Monday, July 27, 2009

The Weekly Strike-7/27-8/2

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. I'm ready for a jam packed, up and down week of politics as Congress gets ready to adjourn for the August recess (the House after this week, the Senate after next week). Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: This will be another crucial week for the prospects of health reform. With Majority Leader Reid declaring that the Senate won't take up a bill by the August recess, all eyes are on the House, and the Senate Finance Committee. House Democrats, led by Speaker Pelosi, still think that they can get a bill passed on the floor by the recess, even if they have to stay in session for a few extra days. The hold-up continues to be the Energy and Commerce committee, one of the three committees with jurisdiction over the bill. The 7 Blue Dog Democrats who have held the bill hostage are back at the negotiating table with the Democratic leadership. If Pelosi and chairman Henry Waxman can reach a deal with these power-hungry holdouts by Tuesday (no easy task), I think we will see a bill on the floor late this week or over the weekend. If not, we'll be on hold in both chambers until Labor Day.

Only God knows what the Blue Dogs want in a compromise, besides media exposure. The key concession to the Blue Dogs, a Medicare advisory board that would set reimbursement rates, was determined by the Congressional Budget Office to produce only minimal savings over the next 10 years. Blue Dogs are ostensibly concerned about cost, so this might be a setback for negotiations. On the other hand, Blue Dogs are against all other cost-cutting measures, so I'm at a loss for what we need to do to get them on board. There's always the "nuclear" option of bypassing the Energy and Commerce committee and bringing the bill directly to the floor, but the 52 member Blue Dog caucus would get so angry that they'd probably vote against the bill. You know, because this entire fight is about them.

Let's hope a deal can be reached this week so I don't have to keep lobbing insults at the grandstanding, self-absorbed Blue Dog caucus.

Speaking of insults, I can't think of any that would do justice to the Senate Finance committee. Chairman Max Baucus keeps telling us that they'll "be ready when they're ready," but it has been several weeks, and they still have not come up with any bipartisan compromise. Releasing the Finance Committee bill is important. It's like to be a moderate alternative to the bill that passed the Senate HELP committee, and it may spur nervous House Democrats to vote yes on their version of the bill knowing that a more politically marketable bill is emerging in the Senate. Of course, a moderate bill will be worse policy-wise, but that's apparently not the main concern of many Congressional Democrats. We will have comprehensive reports on the health care front as the week progresses.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama is doing his part to sell health care reform this week. The President holds a tele-town hall at the AARP in Washington tomorrow, where he will make his case for reform to the senior citizen community. On Wednesday, Obama will hold separate events in Raleigh, NC and Bristol, VA to talk health care. The Big Picture will be writing today on how the President has to change his strategy in his efforts to promote the bill.

The President has a very busy schedule today. He starts the day at a summit with Chinese leaders in Washington. The meeting is being billed as a "strategic and economic dialogue" to improve relations between the two countries. Obama will be joined by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The President also holds an event with the head of FIFA, the soccer federation, to discuss the U.S's bid for the World Cup, and he welcomes the WNBA Detroit Shock to the White House.

THE HOUSE: The House schedule is subject to change depending on what happens with the health care reform bill, but here's what we know so far. The House starts today and tomorrow with a slew of suspension bills. A couple of them are actually very important. There are a few bills dealing with veterans health care, and one very important bill addressing food safety. The Food Safety Enhancement Act would strengthen federal efforts relating to the safety of commercially distributed food, and also would broaden the FDA's authority to regulate food products. I bet you won't see one news story about this bill, but if enacted, it will have a significant impact in preventing some of the food-borne illness crises we've seen in recent years.

On Wednesday, the House takes up the last of 12 appropriations bills, the one funding the Department of Defense. This bill seems pretty bad to me at first glance. Unlike the Senate, the House bill contains funding for the costly F-22 fighter jet program. It also, I believe, does not contain funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that we'd have to pass more of those vaunted, budget-busting supplemental spending bills. It's pretty difficult to vote against funding the Department of Defense, so I expect the bill to pass easily. The Rules committee hasn't yet released a list of acceptable amendments, but I hope it allows one to strip the F-22 funding from the bill.

On Thursday, the House takes up a very important measure dealing with executive pay at corporate and financial institutions. The bill would require that shareholders vote on executive compensation, and that the vote be reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The problem with the bill is that the vote will be non-binding. Executive boards could ignore their shareholders entirely, and give themselves a lavish amount of money. Hopefully, though, a vote by the shareholders on executive compensation would cause bad publicity for companies that are hoarding money at the top.

Prior to week's end, we may see some conference reports or Senate bills come before the House in advance of the recess. We'll keep you posted.

THE SENATE: Now that the health care bill is off the table for the next two weeks, the Senate can move on to other business. They'll start today with consideration of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which has already passed the House. This is only the 3rd appropriations bill the Senate has taken up so far. They'll have to get a move on if they want the 12 bills signed into law by the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. After that, Majority Leader Reid hopes to move several bills by the time the Senate leaves town on August 7th. Most notably, we should expect a vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor either late this week or next week. The Judiciary committee, after a week's delay, will vote on her nomination tomorrow. I expect her to be confirmed with at least 13 of the committee's 19 members voting yes. So far, no Democrats have come out in opposition to her nomination, and one committee Republican, Lindsay Graham (SC), has offered his support. She should be confirmed with somewhere between 65-75 votes on the Senate floor. The Senate also will try to take up a House-passed safety net package that will increase the Federal Housing Authority's mortgage limit as well as states' borrowing authority for unemployment insurance. We also may see a bill extending highway funding for 18 months (funding under the Surface Transportation Act is running dry), and a previously blocked measure designed to increase tourism, a priority of Majority Leader Reid, who represents tourist haven Las Vegas.

That's it for now. Leave us your comments, and see you tonight!

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