Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/30/09-Around the Table

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. A very multi-faceted day in politics, let's get to it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President held a key meeting today with his National Security team at the White House to discuss the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Joining the President at this key meeting were Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Generals McChrystal and Petraeus, Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Gates, some political advisers, and other national security staffers. No word yet on what they discussed in the meeting. As I said yesterday, I would guess that two camps are emerging. One camp, led by General McChrystal, General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen wants to escalate the war, send more troops, and expand operations to root out the Taliban along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The other camp, led by Vice President Biden wants to change the mission to a counter terrorism effort against Al Qaeda. This would involve redeploying troops, but probably not adding any additional soldiers. It's a good sign that the President is taking his time to think this through. His decision will reveal a lot about his character and the path he will choose to take as President. Either strategy is politically risky. If he chooses to limit the mission, he will be accused by the right of retreating from the enemy in the War on Terror. If he sends more troops, he will alienate his base and many Democrats in Congress. More importantly, obviously, are the implications of his decision for the strategic interest of the American and Afghan people. I hope he continues to give this issue due deliberation.

Earlier today, the President held an event at the National Institutes of Health to announce $5 billion in stimulus grant money to biomedical research. This apparently is the largest ever government investment in such research. The President made a very interesting remark at the event. He noted that President Roosevelt was called a socialist when he first initiated NIH. This lends credence to my general philosophy that all of the best government programs were called socialist when they were first initiated. Hint, hint, Democratic legislators!

MARK UP: The Senate Finance committee held another day of hearings to mark up health care legislation. Chairman Baucus had hoped to get to payment amendments (provisions dealing with subsidies and revenue) today, but so far the committee is still stuck on coverage amendments. The committee is continuing its work as we speak. I would estimate that at this pace, they'll finish sometime after midnight on Saturday morning. This would actually be ok, because it would fit Senator Reid's timeline of bringing the bill to the floor the week of October 12th.

Part of the reason the mark up is taking so long is that Republicans insist on proposing politically-charged amendments that are mostly irrelevant and have no chance of passing. Today, the committee spent a couple of hours on a pair of amendments offered by Senator Hatch (R-UT) and Kyl (R-AZ) that would insert language making it certain that nothing in the bill would provide government funding for abortion. The bill already contains such language (unfortunately, in my view), but these two Senators still proposed the amendment version of "do you pinky swear????" Each amendment failed 9-14 with all Democrats and Senator Snowe (R-ME) voting no.

Two other important amendments were considered. The first was a very good amendment from Senator Nelson (D-FL) that would redirect tax reductions for business into a tax deduction to seniors who have large out-of-pocket medical expenses. The amendment passed 14-9, again with the support of all Democrats and Senator Snowe. Senator Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment to get rid of proposed fees on insurance companies. He argued that the fees will be passed on to consumers. Chairman Baucus (D-MT) said that the fees are a good way to raise revenue to help pay for the bill, and if this fee wasn't imposed, more of the cost of the bill would be absorbed by middle-class families through tax on insurance plans and the like. I agree with Baucus on this one. The amendment failed on a 10-13 party-line vote.

We'll continue our comprehensive coverage as the mark up continues.

THE SENATE: Good news! The Senate voted to approve a stop-gap spending measure that extends government funding for another month. If they had failed to act, the government would have shut down at midnight tonight. Democrats attached this continuing resolution to the conference report accompanying the Legislative Appropriations bill. Republicans harped about how it was indefensible that the first appropriation bill to go to the White House would be the one funding Congress. They also raised two points of order, because the conference report violated a couple of Senate rules (one of them is that you can't include extraneous material in conference reports. Not only did Democrats include the continuing resolution, but they also added additional money for the bankrupt Postal Service.) Therefore, the Senate had to vote not only on the bill itself, but on two motions to waive points of order (these motions require 60 votes). Each of these motions were approved 61-37. All Democrats voted yes except for Senator Feingold (WI). All Republicans voted no, save for Senators Cochran (MS) and Voinovich (OH). The bill itself passed 62-38, with Senator Snowe crossing over. Ailing Senator Byrd came back to cast these votes after being hospitalized last week. Therefore, for one of the first times this year, 100 Senators actually voted on a bill!

The conference report will be signed into law tonight by the President before he heads to Copenhagen to push for the Olympics.

THE HOUSE: A very quiet day in the House again, as members considered various suspension bills. All of these bills were approved, except one expanding water recycling programs in the Bay Area. What do they have against us?? Democrats will have to bring up this bill again under regular order. Tomorrow, the House will vote on the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill conference report.

On a special note, a friend of the blog we'll call "The Insider" wrote a speech for a Democratic member on a bill recognizing Louisville Slugger. The Insider is quite a writer. You can watch Rep. Pallone deliver the Insider-written remarks here. It should be a couple of minutes into this video.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

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