Friday, October 2, 2009

The Daily Strike-10/2/09-Obama-Fail

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Before we get to today's entry, make sure you read the Big Picture's wonderful, but disturbing entry below. It is a must-read.

NOT HIS BEST DAY: This is probably a day Obama would like to forget. The President jetted off to Copenhagen last night to deliver a last-minute push for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. While he was flying back over the Atlantic Ocean, Chicago came in last place in IOC voting. President Obama stuck his neck out to get the Olympics to his hometown, and he failed. But wow, the right-wing got a little too giddy over this. Every right-wing pundit I've read today seems to enjoy seeing Obama fail, even when it is actually America that is losing. Even though Obama took a risk that didn't pay off, I don't see this being too big of a problem for him. I don't think people care that much about the Olympic games. Congratulations, by the way, to Rio de Janiero. The 2016 Olympics will be the first held in South America.

The far worse and more consequential news was the release of the latest unemployment numbers. American firms shed 236,000 jobs in September, far more than the predicted 180,000 economists predicted would be lost. This brings the unemployment rate up to 9.8%, the highest since 1983. The Big Picture addressed this issue so well in his entry, that I won't go too much into detail. But Obama's political fate is tied directly to unemployment. High unemployment feeds massive voter anxiety and anger that could be politically perilous for the party in power. I agree with the Big Picture that it would be worth taking a political risk by instituting more job-creation measures. Perhaps a jobs-only stimulus bill might do the trick. Republicans will attack it, for sure. But if the economy starts to improve, and people feel more secure in their own lives, they will be less reflexively anti-government, and will thus be more receptive to the rest of President Obama's agenda.

MARK UP: While we were sleeping last night, the Senate Finance committee finished its mark up of health care reform legislation at around 2am EDT. Chairman Baucus (D-MT) promised the committee that he would get a revised estimate of the cost of the bill before the committee votes. Therefore, the actual vote on the bill won't be held until Tuesday or so. The committee approved a key affordability amendment late last night that will help ease major concerns about the Baucus bill. The amendment, co-sponsored by Republican Olympia Snowe (ME) and Democrat Chuck Schumer (NY), would postpone and reduce the penalties middle-class people would pay if they did not buy health insurance. It also exempts people from the individual mandate if they can't find an insurance plan that costs less than 8 percent. Previously, that threshold was at 10 percent. This amendment helps to ease the concerns of many members that middle-class families, who will be forced to buy insurance under the new individual mandate, would not get enough subsidies to pay for it. Democrats hope to address this issue when the bill is merged with the Senate HELP committee bill.

One amendment that was not considered, unfortunately, was the "Healthy Choices Act" amendment, sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR). In the Baucus bill (and in all of the other health care bills), the new health insurance exchange will only be open to people who work for small businesses, the unemployed, and those who don't get health care through their employer. People who currently get health care through their employer would not be able to join the exchange. The Wyden amendment would allow everyone to join the exchange. This is a good idea policy-wise, because a larger exchange would foster greater competition. It's also a great idea politically, because it would answer the "what's in it for me?" question from people who don't have health insurance. Under the Wyden amendment, if I thought I could get better health care in the exchange than I do with my current employer, I would have the choice to pursue that option. Chairman Baucus said that the amendment was out of order because it didn't have a cost estimate. I hope Senator Wyden proposes the amendment when the bill reaches the Senate floor.

That's it for this evening. See you Monday and leave some comments!

Even though many Democrats have deep concerns about the bill as it now stands, I expect them to vote for it on Tuesday, if for nothing else than to move the process along. Nothing would blunt the progress of health reform more than to have Finance Committee stalemate. The real substantive changes to the bill will probably happen during the merging of the two Senate bills, and in the House-Senate conference.

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