports) and would have used that money to buy F-22's. Basically, it was a way of undoing the Murtha amendment. I hope that the cut the funds for the President's helicopter fleet when this bill goes to conference with the Senate. The motion failed by a vote of 169-261. The House has no finished all 12 appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2010. They Senate has so far only completed 3.

Next, the House moved on to the Food Safety bill, which we talked about in yesterday's entry. The Democrats failed to get the 2/3rds vote necessary under expedited procedures, so they brought the bill up under regular order. The bill expands the authority of the FDA to oversee food safety, in light of recent instances of food borne illnesses. The bill is rather significant, it is the first food safety bill that has passed Congress since 1938, shockingly. The bill passed by a comfortable 283-142 margin. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, and will be considered after the recess.

The House will spend its last day in session on a bill setting new rules for executive compensation. We'll talk more about the bill in tomorrow's entry.

THE SENATE: The Senate was once again, shockingly, productive today. The upper chamber took up a House-passed bill that extends funding for a variety of programs that were set to expire over the next month, including highway funds and unemployment compensation. The bill passed by a vote of 79-17, with all no votes coming from Republicans.

Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate took up a number of politically-motivated Republican amendments. The underlying bill would transfer money from the general treasury fund to make these programs temporarily solvent. Thus, the bill would not add to the deficit. Republicans thought it would be clever if they could instead use the stimulus money to pay for this extension. The Senate rejected two separate amendments in this vain. The first, from Senator Clown (R-LA) would have used the stimulus money to pay for the highway funds. The amendment failed 42-55, with the support of every Republican Senator Nelson (D-NE). The second, from Senator Cheaty McAffairson (R-NV), would have transferred stimulus money to pay for the unemployment insurance extension. That amendment failed by a vote of 41-56. All Republicans voted yes, except for Senator Collins (ME). Senators Nelson (NE) and Lincoln (AR) were the only two Democrats to vote yes. Finally, the Senate voted on an amendment from Senator Bond (MO) to repeal a provision of the SAFETEA-U Act. I have to say I have no idea what that is, but the amendment failed 34-63.

The Senate is done voting for the week. They consider the Agriculture Appropriations Bill next week before taking up the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.

That's it for tonight! See you tomorrow!

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