Monday, August 3, 2009

The Weekly Strike-8/3-8/9

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the week in politics. If you're just joining us either for the first time or after a long hiatus, make sure to catch up on the last few entries so you're up to date on last week's action. Also, leave us some comments!

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has two main jobs this week. One, he needs to sustain the push for health reform. I think he is starting to change his strategy, talking less about cost control (which doesn't really mean much to your average American) and more about how insurance reforms will make you and your family more secure. His second task is to lay some political cover ahead of this Friday's unemployment numbers, which are expected to increase. Sure, job losses aren't nearly as steep as they were under the last few months of George W. Bush. And if we didn't take politically difficult steps to rescue the economy, we would be in much more dire shape. But that won't stop Republicans from beating their "where are the jobs?" mantra to a pulp.

On the health care front, the President doesn't have anything specifically scheduled for this week, but he is rumored to be planning a Western campaign-style swing to promote health reform at a series of town hall meetings. The President will be very aggressive when it comes to employment in jobs. Obama will hold an event in Elkhart, IN on Wednesday. Elkhart has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and it is also the first place Obama visited after he took office in January. The President will try to convince the American people that the stimulus helped us avoid an even greater catastrophe, and it is helping significantly to begin a slow recovery. Vice President Biden will hold a similar event Wednesday at the proverbial "undisclosed location."

The rest of the President's schedule this week is a mixed bag. Today, he holds an event in Virginia to celebrate the implementation of the 21st Century GI Bill, which significantly expands educational opportunities for veterans. The President will be joined by Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) (the author of the legislation) and former Republican Senator John Warner, also of Virginia and himself a World War II veteran. The President will also have lunch today with the premier of Kuwait, and will hold a private meeting with liberal Senator Tom Harkin (IA), presumably to talk about health reform. I would be thrilled if the President spoke a little more with the Harkins of the world, and less of the Baucus/Conrads.

THE SENATE: Speaking of these fools, we have to deal with another week of the United States Senate before they go on their August recess. One thing we will not see is action on health reform, either on the Senate floor or in the Finance committee. Bipartisan negotiations are "ongoing." Chairman Baucus has set a September 15th deadline for bipartisan negotiations before he brings whatever he has to the committee for a vote. I think liberal Democrats should play the role of Republicans and sabotage the process to prevent these centrists from making progress on a watered-down bill. Then again, some progress is better than no progress. It would be nice to see the committee accomplish SOMETHING, so that a bill can be merged with the Senate HELP committee bill, and brought to the full Senate.

As for actual Senate floor action this week, the main story will be the expected confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Before the Senate gets to that, it will dispose of its 4th of 12 appropriations bill tonight, this one dealing with Agriculture spending. Majority Leader Reid has called for a 5:30 vote to cut off debate on the bill. I expect the bill to move forward relatively easily. It will probably pass sometime tomorrow after the Senate votes on a few amendments. The Senate will begin debate on Sotomayor Tuesday morning, and a vote is expected sometime Thursday evening or Friday morning. I'm sticking to my prediction that she'll pass with about 65-70 votes. 6 Republicans have come out in support of the nominee so far. I don't expect any Democrats to defect, though since the NRA is scoring the vote in its annual rankings, I wouldn't be shocked if a couple of fearful Democrats vote no. The obvious suspect is Senator Ben Nelson (NE), but look out for Mark Begich (AK), who has said he is unsure.

Once Sotomayor is confirmed, the Senate still will have a couple of business items to consider. Last week, the House voted to direct $2 billion in stimulus funding to the "cash for clunkers" program, in which people can get a $4500 credit for a new fuel efficient car when they turn in an old gas guzzler. The program was so popular that it ran out of money in a week, and the White House has been forced to suspend it. I'm sure there is a majority in the Senate to boost funding to this program, but a bipartisan group of Senators, led by John McCain (R-AZ) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) say they oppose spending more money on the program and have promised to delay action on the Senate floor. To complicate matters, the Senate can't amend the bill, because the House is out of town and would be unable to approve changes. Senator Reid also wants to bring up a previously-stalled bill to increase tourism, something vitally important to his home state of Nevada. It's unclear whether the Senate will have enough time to accomplish all of these goals.

The House, of course, is out of session, and won't be back until after Labor Day.

That's it for now, see you tonight!

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