Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/9/09-While I Was Away...

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's good to be back after a long absence. Many thanks to the Big Picture, who pinch hit in my absence. If you haven't had a chance to read his entries, please do. A lot has happened since I've been gone, and I unfortunately can't fill you in on all of it, but I'll try to cover the highlights.

OBAMA'S WEEK: Conventional wisdom seems to be that Barack Obama has had a tough week. I mostly agree. Part of the problem is that the President is taking a lot of fire back home on domestic policy, and he's overseas and thus unable to defend himself. The toughest shots thrown at the President relate to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Starting with the release of June's poor employment numbers last week, the stimulus package has come under fire. Part of the criticism is justified. First, the stimulus money is going out too slowly, because the administration is concerned that spending hastily will cause corruption and inefficiency. This is unacceptable. The administration needs to get this money out the door as soon as possible. Second, the stimulus, we can now clearly see, was inadequate to meet the demands of an economic problem spiraling out of control. Serious analysts knew so at the time. I firmly believe that the administration knew so at the time. In order to please a handful of moderates looking to score some political points, the administration accepted a version of the bill that was too small. Vice President Biden, in his typical loquacious manner, claimed that the administration did not know the magnitude of the problem at the time. I think they did, and if they didn't, they should have.

Having said that, many of the attacks on the stimulus are disingenuous. For one, Obama repeatedly insisted when the bill was passed that things will get worse before they get better, and that we won't see the results of the stimulus until 2010. There seems to be an obsession with instant gratification in the media that causes reporters to have amnesia about this. They are so obsessed with what would be an interesting story line, that Obama's policy is already failing, that they are neglecting to point out that it's far too soon to know whether the stimulus worked or not. Moreover, Republicans have banked their political future on the stimulus failing, so they will constantly look for any sign that the stimulus is not working as intended.

The frustrating part of all of this is that Obama is not home to defend himself. He has been traveling through Russia and Italy, and will be moving on to Ghana this evening. It would be nice for Obama to play the explainer and chief. Instead the pro-stimulus contingency has been wildly off-message, either suggesting that we need another stimulus package (which we probably do) or that the plan is failing.

This hasn't been a great week for health reform either. First, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested that the White House is willing to compromise on the public option. After an outcry from the left, Obama was forced to reiterate support for the public option in a statement Things started looking up when Vice President Biden announced that American hospitals have agreed to $300 billion in cuts in an effort to help pay for health reform. But, the agreement was somewhat undermined by Rep. Henry Waxman (one of the sponsors of the House bill) saying that he is not obligated by the President's or the Senate Finance Committee's agreements. Then, inexplicably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told moderate Republicans that he is willing to slow down progress on comprehensive health reform so that their concerns are properly met. That is very problematic. If the Senate doesn't pass health reform by the August recess, which is looking increasingly likely, interest groups will have a whole month to trash the reform effort. We need to stop letting Republicans, who have political interest in seeing the plan fail, dictate what happens with health reform legislation.

All of this is not to say that the President shouldn't be taking trips overseas. As I mentioned earlier in the week, he has to make these trips as he tries to rebuild broken alliances. In the course of a few days, the President came to an agreement with the Russian government to decrease nuclear stockpiles, and signed a pact with the G8 to seek an 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2050. I hope the President comes back rejuvenated and ready to engage in battles on domestic policy. I also hope he is taking note of criticism from those like the Big Picture, who think that Obama is not focusing acutely enough on the economic concerns of average Americans, and more on winning small battles in Washington.

THE HOUSE: The House is back in session this week, and is moving on some less-than-sexy, but important legislation. We'll unfortunately not be able to go into our usual level of detail because we want you to get you caught up on the basics of what's gone on this week.

Yesterday, the House passed a bipartisan bill extending funding Small Business Innovation Research. The bill amends the Small Business Act to modify loan modification requirements, increase funding authorization for research and development, and enhance outreach to increase program participation. The bill passed by a comfortable 386-41, with 13 no votes coming from Democrats, and 28 from Republicans.

Next, the House moved back to the appropriations process. This week, the House was scheduled to consider the 5th and 6th of the 12 annual spending bills. The goal is to get all 12 bills passed by the August recess. Republicans have used a variety of pointless dilatory tactics to "protest" that they have not been allowed to offer unlimited amendments to these bills. As a result, the process is taking a bit longer. Democrats seem to have figured out ways to manipulate the process to cut down on these delay tactics (by writing some creative new rules...please ask me in the comments section if you want a detailed explanation!), and thus have been able to ultimately advance the bills. The House, after a day of consideration, voted to fund the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Food and Drug Administration for Fiscal Year 2010. The House first voted on 11 amendments, most of them Republican attempts to eliminate specific earmarks. None of these attempts were successful. The bill passed by a vote of 266-160. 27 Republicans joined all but 10 Democrats in supporting the bill. Key provisions in the bill include increased funding for food safety and inspection, agriculture research and conservation programs.

Next, the House moved on to the appropriations bill funding the Department of State and Foreign Operations. Among important provisions in the bill is increased diplomatic assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan, increased funding to fight HIV overseas and humanitarian assistance to refugees and victims of natural disasters. Once again, the bill was delayed by various Republican shenanigans. After voting on 7 amendments and a Republican motion to recommit, the bill passed this evening by a vote of 318-106, with 97 of the no votes coming from Republicans.

The House moves to consider one more appropriations bill (Energy/Water development) tomorrow, and will also take up a bill authorizing intelligence spending for Fiscal Year 2010.

THE SENATE: Surprisingly, the Senate has gotten a bit of work done this week! On Monday, the upper chamber approved its first of the 12 appropriations bills, the one funding the legislative branch. It passed 67-25, with no votes coming from 22 Republicans and Democratic Senators Conrad (ND), Bennet (CO) and Udall (CO). Did they cut the staff for Colorado Senators or something? The Senate then moved on to the Homeland Security appropriations bill. The Senate has spent the last few days voting on several amendments to eliminate individual spending items in the bill. Three earmark-related amendments failed, despite the votes of Democratic earmark crusaders McCaskill (MO), Bayh (IN) and Feingold (WI). An amendment offered by Senator DeMint (SC) that would increase funding for a border fence passed 54-44, with the support of 15 or so Democrats.

The Senate should finish the bill either tonight or tomorrow, after it considers a few more amendments.

Three other Senate events:

-Al Franken was sworn in as the 100th Senator (and 60th Democrat) on Tuesday. He so far has, as expected, voted with the majority of Democrats on every single vote.

-The Senate HELP committee has been going through it's markup of health reform legislation, and is scheduled to vote on the bill next week. I'll believe it when I see it.

-Next Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Get excited! We will have comprehensive coverage.

That's it for today! Leave some comments if you want more information on any of this legislation, or if you just want to share some thoughts.

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