Friday, September 25, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/25/09-Double Your Pleasure

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We neglected to provide you with a substantive entry last night, and we apologize But have no fear, we will cover Thursday and Friday right now in one mega, double post. Enjoy, and leave some comments.

MARK UP: Day 3 and 4 of the markup of the Senate Finance Committee health care bill have come and gone, and we still haven't gotten to the most meaty amendments, like increased subsidies and the public option. The committee is scheduled to resume consideration next Tuesday with the goal of finishing work by Friday, October 2nd. I estimate that the committee has probably considered about a third of the 500 or so submitted amendments.

The most important amendment considered yesterday came from Bill Nelson of Florida. Chairman Baucus and President Obama had struck a deal with the Pharma industry, which basically stipulated that the Pharma industry would have to find $80 billion worth of savings and not go on TV to oppose health reform, in exchange for a promise that they wouldn't be stripped of any more of their massive profits. The deal didn't sit well with many Democrats, who think that the industry should have to pay more to contribute to the overall cost of health reform. Nelson's amendment would have increased fees for the Pharma industry, and redirected the money into closing the so-called "Donut Hole" gap in drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and for other purposes. The amendment, unfortunately failed. All Republicans, of course, voted no. Chairman Baucus did not want to renege on the deal he made, so he voted no. Senators Menendez (NJ) and Carper (DE) come from two states where drug companies are dominating industries, so they voted no as well. The amendment failed 10-13. Yet another reminder of how Washington can be beholden to big industry.

There were a couple of other important amendment victories. Also yesterday, the committee rejected an amendment by Senator Grassley (R-IA) that would have replaced some middle-class subsidies with money to Medicaid-eligible poor people to buy private insurance. I can't fathom why anyone would think this amendment was a good idea. Basically you're taking money away from people who don't qualify for a government program, and giving it to people who do. Grassley was trying to make the point that Medicaid is broken and inefficient, but he was trying to take money away from people who don't have access to any insurance at all! The amendment failed 10-13, with all Democrats except Maria Cantwell (WA) voting no, and all Republicans except Olympia Snowe (ME) voting yes. Cantwell, you disappoint me.

Today, the committee rejected an equally poor amendment from Senator Kyl. As the bill currently is written, any insurance plan wishing to join the health insurance exchange has to offer a minimum benefits package approved by the federal government. Kyl wanted to strike this language, because he thinks these rules would force the cost of insurance to go up. Why don't we just strike minimum wage laws because the price of labor would go up? Oh wait, Kyl would support that too. The amendment failed, thankfully, 9-14, with all Democrats and Snowe (R-ME) voting no. The amendment also gave us this funny moment.

I've been trying to find a place on the internet where I can see all of the amendments considered and voted upon in the mark up, but it doesn't seem to exist. Does anyone know where to find this information? We will bring you more coverage when the mark up resumes Tuesday.

OBAMA ON THE WORLD STAGE: The President's health care push has been sidelined this week by important meetings with world leaders. Yesterday, the President had diplomatic meetings on Pakistan in the morning, and then opened the G20 summit with a working dinner tonight. This morning, the President, along with French President Nikolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the U.S. has evidence that Iran has been building a secret nuclear site apparently designed to enrich uranium for military purposes. The U.S. apparently has known about this for quite some time, but waited until now to release the details. Obama chastised the facility, saying that the program was not being pursued as a "peaceful program" and is undermining Iran's standing in the International community. Brown and Sarkozy had similarly scathing reactions. This is obviously pretty disturbing news. The right-wing will use this revelation to argue that Obama showed weakness by saying he was willing to speak to Iran's leaders. I think the opposite is true. We offered a hand of cooperation to the Iranians, and they seem to have rejected it. This will increase pro-U.S. resolve in the international community.

The leaders of the G20 also talked about the global economic crisis and climate change. As was expected, no new major policies were announced, but the President described the meeting as a success.

THE SENATE: The Senate finally finished appropriation bill number 6 yesterday, the one funding the Department of Interior. The final vote was 77-21, with Democrat Evan Bayh (IN) joining 20 Republicans in opposition. Because the Senate has taken weeks to complete these appropriations bill, they will have to extend current funding for another month (see below). Republicans have held up the process by offering a ton of amendments and using various dilatory tactics. As a result, the Senate has yet to act on some very important House-passed legislation like education reform and food safety.

Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate voted on several amendments. The first amendment, offered by Senator Clown was an homage to the Glenn Beck obsession with Obama's czars. Czars are policy makers that work in the White House as staffers. Someone started calling them czars and that seems to scare a lot of people. Vitter's amendment sought to guarantee that the "Climate Change Czar" is not enacting any policy changes in the Department of the Interior. The amendment was killed 57-41, with only maverick Democrats McCaskill (MO) and Nelson (NE) voting with the GOP. The Democrats killed two more amendments, one dealing with overall spending levels and one with maintenance backlogs at National Parks. The Senate will move to the Defense appropriations bill next Tuesday.

The Senate swore in its newest member today. Paul Kirk, former staffer for Ted Kennedy (MA), took the late Senator's seat after being appointed on an interim basis by Governor Deval Patrick. Massachusetts had to change its state law to provide for this appointment. The action was intensely partisan. The law had been changed in 2004 to prevent Mitt Romney from appointing John Kerry's successor should he have won the Presidency. But Democrats in Massachusetts have such large majorities in the state legislature that they can do whatever they want. Kirk gives Democrats 60 votes in the Senate again, pending the ability of 92-year-old Robert Byrd, who is very ill, to show up for votes. There goes one fewer excuse for us not getting health care reform done.

THE HOUSE: The House today voted on the conference report accompanying the Legislative Appropriations bill, which includes a continuing resolution that funds the government through November 1st (that's a lot of legislative lingo!). In plain English, the House is using a bill that funds Congress as a vehicle to pass a temporary extension of current funding levels until all 12 appropriation bills are approved (which could take awhile.) Democrats also attached $4 billion in temporary funding for the U.S. Post Office, which is essentially broke. Republicans objected to this procedural maneuvering, as they always do, but House Democrats were able to hold together to prevent a government shutdown. I assume that the Senate will approve this conference report by Wednesday, when the fiscal year ends. The vote on the conference report was 217-190. 5 Republicans voted yes, and 28 Democrats voted no. Interestingly enough, many liberal Democrats voted no because the bill forbids any funding from going to ACORN. To me, this is a pointless concession to the Republicans, because they're not gonna vote for the bill anyway.

Yesterday, the House passed a bill under suspension of the rules that extends limits to premiums under Medicare Part B in a budget neutral fashion. The bill passed by a 406-18 margin. The House moves next week to consideration of more appropriations bill conference reports.

That's it for today, and unfortunately, that's it until Tuesday. The Strike will be taking the LSAT's tomorrow and will be observing Yom Kippur on Monday. We will be back and better than ever for a Weekly Strike on Tuesday morning. Leave comments!

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