Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/22/09-Mark It Up

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was one of those rare days with big foreign policy news and domestic policy news. So we have no time to waste.

FINANCE MARK UP: I tried to follow the mark up on the Finance Committee health bill, but some of it was just too infuriating. Consideration of the long awaited bill began at 9am, and by the time the committee adjourned for caucus lunches at 12pm, they were still on opening statements. Chairman Baucus opened the ceremonies by calling his bill, with recent revisions called "the chairman's mark" an "historic" opportunity to enact health reform. He said the bill took Democratic and Republicans ideas and represents a framework that can get 60 votes in the Senate. Ranking member Grassley (R-IA), being the stubborn crank that he is, spent his opening statement decrying the Democratic leadership for setting "artificial" time lines and not being "bipartisan enough." Yeah I guess spending six months giving away the store wasn't enough for stubborn old Grassley.

The rest of the Senators on the Democratic side, with the exception of Baucus-twin Kent Conrad (ND) expressed muted praise for the bill and outlined changes they think need to be made before the bill is voted out of committee. Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) made the most exlicit calls for amendments. He wants the SCHIP program taken off the health insurance exchange (I agree, it should be an entitlement program, not part of a marketplace of insurance options), he wants subsidies increased even more than the modest increases Baucus has already added to the revised bill and he made a pitch for the public option, which looks increasingly unlikely to pass the Finance committee.

After opening statements, members got to ask Senate Finance staffers and members of the Congressional Budget Office questions about provisions and cost estimates. Not surprisingly, this round of questioning got somewhat heated. Senator Ensign, apparently taking time away from his extramarital problems, tried to press a staffer into saying that the proposed excise tax on expensive insurance plans could break President Obama's promise to allow everyone to keep their insurance if they like it. Chairman Baucus sternly reminded Ensign that employers routinely change insurance plans for their employees because of cost increases. Baucus then got testy with the CBO when they said that they hadn't finished scoring Baucus' modified bill. Baucus insisted that they hurry up so that the process can move forward. I think about a million liberals are sighing at the irony of Max Baucus telling anyone else to hurry up.

The panel is still meeting as we speak, though I have yet to find a list of proceedings (amendments considered and adopted). Hopefully I'll have a more complete list tomorrow. The Senate Finance committee website is not exactly state-of-the-art. The amendment consideration will continue in earnest tomorrow.

OBAMA'S DAY: President Obama had an extremely busy day in New York City dealing with international matters. The President started his day speaking at U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon's summit on climate change. The President gave lip service to the urgency of climate change, and said that the situation requires urgent action. The President, of course, needs to taylor the message directly to the United States Senate, which has punted on the issue until at least the end of the year. This does not look good to the rest of the world.

The President turned next to the Middle East. He met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Following these meetings, the three men held a joint meeting. Obama even got a classic photo-op with the two leaders shaking hands! This worked political wonders for President Clinton when he got Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin to shake Yasser Arafat's hand in 1993. The President struck a note of urgency, saying, "Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering."Because of domestic challenges and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the President has not had enough time to focus on the Middle East conflict. He has, however, put pressure on the Israeli government to halt the building of new settlements in the West Bank. If this effort is successful, it will be a big step in moving towards a peaceful, two-state solution.

Next on the President's schedule was a private meeting with President Hu of China, a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, and a climate change summit dinner. Can you imagine doing all of that in one day?

Tomorrow, the President will give his much-awaited speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He also has various other meetings with world leaders.

THE HOUSE: The House voted on a slew of suspension bills today. The last of these bills was a measure to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks for states whose unemployment is above 8.5%. That includes 27 states and the District of Columbia. If the House did not act, over 400,000 unemployed Americans would run out of benefits by the end of the month. Of course, no bill extending unemployment benefits would be complete without a politically-charged, blame game debate. Republicans used the bill as an opportunity to attack the stimulus, and Democrats used it to attack the Republicans for getting us into this mess in the first place. The bill passed 331-83, well surpassing the 2/3rds majority necessary to pass a bill under suspension of the rules. 66 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted against the bill. The 17 Democrats were almost all from the Blue Dog coalition. I can't believe 17 Democrats would vote against extending unemployment benefits for people hurt by the recession. Really disgusts me. The House will consider the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Act during a short session tomorrow.

THE SENATE: The Senate continued work on the Interior Appropriations bill, the 6th of 12 needed to pass before next Wednesday (see previous entries to find out why this won't actually happen.) The Senate voted on three amendments today. The first, proposed by Senator Feinstein (CA), expresses support for the Smithsonian Civil Rights history program. Pretty hard to oppose. It passed unanimously, 95-0. Amendment number 2 was your standard John McCain (R-AZ) amendment. It cut funding for a museum in Des Moines, IA because it is one of those evil Congressional earmarks. The amendment failed by a vote 0f 27-70, because people realize that museums are a very reasonable thing for the government to support. Senator Feingold (WI) joined 26 Republicans in supporting the amendment. Finally, the Senate voted to kill an amendment from Senator DeMint (R-SC) that would have eliminated a California water project. Do these fiscal conservatives ever have any idea what they're proposing to cut? Luckily, the amendment failed 36-61. All Democrats voted no, as did Republicans Alexander (TN), Collins (ME), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH).

That's it for a long day today. Hopefully we'll know more about the Finance committee markup tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Democrats! Although I left your silly party over a decade ago, my heart is still essentially with your platform and agenda. That being said, I would ask all of you to think of me as Dr. Degan, your loving and trusted family veterinarian. After a complete and thorough examination of your beloved pets, it grieves me to offer you this final diagnosis:

    Your Blue Dogs must be put to sleep.


    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY