Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/17/09-Serious Business and ACORN

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was an unusually busy day in Congress today, featuring two separate votes on community activist group ACORN! Let's get to it.

THE HOUSE: The House today passed a very important bill that would enact sweeping changes to our student loan system. Under the bill, government payments to private lenders would stop in 2010, and all loans would originate from the federal government. Ending these useless subsidies to private loan companies will save us about $87 billion over ten years. Under this bill, that money would be reinvested into:

-increased Pell and Perkins grants
-money for school construction
-grants to states for early childhood education programs
-paying down the deficit.

The bill also allocates some money for community colleges and historically black universities. This is a superb bill that would make historic investments in education at all levels, while actually saving us money! The only people who would oppose this would be those who are ideologically opposed to the government controlling anything, even if doing so would save money and help millions of people. In other words, 171 members of the House of Representatives. Only 6 Republicans supported the bill: Reps. Buchanan (FL), Cao (LA), Johnson (IL), Petri (WI), Platts (PA) and Ros-Lehtinen (FL). 4 Democrats opposed the bill: Reps. Boyd (FL), Herseth Sandlin (SD) (from the state that runs on the lending industry), Kanjorski (PA) and McMahon (NY). Boyd is your consummate Blue Dog, but I have no idea why Kanjorski and McMahon bolted on this bill. Even the most conservative Democrats, like Reps. Bright (AL) and Minnick (ID) voted for the bill. Who knows when the slow moving Senate will take up this important piece of legislation, but it will hopefully go to Obama's desk by the end of the year.

Prior to a vote on final passage, the House voted on 8 amendments. All three Republican amendments were defeated, including two really bad ones. An amendment by Rep. Foxx (R-Crazytown) would have taken money out of a initiative that helps community college students graduate. This amendment was defeated 126-301, with thankfully zero Democrats supporting it. The Republican substitute would have replaced the entire bill with one that would keep the current system in tact until more "research" was done to find viable alternatives in the private lending industry. This too failed by a vote of 165-265, with again, zero Democrats in support.

None of these important votes were in the news however, because they were overshadowed by the Republican motion to recommit. If you haven't already heard, the community activist group ACORN was caught in a Fox News sting giving tax advice to people pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute. ACORN workers in several offices not only offered these people advice on how to pay taxes, but also how to run a prostitution ring without getting in trouble. Now, ACORN has been a target by the right-wing for a long time for a number of reasons. One, it helps register poor (and primarily black) voters, which hurts the Republican party. Two, conservatives have tried to associate the group with former a former community organizer named Barack Obama. It's pretty clear that they've used the group as a bogey man to gin up fear and anger using racially-coded language. I really had a lot of sympathy for ACORN, and thought that they were being unfairly maligned by right-wing wackos. I have to say though, this behavior does not look good at all. Yes, the whole group is being blamed for the actions of a few employees, but that's the way it goes. Republicans have sensed an opportunity to make political hay out of this scandal, and they intend to push it as far as they can. The motion to recommit sought to remove all government funding for ACORN (about $15 million, which is not a lot of money in the context of the federal budget). The motion passed by a vote of 345-75, with 2 members voting "present." I'm pretty shocked that 75 members pushed back against this political firestorm, though all of them come from safely Democratic districts.

I just hope the student loan bill can get a little bit of press coverage after this ACORN obsession passes.

THE SENATE: The United States Senate finished a bill today! (Cue the cheer that you give when a baseball player who had made a brutal error makes a routine catch on a fly ball.) The Senate passed the 5th of 12 appropriations bills, this one funding the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. None of the appropriations bills have made it through a House-Senate conference yet, which means that we'll be forced to temporarily extend current government funding when the fiscal year ends October 1st.

As for today's bill, the final vote was 73-25. The only Democrats to vote no were Bayh (IN) and McCaskill (MO). Prior to final passage, the Senate rejected 4 Republican amendments. I won't go into details, because it's not worth dwelling over failed amendments. The dumbest amendment of the day award goes to Senator DeMint (R-SC). His amendment would eliminate funding for the John Murtha Airport in Pennsylvania. Murtha, of course, is a long-time Democratic member of Congress who happens to be one of the biggest earmark guys in the House. I guess he still has some friends, though. The amendment failed 43-53, with 51 Democrats and Republicans Bond (MO) and Voinovich (OH) voting no.

The Senate then moved on to the nomination of Gerald Lynch to be a Circuit Court Judge. This is the first Circuit Court nominee to be considered by the full Senate this year, due to various Republican delay tactics. Lynch was uncontroversial, though, and was even supported by the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions (AL). Lynch was confirmed by a vote of 94-3, with Senators Coburn (OK), Inhofe (OK) and Bunning (KY) voting no.

The Senate's week then came to a very fitting end. Senators moved to consideration of the next appropriation bill, the one funding the Department of Interior. They voted on one amendment today, and guess what it was? An amendment banning ACORN from getting government funding! The Senate already voted to pass an identical amendment earlier this week, but the amendment's sponsor, Senator Johanns (R-NE), wanted to be sure that the ban applied to spending in this particular bill. Democrats offered to accept the amendment by voice vote so they wouldn't have to waste time with it, but Johanns objected. In other words, he is complete political hack who doesn't care about the substance of his own amendment, but rather wants to waste Senate time making a cheap political point. The amendment, as you can imagine, passed by a vote of 85-11. I can't wait to see how many ACORN votes we'll get next week!!

The Senate will take a well-deserved (!!!) 4 day weekend and will return to voting on Tuesday. On Monday, the markup will begin on Max Baucus' Senate Finance Health care bill. We will bring you full coverage.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President made a big move today, killing a missile defense project in Eastern Europe. The shield, promoted heavily by the Bush administration, was built to stave off an attack from a nuclear-armed Iran. The program had angered the neighboring Poles and Czechs, and was also incredibly expensive. The United States already has two missile defense shields on our own continent. Republicans had a field day with this decision, using it as a way to push the timeless "Democrats are wusses" attack. Of course, Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman joined in the chorus of critics, calling the plan "dangerous." Surprise, surprise.

The President also gave a fiery speech to a crowd of students at the University of Maryland. He talked mostly about health reform, reiterating themes from last week's address to Congress. It was a good speech that made me wish I had skipped out on work this morning and gone to College Park.

That's it for today. We'll see you for a short entry tomorrow night before The Strike celebrates the High Holidays.

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