Monday, October 19, 2009

The Weekly Strike-10/19-10/25

Good morning and welcome to the Daily Strike. I hope you all had a great weekend, and I apologize for our lack of entries. Please let us know how you feel about my indolence by leaving some comments!

ACTION??: The key to this week will be watching for any movement on three key items on the President's plate: health care, Afghanistan and financial regulation reform. Sadly, though, I think it's unlikely that we'll see significant action on any of these items by Friday. Each issue is in a bit of a holding pattern. Let's go one by one:

-Health care negotiations have moved exclusively to the back rooms of Congress. In the Senate, Senators Reid, Baucus and Dodd will meet again today to try and merge the HELP and Finance bills into something that can be brought to the full Senate. Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Finance Committee, thinks he has the upper hand in these negotiations, because his plan lowers the deficit and garnered a Republican vote. But if we wanted to lower the deficit and gain Republican votes, we would cut discretionary spending across the board. That's not what we're in this for. Dodd's bill expands coverage to more people, offers more generous subsidies, and includes a public option to compete with private insurers. Dodd is pushing Reid to include some version of the public option in the bill, because it will be difficult to attain the 60 votes to include it during the amendment process. Baucus thinks that the public option may jeopardize his hard fought compromise in the Finance committee. These negotiations are tough enough that I don't expect much movement before the beginning of November.

Meanwhile, we've heard very little about negotiations in the House. Speaker Pelosi sent two proposals to be scored by the CBO last week. One of them had the "robust" public option with payment based on Medicare rates, and the other had a public option with rates that would be negotiated with providers. As expected, the robust public option saved more money. But it is still unclear whether Pelosi has enough votes for this robust public option. The timetable for the House to pass its bill has moved to November as well.

-The future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan will probably be put off for another week as President Obama continues to discuss a change in strategy with his national security team. Pressure has increased among Republicans to send more troops, while liberal Democrats are calling for a scaled back strategy that focuses on targeting Al Qaeda. It appears as if the President will indeed by adding more troops to the region, but how many isn't exactly clear, nor is it clear while they will be fighting a more limited mission. The President, as we've said before, is wise to think this through as much as possible. Yesterday, Rahm Emanuel said that a decision would wait until the disputed Presidential election there is solved.

-Since news came out that companies receiving bailout money are doling out huge bonuses this year, we've started to see signs of increased healthy populist rage. The administration is trying to harness that rage into constructive financial reform. A very solid reform bill, which included the creation of the all-important consumer protection agency, passed the House Financial Services next week. However, with health care still looming on the Congressional calendar, it's unclear whether we'll see financial reform get done this year. I think such reform is critically important. The President has spent a lot of political capital helping out bad actors. He needs to earn that capital back by making sure we never have a financial crisis like this again. With unemployment hovering around 10%, people are rightly skeptical as to whether the government's intervention has helped them, or only the elites that got us into this mess in the first place.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President today meets with the winners of the Youth Entrepreneurship winners (whatever that is), before huddling with North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. Conrad has been one of the biggest Senate skeptics of the public option, and an advocate of co-ops, which the Congressional Budget Office says will not do much to bring down costs or increase access. As far as I can see, the rest of the President's week consists of meetings with senior advisers and fundraisers for Democratic candidates, including embattled New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT).

THE SENATE: A big fight is ramping up in the Senate this week over Medicare reimbursements. Reimbursements to some doctors are scheduled to be cut in the near future unless Congress acts to maintain current reimbursement levels. Ideally, this effort would be a part of health reform. However, it costs about $270 billion over ten years, so including this provision would keep the bill from being deficit neutral. Republicans are complaining that this is a snide move by Democrats to slip this spending in as a stand-alone measure. But after a summer of accusing Democrats of wanting to cut Medicare, are Republicans really willing to let these reimbursement cuts go into effect? We'll see when the Senate votes on the proposal tomorrow. After that, I expect more work on appropriations bills.

THE HOUSE: The House will work on suspension bills tomorrow and Wednesday. On Thursday, the House will consider a bill to increase funding for solar technology. The bill will direct the Secretary of Energy to start research and development programs to enhance solar energy. Sounds like a good idea to me. I expect the bill to pass easily.

The House will then vote on a bill to reauthorize Coast Guard programs for 2010.

That's it for now, stay with us this week for your politics fix.

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