Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Weekly Strike-9/8-9/13

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike! Congress is back, the President is gearing up his ambitious September agenda, and the Strike is back to a more complete, full time schedule. Make sure you read The Big Picture's great entry last night on Obama's speech to the AFL-CIO in Cincinnati. Let's get to the week in politics.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a grueling August (that seems to be the beginning to every article these days), President Obama comes roaring back from vacation this week to make a series of high profile public appearances. The biggest will be tomorrow night, when he addresses a joint session of Congress on health reform. If yesterday's speech to the AFL-CIO was any sort of clue, the President will bring more fire and passion to the issue than he has shown in the past several months. The soul searching that The Big Picture talked about in his entry yesterday will helpfully spur Obama to be passionate, substantive and specific about what health reform will mean to the American people. The key terms I think we'll hear are security, stability, and peace of mind. That's the way to sell insurance reform to people to who don't have insurance. It will help the President highlight the most popular elements of reform, the new consumer protections that will stop insurance companies from denying care based on preexisting conditions, caps on out of pocket expenses etc. As for the public option, it looks like, according to White House sources, the President will make the case for it, but not threaten to veto a bill that doesn't include it. This is something I can live with. As long as he tries to fire up his base with talk about the public option, and as long as he lays out a case for why the government should step in with a mechanism to keep insurance companies honest, I'll be satisfied. We'll have more on the speech in the coming days.

The President today also will address the nation's schoolchildren, or as the right-wing might say, indoctrinate them with his socialist ideology. If you haven't already heard, the President's planned address to public school students about the importance of doing homework and staying in school has caused controversy with right-wing critics who think he is trying to use the platform to push his policy ideas. The speech will touch on such Marxist subjects as:

-being the best you can be
-doing your homework
-the importance of reading

How dare he. The President speaks separately to students at a school in Arlington, VA, this morning. I think one of the President's greatest potential strengths is the power of his example. He is an enduring lesson to schoolchildren across the country that if you work hard, no matter where you come from, you can do anything.

Later today, the President has an important meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid, where they will plot a strategy for getting health care done by the end of the year. Just yesterday, Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), released his version of the bill, which was supposedly the fruit of the "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiations. None of the Republicans who have been involved in negotiations have yet endorsed the bill. It would have to be combined with the bill that was passed by the HELP committee in July before it comes to the floor of the United States Senate. The bill does not include a public option; it has co-ops instead. To pay for reform, it would impose an excise tax on the most expensive health plans, the so-called "gold plated" plans. Analysts I trust, including Ezra Klein, are not big fans of this tax, because they believe insurance companies would pass the tax on to consumers. This may be true, but it also might encourage consumers of these high-end plans to switch to lower-cost plans, which might help the system overall save money. My preferred way of financing the bill is President Obama's original idea of decreasing the tax exemption on charitable contributions from the super wealthy. This plan, I'm afraid, will not pass muster through Congress. As for the House, Pelosi and her allies will take the temperature of their caucus post-August recess today and tomorrow. At some point in the next few weeks, they will merge together the three separate bills that have passed House committees, and bring one bill to the floor for a vote. They might have to make some additional changes to the bills based on the feedback of rank and file members. I think a lot of those changes depend on what President Obama says tomorrow night.

The President has a very heavy workload this September. There are major decisions to be made in Afghanistan, the UN General Assembly Meeting, the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the possible introduction of his financial regulation proposal, and much more.

THE HOUSE: Congress is back in session, and to commemorate this occasion, they will be doing very little work of significance this week (of course). The main event will be the President's address tomorrow night, as well as other negotiations involving health reform. The legislative agenda itself is pretty thin. The House today and tomorrow will take up a series of suspension bills, none of which seem particularly interesting. On Thursday, it will consider a bill reauthorizing a program relating to gateways in the Chesapeake Bay. For those of you loyal CSPAN watchers, the most interesting part of the House's week might be the one minute speeches at the beginning of the day, which can be on any topic. The Republicans will most likely use this free time to talk about how the "American people stood up against a government-takeover of health reform last month!" The key to making these one minute speeches effective is to have different members make the same speech several times in a row to foster obnoxious repetition. I think I'll be laying off the CSPAN until that spectacle is over.

THE SENATE: The Senate will vote today to cut off debate on a long-stalled tourism measure, a pet project of Majority Leader Reid that seeks to increase foreign travel into the United States. Reid faces a tough reelection fight next year (no major opponents have come forward yet, but Reid's approval ratings are dismal), and this bill is a way for him to win friends in the tourism industry in Las Vegas. Republicans successfully stalled debate on this measure when it was first introduced in June, so Democrats are taking a second stab at it. I expect cloture to be invoked this afternoon, which would set up a vote on final passage for sometime later this week.

The Senate will then need to turn back to appropriations bills. The House has passed all 12 of their spending bills, while the jovial upper chamber has only passed 4. Senators will try and pass at least 4 more before the fiscal year ends on September 30th. At that time, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution to maintain current funding levels until all the bills are passed. As for the 4 bills the Senate has already passed, House and Senate conferees will try to hammer out a compromise between the two versions, and will hopefully pass them by the end of the month.

THE THIRD BRANCH: Another very important item to watch this week is a key hearing at the Supreme Court. The high court usually doesn't start its term until October, but it is holding a special hearing this week to determine whether to overturn precedents that have set limits on campaign contributions from corporations. The case stems from an anti-Hillary Clinton video produced during the 2008 campaign. Indications are that the conservative majority will most likely vote to overturn several judicial and legislative precedents, including the landmark McCain-Feingold bill in the name of "free speech." Justices Roberts, Alito and Kennedy have all been on record against campaign finance restrictions, and Justices Scalia and Thomas almost certainly will agree with them. This will be the first case for newly sworn-in Justice Sotomayor. We'll have more on this case when it is decided later this fall.

That's it for now. We will keep you fully informed on this busy week in politics. Stay tuned!

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