Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Daily Strike-10/1/09-October Arrives

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's October and Congress still has a lot to do before it adjourns, which is supposed to be at the end of this month. Bottom line, they're gonna be here until Christmas.

MARK UP: It's been another long, slow day in the Senate Finance committee as they slog through the remaining amendments. Chairman Baucus (D-MT) thinks that they can finish the bill this evening. There are some 20 or so amendments left to consider last I heard, so they could be working very late. There was some decent news on the amendment front today. As you know, the committee voted down two public option amendments the other day. Dispirited Democrats weren't exactly happy with the one viable alternative out there, Senator Snowe's "trigger" idea. So today, Senator Cantwell proposed an idea of her own that amounts to a quasi, VERY quasi, public option. The Cantwell amendment would permit states to negotiate with insurers on behalf of people making between 133 and 200% of the poverty line. The amendment, as Ezra Klein notes, is a pretty good policy idea, but does not come close to being a good replacement for the public option. This is just a way to make private insurance cheaper for a small group of people. It would not institute the broad based bargaining power that a robust public option would. Nevertheless, it was certainly an amendment worth adopting. The amendment was indeed adopted by a vote of 12-11. All Republicans voted no, as did Democrat Blanche Lincoln (AR), who has voted mostly like a Republican since this mark up began.

The committee also defeated several Republican amendments that sought to eliminate (or exempt certain populations from) fees for individuals who don't obtain health insurance. I'm somewhat conflicted about this. On the one hand, covering everyone will lower aggregate spending on health care. But if people are forced to buy insurance, and they don't get enough subsidies, they'll be in for some destructive fees. The Republican way of handling this problem would be to do away with the fees. I think it would be a better idea to increase subsidies.

Democrats seem to be holding off on offering amendments that increase subsidies. They are probably waiting to do this until it really matters, that is, when the Finance bill and HELP committee bill are merged.

Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) proposed the best amendment of the day. His amendment would require that insurance companies spend at least 85% of their money on health services. The amendment is designed to limit money spent on executive salaries and overhead (like advertising). This amendment makes abundant sense to me. Why shouldn't we mandate that health insurance companies don't rip us off and charge exorbitant costs to line their own pockets? Rockefeller didn't even call for a vote on his amendment, because he knew it wouldn't pass. Proof number 7000 that the industry owns a majority of the finance committee.

We'll let you know what happens tonight in tomorrow's entry. Even if the mark up ends tonight, a vote in committee probably won't happen until the middle of next week, because the Congressional Budget Office would have to score the original bill.

IRAN: The President is currently jetting off to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid. But before he left, he made a major announcement on Iran. Today, the G-5 + 1 nations held diplomatic discussions with Iran in Geneva. Obama called the discussions productive, and issued an ultimatum: Iran must allow international inspectors to its nuclear site in Q'am or face "increased international pressure." That doesn't seem like too big of a threat to me, although it seems to indicate that Obama would be willing to push for harsh sanctions. Interestingly, Obama is indicating that he would be ok with a "verifiably peaceful" use of nuclear power. This is a reversal from the Bush administration, which demanded that Iran do away with the program altogether. It remains to be seen whether this apparent concession will yield any progress.

THE SENATE: The Senate today resumed consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill, its 7th of the 12 annual spending bills. Majority Leader Reid had indicated that he wanted this bill to "not take the whole week," but that's looking like exactly what's gonna happen. It's possible that a final vote on the bill will be pushed until next week.

After press time last night, the Senate defeated a McCain (R-AZ) amendment that would have eliminated funding for the C-17 cargo jet program. The Pentagon and the President have said that the program is unnecessary. I'm 100% with John McCain when it comes to cutting out waste in the military budget. It's too bad that these planes are manufactured in so many states. Senators are afraid of lost jobs if the spending is discontinued. The amendment failed by a vote of 34-64, with both parties splitting votes straight down the middle. It's always interesting when a vote is almost entirely non-partisan.

Today, the Senate voted on two additional amendments, both concerning testimony related to the War in Afghanistan. Republicans, under the leadership again of Senator McCain sought to require General McChrystal to testify on the war before November 15th. The chairman of the Armed Services committee, Carl Levin (D-MI), said that this would be an arbitrary date and instead proposed that the general speak to the committee when the President has made a decision on how to proceed.

Both amendments were almost full party line votes. In fact, the McCain amendment failed on a strict 40-59 party line vote (with Senator Bayh of Indiana not voting). The Levin amendment passed 60-39 with only Senator Voinovich (R-OH) defying the party line. It's possible we'll see some more amendment votes tonight and tomorrow.

THE HOUSE: The House today agreed to the conference report accompanying the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. If the Senate agrees to the conference report (and who knows when that will happen), it will be the 2nd of the 12 appropriations bills that President Obama will sign into law. So far, the House has passed all 12 of its bills. The Senate, as we said, is on its 7th. I expect a couple more of these bills to emerge from conference and come up for votes next week.

The final vote on the conference report was 308-114. 70 Republicans crossed over and voted yes, and 12 Democrats voted no.

The House has adjourned until Tuesday. According to Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD), it appears as if the health care bill will not come to the floor in the next two weeks. The Democratic leadership is still trying to figure out how to come up with a bill that will garner the necessary 218 votes on the House floor.

That's it for today, see you tomorrow! Leave comments!

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