Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-10/22/09-Real Movement or False Hope?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. After months of seeing Congress and the President in a holding pattern, we're starting to see some movement on key issues. At least I hope so. Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: There was buzz all day about a possible Senate deal on a health care bill. ABCNews reported this afternoon that Majority Leader Reid thinks he has the 60 votes to cut off debate on a bill with a public option. The way Reid envisions it, the bill would come to the floor with a public option. Someone would propose an amendment on the floor to strip out the public option. The amendment would fail, because it would not reach the 60 vote threshold. The amendment would give wary centrist Democrats to go on record against the public option. Democrats would then promise to vote to invoke cloture on the bill, which would end the filibuster. As many as 9 Democrats would be able to oppose the final bill. I thought this scenario seemed too good to be true, and it might. Apparently Senator Baucus, who all summer whined about how there weren't enough votes for the public option, apparently freaked out about the deal because it could cost the support of President, I mean Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the one Congressional Republican who has supported a health care bill in committee. Snowe seemed to indicate that she would not vote to cut off debate on a bill with a public option. Then there was Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) who said that she was against the public option, using the patently false reasoning that it would add to the federal deficit (it actually SAVES money, Mary!). Then there are moderates like Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman who routinely hold up bills so that they can get some time in the limelight and inevitably make the bill worse. Amazingly, none of them have thus far said explicitly that would help sustain a Republican filibuster.

The reason the public option might survive in the Senate is because of the so-called "opt-out" compromise. The plan being discussed would allow state governments to opt out of the public option. The Senate public option, unlike the House plan currently under consideration, would negotiate reimbursement rates directly with providers instead of using rates based on Medicare. The hope is that Senator Reid has come up with a compromise that can satisfy both centrist and liberal Democratic Senators. This "compromise" is so fragile and seems to be changing by the minute. We're still forced to rely on Senators bought and paid for by the health insurance industry, and centrists who care more about their own egos than sound policy. But I hold a shred of new hope today that we can get a public option out of the United States Senate.

Meanwhile, the House negotiations seem to be equally uncertain. Despite reports yesterday that Speaker Pelosi had just about enough votes to pass the "robust" public option based on Medicare rates, the situation seems pretty fluid. A group of 37 "moderates" wrote a stupid letter expressing concern that the bill does not do enough to bend the cost curve, and that they might withhold their votes. The House bill does indeed reduce the deficit, but since it does not contain a tax on high-end health care plans, it may not do as much to bend the cost curve in the long-term. Still, Democrats need to STOP writing these idiotic letters that throw stakes in the momentum of health care legislation. Listen to the President, and get this done. This is not a time to show bluster, to bloviate or to try and get some time on cable news networks. We've come too far. I say, we follow the advice Dick Cheney gave to centrist Republicans when Bush first came into office: "don't f*ck this up."

The Big Picture rightly points out that this is the time when the President desperately needs to get involved. He needs to throw his weight around both in public and behind closed doors. We're within a couple of weeks of seeing bills come to the floor of the House and Senate. It's crunch time.

THE SENATE: The United States Senate today passed the conference report for the Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 68-29. The Senate had hours before voted 64-35 to cut off debate. The bill sets defense policy for Fiscal Year 2010, and includes some very positive provisions, like a pay increase for the troops and the elimination of the F-22 fighter jets that are not used in combat. Perhaps most importantly for progressives, the bill included a non-related policy rider that expands the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation. Because the Senate acted today, President Obama will sign the first piece of gay rights legislation pretty much ever. There is a lot of work left to do, but today is a day for LGBT activists to pat themselves on the back. Most Republicans, by the way, are willing to vote against funding increases for the troops to protect the rights of anti-gay criminals. Ladies and Gentleman, your 2009 Republican party!

All Democrats besides Feingold (WI) voted for the conference report. Feingold probably voted against the bill because it authorizes war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans Collins (ME), Lugar (IN), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME), and Voinovich (OH) voted for the conference report itself, and to cut off debate. Republicans Bond (MO), Cornyn (TX), Ensign (NV), Gregg (NH) and McCain (AZ) voted yes on final passage. President Obama will likely sign the bill in the coming week.

The Senate will work next week on two appropriations bills (they have 4 left to pass), a bill to extend unemployment benefits, and a continuing resolution.

THE HOUSE: The House passed a good bill today that expands research and development of solar energy. The bill passed by a bipartisan 310-106 margin with all no votes coming from the GOP. Prior to a vote on final passage, the House voted on several amendments, all of them passing easily except one from Rep. Broun (GA) that would have reduced funding in the bill. Add this to the giant pile of good legislation that is bound to die in the United States Senate.

The House tomorrow will finish work on a Coast Guard Authorization bill tomorrow.

That's it for today. See you tomorrow!

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