Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-11/19/09-Can't We Just Debate?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Looks like we're going to have another Saturday health care debate in Congress, so stay with us. We'll be doing a scaled down live twitter feed. Also, catch some important thoughts from The Big Picture below. And as always, I ask you to leave some comments.

HEALTH CARE: Finally, we're ready to start debate on the Senate's health care legislation. On Saturday evening, at 8pm, Senators will vote on the cloture motion on the motion to proceed. In plain English, that's a 60 vote threshold to see whether the bill can come to the floor. In order to even begin debating the bill, in other words, Democrats need all 60 of their members to vote yes (Republicans are expected to vote no in unison). So far, almost all Democrats (even persona non-grata Lieberman) have at least agreed to support this procedural vote. The two remaining holdouts are Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln. Landrieu praised the Reid bill yesterday, and I expect that she'll fall in line for this vote. Lincoln's situation is a bit more complicated. She is up for reelection next year in a state in which President Obama and his policies are very unpopular. Unlike Joe Lieberman, she might face political consequences if she votes yes on any procedural vote for health care. If I had to guess, I would bet that Senator Reid (D-NV) wouldn't have called the vote if he didn't have some sort of understanding with all 60 Senators. If they can't get passed this procedural hurdle, it would be a major setback. They'd have to make enough changes to the bill to satisfy moderate Democrats.

This vote will set the stage for a post-Thanksgiving debate on the legislation. I expect the Senate to debate amendments through much of December, hopefully during weekends as well. Today, Senator Ben Nelson (NE) announced that he would support a GOP filibuster of the bill if the abortion language isn't changed to match the stricter language that passed the House. He joins Senator Lieberman as Democrats who are threatening to torpedo health reform. Democrats may try to allay these Senators concerns during the amendment process. But in both of their cases, it's not exactly clear what policy changes these Senators want. I think they're more interested in attention and the thrill of power.

The whole situation is so delicate, which makes it incredibly frustrating. Every Democratic Senator knows he/she has the power to kill health care reform. And a lot of them are selfish/nihilistic enough to hold the bill hostage. It's really shows a major weakness in our democracy.

The good news? Republican Senator Tom Coburn has withdrawn his threat to have the entire bill read on the Senate floor. One obstruction hurdle overcome, a million to go.

THE SENATE: The Senate wrapped up work today on a couple of other outstanding matters. The Senate voted 59-39 to confirm Judge David Hamilton to be in the Court of Appeals. All Democrats who were present voted yes, as did Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) from Hamilton's home state of Indiana. The rest of the Republican caucus voted no on a nominee that was considered a "moderate" choice when it was first announced. This is the 6th judge confirmed during the Obama Presidency, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Senate also passed a bill to extend veterans health benefits today. The omnibus benefits package passed by a vote of 98-0. Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate rejected a Coburn (R-OK) amendment that would have funded the bill by removing money from the State Department and the United Nations. The amendment was a clever political trap, but not a very good idea. I don't think we want to be de-funding our important diplomatic operations. The amendment failed 32-66, with yes votes coming from 31 Republicans and Senator Bayh (IN).

Before the end of the year, the Senate still has to pass the health care bill, pass various extenders on expiring government programs (including some from the stimulus), finish up two remaining appropriations bills, and act on the oh...200 or so good bills that the House has thrown its way. That's why they'll be taking the week off after Saturday's vote.

THE HOUSE: The House today voted to stop scheduled payment cuts to doctors under Medicare. Under the House bill, the Medicare payment formula would be permanently fixed. The cost of the bill is expected to be about $200 billion over ten years. Republicans, as expected, complained that the bill will add to the deficit. Unlike what they said during the health care debate, their argument was valid. But I certainly didn't hear these same complaints about a defense spending bill this year that costs $634 billion over ONE year. The bill passed by a vote of 243-183. Republican Burgess (TX) joined 242 Democrats in support of the bill. Democrats Baird (WA), Boren (OK), Cooper (TN), Edwards (TX), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Kosmas (FL), Lipinski (IL), McMahon (NY), Peterson (MN), Smith (WA) and Taylor (MS) joined 172 Republicans in voting yes.

Prior to a vote on final passage, the House rejected a Republican motion to recommit that would have fixed the doctor payment cuts on a temporary basis with already appropriated public money. That would mean the money would be coming from somewhere. I would like to reiterate that cutting government spending during a recession, despite the conventional wisdom of Republicans and conservative Democrats, is NOT a good idea.

The House today also approved a bill to designate land near the Mollala river in Oregon as part of the National Scenic River and Waters system. The bill passed 292-133 with all no votes coming from Republicans.

The House stands in recess until November 30th, after the Thanksgiving holiday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President spent the day on Air Force One en route back to the United States. I'm sure he'll spend some time Friday and Saturday convincing wavering Senators to come on board for Saturday's procedural vote.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

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